I’ve always loved mail-order bride stories and am delighted to be currently writing one. My heroine has a good reason for taking a a chance on love, but what about the thousands of other women who’d left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?
Shortage of Men—and Women
The original mail-order bride business grew out of necessity. The lack of women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War. The war not only created thousands of widows and grieving girlfriends, but a shortage of men, especially in the south.
As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs.
According to an article in the Toledo Blade lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).
Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society’s expectations was often subjected to public scorn. Also, many women needed marriage just for survival. Single women had a hard time making it alone in the East. This was especially true of widows with young children to support.
Women who had reached the “age” of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail-order bride ad than younger women.
Not Always Love at First Sight
For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.
Not every bride was so lucky. In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail-order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men. Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.
The mail-order business was not without deception. Lonely people sometimes found themselves victims of dishonest marriage brokers, who took their money and ran.
Some ads were exaggerated or misleading. Men had a tendency to overstate their financial means. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to embellish their looks. The Matrimonial News in the 1870s printed warnings by Judge Arbuckle that any man deceived by false hair, cosmetic paints, artificial bosoms, bolstered hips, or padded limbs could have his marriage nulled, if he so desired.
Despite all the things that could and sometimes did go wrong, historians say that most matches were successful.
No one seems to know how many mail-order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey. He wasn’t in the mail-order bride business, but, by the turn of the century, five thousand Harvey Girls had found husbands while working in his restaurants.
Under what circumstances might you have considered becoming a mail order bride in the Old West?
After I turned in my last book, Once Upon A Texas Christmas (just a little over a year ago), I took a bit of a sabbatical from writing. The line I wrote seventeen books for was closing and I was also a bit burned out from writing 2 books a year for the previous four years (I’m not a fast writer so this was a ‘stretch’ pace for me).
So I was at a crossroads of sorts. I took some time thinking about where I wanted to go next, free from the constraints of any specific publisher guidelines. I eventually came up with ideas for several multi-book series I could get excited about and worked up some details to hand over to my agent so she could begin shopping them around to publishers.
That done, I figured while I waited I now had time to explore another path that had captured my interest, that of indie-publishing. I had several books from my days with Dorchester’s Leisure Books line that were published in the 2001-2005 time frame, long before the eBook revolution and that had gone out of print more than a dozen years ago and I figured reworking one of those and indie-publishing it would be a good way to ease myself into that scary-to-me world. So I went to work, getting ready to do just that.
And boy has it been a learning experience. Revising the book was the fun part. I’d forgotten just how much I loved those early books. Revisiting the characters and worlds from my early writing days has been an absolute joy. But now I’ deep into the business side of the process – hiring a good editor, figuring out cover design options, creating a back cover blurb, forming an LLC, obtaining ISBNs, etc., etc. It’s been a steep learning curve (and I’m not through it yet!) but hopefully next time will be a little easier.
Anyway, if things go as planned, this first book, which I’m titling The Unexpected Bride, will release in late fall. And today I thought I’d whet your appetite with an excerpt.
The set up for this story – Elthia Sinclare has travelled from Massachusetts to Texas in answer to an ad for a temporary job as governess. Caleb Tanner placed an ad for a mail-order bride. This is the scene where our heroine realizes there has been a terrible mistake:
“Mr. Tanner, we need to talk.”
The lying, scheming blackguard glanced back from his position at the stove, a scowl of irritation on his face. Then his expression changed as something in her demeanor caught his attention.
“What’s happened?” he asked, handing a plate to one of the children.
Zoe slipped into the room behind her, but Elthia kept her gaze focused on Mr. Tanner. She stood stiffly, fighting the urge to back away as he approached. “Exactly why did you bring me here?”
His scowl returned as he rubbed the back of his neck. “What do you mean? This is my home. Where else would I take you?”
“I’m talking about what role it is you expect me to fulfill?” She watched him closely, looking for some sign of guilt or duplicity. “Mrs. Johnston called me your helpmeet and referred to you Tanners as my ‘new family’. Just now, Dr. Adams did the same.”
