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COLUMN: ‘Farmers’ Market’ mysteries provide entertainment

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By Deanna Godman

I fell in love with mysteries when I was a kid, starting with Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown and moving on to Mary Higgins Clark as I got older. As an adult, I discovered that subgenres of mysteries are popular. Cat and dog mysteries seem to have started the trend. Now there are quilt mysteries, scrapbook mysteries, tea mysteries, and herb mysteries.

There are mysteries starring Queen Elizabeth I, Jane Eyre, Jane Austen, and Beatrix Potter. When I saw the first book in Paige Shelton’s Farmers’ Market Mystery series on a shelf at a library, I thought that I had finally seen it all.  Behind it was her Country Cooking School Mystery series. I decided the concepts were so unique that I just had to see what they were about.
I was amused and entertained by the existence of both series, but did not expect much from the books.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed both series. The books are well written, which is not always the case in genre fiction. I found no plot holes, which is something I cannot always say for books even on the bestseller lists. In an age when editing does not seem to be a priority with publishing houses, Shelton and her editor have done a great job.
The main character of Farmers’ Market Mystery series is Becca Robins, who makes homemade jams and preserves. She owns a strawberry and pumpkin farm that she inherited from her aunt and uncle. The series begins with a murder that takes place at the market where she sells her wares. Becca decides to investigate in order to get rid of the suspicion that surrounds the market and a fellow vendor. The series is set in a small town in South Carolina. The series begins with Farm Fresh Murder.
Betts Winston is the main character of the Country Cooking School Mystery series. She is a law school dropout whose grandmother (Gram) decided to start a cooking school in their small Missouri town in order to give them both something to do. When a friend of Gram’s is found strangled in their utility closet, the suspicion falls on Gram. Betts decides that she will do whatever it takes to find the real killer before anyone else gets hurt. The first book in the series is If Fried Chicken Could Fly.
The small Missouri town also happens to have been an Old West town that is now a tourist attraction for several months of the year. The town has arranged programs, businesses and other attractions meant to entertain the tourists, but it is the history of the town that is the main attraction. Betts’ realization that former notorious inhabitants haunt her hometown is an added bonus.
As many mysteries do now, both series include recipes. The Country Cooking School series includes recipes that the students learn, including the champagne cookies, which are the culmination of the 9 month culinary program. The Farmers’ Market series includes recipes for Becca’s preserves, and other dishes that are mentioned throughout the series. One of the vendors at the market makes fruit pies, and recipes from that character are often included.
Both series reminded me of Spencer County with their small town feel and camaraderie. I love the way both towns come together to entice people (with tourism and the farmers’ market) to come visit and keep their towns relevant.

 

Champagne Cookies

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
4 ounces cream cheese
2 eggs
½ Tablespoon vanilla extract
5 drops red food coloring
1 cup champagne (author uses affordable pink champagne)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
In another large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and cream cheese.
Add the eggs, vanilla, food coloring and champagne. Blend to incorporate.
Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.
Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
On floured surface, roll out the dough ¼-1/2 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes, and place shapes about two inches apart on a cookie sheet.
Bake for about 12 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for about 1 minute and then remove them to a cooling rack. While the cookies cool, make the frosting.
Makes about 24 two inch wide cookies.

Frosting

4 ½ cups powdered sugar
¾ pound (3 sticks) salted butter
2 Tablespoons pink champagne
a few drops red food coloring
up to 4 Tablespoons water, for consistency
Edible silver glitter (optional)

In a large bowl, mix the sugar, butter, champagne, and food coloring. Add a little bit of water at a time to achieve the desired frosting consistency – I think thicker is better. Spread the frosting over the cooled cookies, and sprinkle with glitter (if desired).