Elthia clasped her hands to prevent their trembling. Had this man lured her to his home under false pretenses? She was completely at his mercy here. The isolated location and the shadowy approach of dusk suddenly took on a sinister feel. Sometimes having a vivid imagination was more of a curse than a blessing.
She had to remain calm, to think, to keep him from seeing her fear.
Mr. Tanner, however, looked more harried than threatening. Maybe Zoe had misread the situation. Dear God please–-
“I’m sorry that your role as a mail-order bride is public knowledge, if that’s what this is all about. It’s hard to keep secrets in a community like Foxberry.”
“Mail-order bride!” Elthia almost choked on the words. Heaven help her, this nightmare kept getting more unbelievable.
His scowl returned. “Miss Sinclare, stop the hysterics, please. I know the kids’ illness was unexpected, but surely—”
“There’s been a mistake, a dreadful, terrible mistake.”
His eyes narrowed. Then he looked at the children who watched the grown-ups with wide-eyed interest. “Let’s move this discussion to the parlor, shall we?”
He nodded to the two older children. “Zoe and Peter, you help the others with their supper please.” Then he took Elthia’s arm and all but pulled her out of the room.
As soon as they reached the parlor, he released her, as if touching her were distasteful. His next words were all the more intimidating for their softness. “Backing out already? So much for all that talk about honoring commitments.” His expression branded her as beneath contempt. “I should have known a pampered bit of high-class fluff wouldn’t have a notion about honor or responsibility.”
Elthia shook her head, confused and defensive. “No, no, you don’t understand. I came here to fill the post of governess, not to be someone’s mail-order bride.”
The sound he made was suspiciously like a snort. “Foxberry has a great school. Why would I waste money on a governess?”
“But that’s what you advertised for. I read the file myself.” A spurt of anger momentarily replaced her fear. “How dare you misrepresent yourself in such a way! You took advantage of Mrs. Pembroke and of me. It’s vile and probably illegal. I have half a mind to find the local sheriff and have you arrested.”
Mr. Tanner wasn’t intimidated. “I didnot misrepresent anything. I made it very clear to the agency exactly what I was looking for. If you paid any attention at all to my post there’s no way you could be confused about any of this.”
She drew in a breath as he pointed a finger, stopping just short of poking her chest.
His frown turned contemptuous. “If this is some ploy to get out of the contract and still be able to hold your head up, don’t bother. A weak, spoiled, lady with a tendency to run away from her troubles might be the last thing I want for the kids or myself, but I warned you earlier, no backing out once the kids met you.”
“How dare you! Why I—”
“I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your voice down,” he interrupted. “There’s no point in upsetting the kids.”
He straightened. “I don’t have time for this posturing. If you’re not going to help, at least stay out of the way. In the meantime, before you try that ‘I didn’t know what I was getting into’ story again, you should reread that contract you signed.”
Elthia watched him stalk out of the room. Slumping, she steadied herself with a hand to a chair. The long day and its emotional ups and downs had taken its toll. She suddenly felt too exhausted to think straight. Maybe her father was right. Maybe she was too helpless, too naïve, to make her own decisions.
How had this happened? Was Mr. Tanner a villain or had there been a terrible mix-up with the paperwork at the agency?
Of course. He’d told her to reread the contract and that’s just what she’d do, and then force him to do the same. She wasn’t her father’s daughter for nothing. She’d read that sheet of paper very carefully before signing it. It was an employment contract for a temporary teaching assignment, nothing more.
Feeling her energy rebound, she hurried into the hall. Her copy lay somewhere in her luggage, but he still had the one she’d given him. “Mr. Tanner, just a minute please.” Stepping into the kitchen, she ran smack into his rock-solid chest.
He placed a hand on both of her arms, steadying her before stepping back a pace. “Well, Miss Sinclare, what is it now?”
Elthia’s cheeks heated but she held onto what dignity she could. Pushing her glasses up on her nose, she managed to keep her gaze locked to his as she held out a hand. “The contract, sir. I’d like to see your copy of it if I may.”
He raised an eyebrow. “And just what do you expect that to prove?” Then he scowled. “I warn you, don’t try to tear it up.”
She raised her chin. “Why would I want to tear it up? It’s the proof I need to support my story. It states quite clearly that the position I accepted was that of governess.”
“Does it now?”
Elthia frowned impatiently. “Yes, of course it does. You read it there at Whistling Oak. Surely you remember what it said. There was nothing at all vague about the terms.”
“I agree, it spells things out in very plain language.” He strode out of the room and she followed him as far as the foot of the stairs. It only took seconds for him to return and hand her the document.
Elthia, itching to rub the I’m-only-doing-this-to-humor-you expression from his face, unfolded it and skimmed it.
Then she blinked.
She read it twice. Where had this contract come from? It most definitely was not the document she’d read so carefully before signing. Someone had switched papers, but when and how? They’d hardly been out of her sight since she’d signed them.
It must have been Mr. Tanner. He’d somehow substituted the document she’d handed him for this one. Her gaze frantically turned to the bottom of the contract and she got another shock.
It couldn’t be!
There was her name, penned in her own handwriting. Alongside it was the signature of Louella Pembroke. It must be a forgery, but it was such a good one even she couldn’t tell the difference.
How dare he try to coerce her this way. She shook the document under his nose. “How did you do this?”
“Do what?” He looked more puzzled than guilty.
“Forge my signature so perfectly. Did you trace it? And where’s the real contract?”
His jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed at her accusation. “Don’t you think you’re carrying this charade a bit far?”
“Don’t think you can intimidate me with that oh so superior tone. I have my own copy of the contract.”
She turned and all but fled upstairs. If he thought he could bully her with this elaborate act he was very much mistaken. It took her a several minutes, but she finally located her copy in the larger of her trunks.
Marching back down the stairs, she found Mr. Tanner still standing where she’d left him, though now the lamps in the hall were lit against the encroaching darkness.
She waved the paper triumphantly. “This is the document I signed, not that substitute you’re trying to fob off on me.”
With the air of an adult humoring a child, the infuriating Mr. Tanner plucked it from her fingers, pulled the contract out of the sealed envelope and looked it over quickly.
After reading it, he shrugged and handed it back to her. “I won’t argue with you on that score. But I don’t rightly see how it differs from the one I looked at earlier.”
Her hands starting to tremble, Elthia took the contract and forced her eyes to focus on the print. He was right, it was identical to the one he’d handed her a few minutes earlier.
A very simple, very binding, marriage contract.
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed the sneak peek. And stay tuned – I’ll keep you posted on my progress 🙂
Way back when I set up the date to be a guest here on Petticoats and Pistols, I thought I would be sharing about the third book in my Orphans of the West series. But then this happened:
And two and a half months later this came about:
So yeah, my legal name is no longer Faith Blum, however, I am keeping it as my pen name. Since I can’t talk about my new book, I thought I would talk about my wedding instead. After all, everyone here likes a good romance, right? So why not a real life romance?
Our story actually reminds me a little bit of a modern-day mail order bride story. We met on ChristianMingle in August 2016 and emailed back and forth for a few months before meeting in person. As I mentioned earlier, we started courting in late January.
June 19th is a day I will probably always remember. Bill came over and we took a walk with our trusty chaperone, Shasta my family’s dog. Bill and I had taken a few walks when he was at our house. There are three ways you can go. To the left and straight it’s fairly flat. To the right, it starts out flat and then gets rather steep and keeps going—and getting steeper—the further you go.
When Bill heard that there was a top to the hill, he wanted to make it all the way up there. I balked at that. The top is about 2 miles from our home, about half of which is steeply uphill.
The day was cool and slightly cloudy. So when we got to the end of the driveway where we needed to make a decision on which way to go. I said we could try to get to the top of the hill. He was surprised, but we went.
Halfway up the hill, Bill asked, “Why did you want to go to the top?” I think he was mostly joking. At least that’s what he claims…
When we got to the top, we stopped for a breather. After a short stop, he got down on one knee, opened the ring box, and asked, “Will you marry me?” I said, “Yes!”
We choose to get married Labor Day weekend because many of Bill’s siblings either work in schools or go to college. We also didn’t want a long engagement. The wedding preparations went well and we had a lot of fun with them.
I think my favorite—and the hardest part—preparation was making all the flowers. I found an idea on Pinterest for making roses out of book pages, so I took a couple of my extra proof copies and used them. We had two craft days with a few of my friends coming over to help make them. I think they turned out great!
The colored roses were painted with watered down acrylic paint.
Between everyone, we had the wedding ready with a couple days to spare. I am very blessed to have great family and friends who helped with so many aspects of the wedding.
The wedding was beautiful and so meaningful to Bill and I as well as everyone who attended. We had a small ice cream sundae reception and then it was time to leave. Since I am allergic to corn, we didn’t want to use birdseed to throw, so my sisters and mom gathered leaves and flowers to dry and they threw those at us instead.
I don’t have room to tell you about the honeymoon, but we did have a good time exploring a few places out West, avoiding wildfires, and visiting the ghost town I set some of my stories in. If you’d like to read more about it, you can see my blog post here.
While I’m here, I’d also like to do a little bit of a giveaway. To enter, tell me what your favorite wedding story is. One lucky winner will receive an eBook copy of the book I dedicated to my then suitor, Savior, Like a Shepherd.
We’re delighted to welcome our guest, Anne Greene. Anne has graciously offered to give away three autographed copies of SPUR OF THE MOMENT BRIDE. (Sweepstake guidelines apply)
I love stories about the wild west, and horses, feisty women, and best of all cowboys. I live in Texas, and though most of the men I meet in my fast-growing town are regular-type men wearing business suits or jogging outfits or casual wear, on occasion I run into a real cowboy. I gape at him with his tight jeans, fitted shirt, cowboy boots, rodeo trophy belt buckle, and black Stetson.
But today the modern cowboy, rather than ride a horse, drives an enormous black truck with a rifle slung across the back window of his double-cab. I wrote about such a cowboy, except he rode a black Harley motorcycle, in my soon to be released book, Mystery At Dead Broke Ranch.
When I was single I even dated a real cowboy, and he delighted in showing me his trophy belt buckle and talking about his rodeo exploits. He was handsome too. So much so that I didn’t feel we were a match. But the few dates I allowed with him were fun. He even let me ride his horse.
My newest released book, Firecracker Bride, takes place in Texas, near the historic Alamo. Cat Divine resists stage robbers, her demanding father, gossiping neighbors, and flash floods. But can she resist Travis McGuire, a hero with a heart and bravery as big as his Texas home?
Seems many of my books are set in Wyoming rather than Texas. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I love Texas, but I enjoy visiting Wyoming. My book, A Christmas Belle, is set in Wyoming. Amanda is a southern belle who becomes a Mail Order Bride. She expects to marry a Wyoming cowboy, but the Wyoming Sheriff puts duty before love.
When I’m not writing about sheriffs, I’m writing about stagecoach drivers. In today’s give-away book, SPUR OF THE MOMENT BRIDE, heiress Abby Hollister’s Papa demands she stop toying with young men’s hearts and marry within a month or be disinherited. She determines to become a mail-order bride and travel to untamed Laramie, Wyoming. Abby creates a list of characteristics she expects for her prospective husband and sets off to claim the perfect mate and secure her personal fortune.
Stage coach driver, Zach Tyler likes his exciting job where he outsmarts robbers and Indians and keeps the stage running regardless of weather, break-downs, and ornery passengers. But passenger Abby Hollister proves to be an unusual challenge. He protects her on the journey to Laramie, but in that town women are as scarce as a bird’s nest in a cuckoo clock, and men go crazy when the beauty arrives seeking a husband.
My own hero husband isn’t a cowboy, but he looks like one when we go Texas Two-Stepping. He wears his tight jeans, fitted shirt, and cowboy boots. And he’s tall, lanky, and laid-back. But he’s not the strong, silent type. He’s the strong, talkative type. And I love him with all my heart. And he rides a Harley.
But, I am certain I shall write many more western stories because I do so love cowboys!
ABOUT ANNE GREENE: My home is in the quaint antiquing town of McKinney, Texas, just a few miles north of Dallas. My dear husband is a retired Colonel, Army Special Forces. My little brown and white Shih Tzu, Lily Valentine, shares my writing space, curled at my feet. I have four beautiful, talented children, and eight grandchildren who keep me running.
I’ve traveled in every location of each book I’ve written, and each book is a book of my heart. Besides my first love, writing, I enjoy travel, art, sports, reading, sailing, snorkeling, movies, and way too many other things to mention. Life is good. Jesus said, “I am come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.” Whether writing contemporary or historical, my books celebrate the abundant life Jesus gives.
Miss Jamie Adams is obsessed with Texas. And Ranches. And cowboys. And cowboys on ranches in Texas. How could we not be glad to have her visit Wildflower Junction again?
By Jamie Adams
The last time I had the privilege of visiting with the gals here at Petticoats and Pistols we talked about cowboys. It’s been a while, but back then I used Toby Keith’s song “Should have been a Cowboy” to open up a discussion on our favorite men on horseback. This time I thought I’d switch it up a bit and talk about something different . . . like life on a ranch . . . in Texas . . . with Cowboys.
Who am I trying to kid? I have a hopeless obsession with the handsome, brave men who tamed the Wild West. Good thing for me I have friends that share that same fascination or at least they pretend they do to keep me happy.
This past year I convinced some talented writers (MidwestChristianRomanceAuthors) to join me in creating a mail-order-bride box set series set on a ranch in Texas. When a widower Texas rancher is told he has a short time to live, he decides the best way to rein in his three rambunctious sons is to find them wives. He means business too. They have to marry within three months or lose their inheritance. A very substantial inheritance.
Mesquite Gulch is a small town where the men outnumber the women tenfold. Actually that’s an exaggerated guess. The last census was taken in 1880 and they skipped our little town. Just trust me. There aren’t any marrying age women in town. But that’s not a problem, not when you have only to put an ad in the paper, or if you’re a wealthy rancher you can have your lawyer take care of things for you. Mr. Logan wants to see his sons safely hitched, but if he doesn’t live long enough, his trusted lawyer will carry out his wishes. The father hears wedding bells in the future, but it resembles a dirge to the sons.
Now take several young women fresh out of an orphanage in Chicago and put them on a ranch in Texas and you have the Texas Brides Series. The young ladies have never stepped foot outside the city, and ranch life is rougher than they’d imagined. Nothing could have prepared them for the reception their given. Their prospective grooms are as welcoming as the wicked cactus dotting the landscape. Didn’t they send for a bride? They had a strange way of showing affection. Who’d want to marry one of them?
Three rugged cowboys have no idea what is about to hit them and I have to admit it is so much fun to watch them be taken down one by one. This is a five book series. Yep that’s right, five not three. Things seldom go as planned. We’ve got twist and turns that we hope our readers will enjoy.
Just to show how excited we are to introduce ya’ll to the Logan family we’re going to give away a digital box set. Leave a comment to enter the drawing.
Jamie Adams fell in love with books at an early age. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott opened her imagination and sparked a dream to be a writer. She wrote her first book as a school project in 6th grade.
A graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature as well as member of American Christian Fiction Writers, The Writing Desk and several critique groups she spends most of her time writing, reading or learning more about the craft near to her heart.
The parents of three teenagers, she and her husband make their home in the beautiful Ozarks of Arkansas.
I’ve read numerous mail order bride stories over the years and often tried to put myself in their places. Deciding to become a one had to be one of the most difficult decisions for a woman of any age to make. Think about it. Even if the lady was in dire straits, had her life threatened, had no other recourse, come hell or high water, it undoubtedly had to be an act of sheer desperation.
I mean, really, if a woman simply needed or wanted a change from her current living arrangement, longed to start a family, detested the town, whatever, why wouldn’t she simply go down the road? Why in heaven’s name would she venture across the vast, treacherous country, exposing herself to probable unknown perils along the way or once there, and better yet, who she would be meeting to spend the rest of her life in what, marital bliss? Most hailed from eastern or southern states and answered the ad from a man anywhere throughout the entire west.
Okay, so you think she possibly lacked money to simply toddle to the next town, or maybe lacked any skill to support herself once there? Or, maybe there weren’t any men to her liking anywhere in sight for her wheedle herself into any of their hearts for matrimony? Endless possibilities that we could discuss forever.
So let’s take a gander at exactly what type of woman fled the scene, and actually took off for an area totally foreign to her, knowing not what awaited her as far as a roof over her head, or the man who would change her life forever.
Three words come to mind. Determined, tenacious, and courageous. Ah, yes there’s so many more we could discuss that would portray that woman who ventured out of her realm and pioneered to the unknown, but we’d be here until the end of 2016. So I’ve chosen three that shout that person of the female gender thought to be submissive and inferior to the male species was no thin-skinned, whimpering, milksop.
Determined to leave everyone and everything she’d known behind, determined to withstand inevitable perils she’d face during the long, difficult journey and at her destination, determined to change her ways and start a new life, that was the woman who fled to the Wild West hoping and praying for a new and better life.
Tenacious as a bulldog, once she arrived she persevered, being relentless in her strive to make her role as wife, mother and partner in each walk of life. She’d perform farm chores, work the soil, tend the home, cook and manage the household as she reared her children and stood by her man, yet managed to do community service and lent a hand to needing neighbors.
Courageous doesn’t begin to describe her driving force to withstand the hardships of undeveloped lands, battling the unforgiving rough weather, or enduring the lack of items she took for granted in her previous life. Yes, the mail order bride though she might lacked the height or muscle to equal a man, stood tall, persevered through thick and thin, remained resolute to do her best and make a good living for all. She had guts, grit and pluck to make her the pioneer woman who set the stage for those who followed.
So please come along with me to meet Morgan in my blurb of A LOVE SO STRONG. Lacking any domestic skills, her antics are sure to give you a good chuckle or two, hopefully more. And boy if she isn’t determined, tenacious and courageous.
A LOVE SO STRONG
Searching for true happiness, as well as escape from a controlling family, Morgan Prescott answers a Brides Wanted ad, and leaves New York City’s High society life for the wilds of Washington Territory. Her spirit and intelligence carries her through the rude awakening—streets of ankle deep mud, life in a one-room cabin, the hazards of cooking—but they lend no help when she loses her heart to the one man she can’t have. Private investigator Luke Kincaid, a major stockholder in the Union Pacific Railroad, goes undercover as a logging camp foreman to apprehend the saboteurs of the railroad. All he needs is a mock wife to strengthen his act, but once he agrees to Morgan filling the role, he finds himself longing for much more—a love he’s forbidden to accept or give.
Filled with humor, suspense, a heartwarming, poignant sisterly bond with the other woman, and a love between Luke and Morgan that cannot be denied. Written in memory of one special lady and to raise awareness of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
I hope you’ll take a moment and leave a comment so we can chat. And I’ll be giving away either an ebook (free coupon through Smashword), or a print book of A LOVE SO STRONG including a post-it booklet with my logo to a randomly drawn winner.
For many years, Beverly Wells devoted her life to family and the medical world. As a nurse in homecare and clinics, she also served on the medical reserve corps, a part of Homeland Security, so her reading focused on medical books and journals. That’s until she finally discovered romance novels. Once hooked, she took the plunge and wrote one. Now as an award winning author you’ll find her hammering away another humorous, sensuous (from sweet to spicy) historical romance while incorporating a lesson learned or maybe raising awareness of an important issue. Living in the Finger Lakes Region of NYS with her husband and rescued dog, Jamie, she enjoys volunteering at the local shelter—she loves all animals yet dogs hold a special place in her heart—anything Nascar, flower gardening so she can get her hands good and dirty and cooking for gathered friends and family. She adores her two granddaughters to no end. And of course chocolate—that’s a given.
For more information regarding Bev, visit her at the following links or gmail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’d love to hear from you.
Many dishes that are prides of the American table today once were ways to avoid wasting food. Shipping of all but basic staples didn’t begin until the latter half of the 19th century; perishables weren’t shipped at all until refrigerated containers, or “reefers,” were invented in 1869. Even then, perishable cargo could be carried only a few miles before the ice melted.
The first successful long-distance reefer transport occurred in the early 1880s. The first grocery store, Piggly Wiggly, opened in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1916.
Consequently, settlers on the American frontier and American Indians used every part of the animals and plants they grew or gathered in order to avoid starvation. Frontier and farming families stewed poultry necks, tails, and wings because the meat and bones offered precious protein. Slaves in the American south prepared animal innards like chitterlings (intestines) and vegetable leavings like potato skins in a variety of ways because their masters considered those things offal. Anyone who has visited a restaurant in the past twenty years recognizes chicken wings and potato skins as trendy appetizers. At “soul food” eateries, chitlins are standard fare. (Yes, I have eaten them. No, I won’t do so again.)
Because carbohydrates offer a quick source of energy, bread, too, was a precious commodity. Many frontier families baked with cornmeal or corn flour. The latter was obtained by repeatedly pouring cornmeal from burlap sack to burlap sack and shaking loose the fine powder left clinging to the bags. Bread made with wheat flour was a treat…even though merchants in frontier towns often “extended” wheat flour by adding plaster dust. Frontier families might make a multi-day journey into town for supplies once or twice a year.
Since the early 11th century, “po’ folks” have turned stale bread into bread pudding in order to use every last ounce of food they could scrounge. Originally, the concoction was a savory main dish containing bread, water, and suet. Scraps of meat and vegetables might be added if the cook had those on hand.
What we think of as bread pudding today came into its own in New Orleans in the early 1800s. Creative cooks turned the dish into a dessert by combining stale bread with eggs, milk, spices, and a sweetener like molasses, honey, or sugar. Some also included bits of fruit, berries, and/or nuts.
My family and friends talk me into baking bread pudding each Christmas, and sometimes for other special occasions during the rest of the year. They don’t have to do much arm-twisting, because the rich dessert is easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and delicious.
One thing to know about bread pudding: Making it “wrong” is darn nigh impossible. Any kind of bread can be used, including sweet breads like donuts and croissants. Likewise, spices are left to the cook’s imagination, fruits and nuts are optional, and sauces are a matter of “pour something over the top.”
Through years of trial and error, I’ve created a recipe that works for me. Have fun experimenting with the basics (bread, milk, butter, and eggs) until you come up with one that works for you. I prefer mine fairly plain, but you may want to add or top with raisins (a New Orleans classic), chocolate, bananas, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, rum sauce, caramel sauce, powdered-sugar drizzle, or almost anything else you can imagine.
Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
(can be doubled for a crowd)
(makes 10-12 servings)
3 large eggs
1½ cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ cup bourbon
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
3 cups milk
1 16oz. loaf stale French bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
Heat oven to 325.
Stir together eggs, cream, granulated and brown sugars, bourbon, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla in a large bowl.
Place bread cubes into a lightly buttered 13×9-inch pan.
Heat milk and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until butter is melted. Do not boil.
Stir ¼ cup of hot milk mixture into egg mixture. When well-combined, slowly add remaining milk mixture, stirring constantly.
Pour egg mixture evenly over bread. For a fluffier pudding, lightly press bread into egg mixture so all bread cubes are coated with the liquid. For a dense pudding, allow the pan to sit for 20 mins. before baking.
Bake for 45-55 mins., until top is browned and no liquid is visible around the edges. (The center will look soft. Don’t bother with the toothpick test—it won’t tell you anything.)
Allow pudding to stand for 20-30 mins. Top with bourbon sauce and serve.
(This will knock folks across the room, so be careful how much you pour on each pudding serving. 2 tsp. vanilla or other extract may be substituted for bourbon, if desired.)
1 cup heavy cream
½ Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon
In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.
Whisk together corn starch and water, then add the mixture to the cream, whisking constantly.
Bring the mixture to a boil.
Whisk and simmer until thickened, taking care not to scorch the cream on the bottom.
Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add more sugar and/or bourbon to taste.
Ladle sauce over each serving of warm-from-the-oven or room-temperature pudding.
Serve and enjoy!
Bread pudding wouldn’t be on the menu in the dingy cafe on the wrong side of Fort Worth where the heroine in my latest story works. The job is a big step down from her previous life as a pampered socialite. “A Long Way from St. Louis” appears with stories from seven other authors—including filly sisters Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—in Prairie Rose Publications’ new holiday anthology, A Mail-Order Christmas Bride.
A Long Way from St. Louis
Cast out by St. Louis society after her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger when she discovers the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.
Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.
When the debutante and the back-alley brawler collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.
Here’s an excerpt:
If the lazy beast lounging on a bench beside the depot’s doors were any indication, the west was neither wooly nor wild. As a porter took her hand to assist her from the railway car, Elizabeth Adair stared. The cowboy’s worn boots crossed at the ends of denim-clad legs slung way out in front of him. Chin resting on his chest, hat covering his face, the man presented the perfect picture of indolence.
Surely her husband-to-be employed a more industrious type of Texan.
Her gaze fixed on the cowboy’s peculiar hat. A broad brim surrounded a crown with a dent carved down the center. Sweat stains decorated the buff-colored felt. Splotches of drying mud decorated the rest of him.
Lazy and slovenly.
Pellets of ice sprinkled from the gray sky, melting the instant they touched her traveling cloak. Already she shivered. Another few minutes in this horrid weather, and the garment would be soaked through.
The porter raised his voice over the din of the bustling crowd. “Miss, let’s get you inside before you take a chill. I’ll bring your trunks right away.”
Taking her by the elbow, he hastened toward doors fitted with dozens of glass panes. Ragtag children darted among the passengers hurrying for shelter. Without overcoats, the urchins must be freezing.
She glanced around the platform. Where was her groom? She had assumed a wealthy rancher would meet his fiancée upon her arrival. Perhaps he waited within the depot’s presumed warmth. Her hope for a smattering of sophistication dwindled, but a woman in her circumstances could ill afford to be picky.
A group of ragamuffins gathered around the cowboy. As the porter hustled her past, the Texan reached into his sheepskin jacket and withdrew a handful of peppermint sticks. A whiff of the candy’s scent evoked the memory of a young man she once knew—a ne’er-do-well removed from St. Louis at her father’s insistence, and none too soon.
After depositing her beside a potbellied stove, the porter disappeared into the multitude. The tang of wood smoke drifted around her, so much more pleasant than the oily stench of coal. Peering through the throng, she slipped her hands from her muff and allowed the hand-warmer to settle against her waist on its long chain. She’d best reserve the accessory for special occasions. Judging by the people milling about the room, she doubted she’d find Persian lamb in Fort Worth unless she stooped to ordering from a mail-order catalog.
Mail-order. At least the marriage contract removed her from the whispered speculation, the piteous glances.
The shame heaped upon her by the parents she’d tried so hard to please.
Elizabeth put her back to the frigid gusts that swept in every time the doors opened, extending gloved palms toward the warmth cast by the stove.
Heavy steps tromped up behind her. Peppermint tickled her nose.
A gasp leapt down her throat, colliding with her heart’s upward surge. Her palm flew to the base of her collar. Bets? Deep and smooth, the voice triggered a ten-year-old memory: If ye were aulder, little girl, I’d teach ye more than how to kiss.
She whirled to find the lazy cowboy, his stained hat dangling from one hand. Her gaze rose to a face weathered by the elements, but the blue eyes, the crooked nose…
What’s your favorite holiday dessert?I’ll give an ebook copy of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)
What does the Union Stockyards in Chicago, have to do with a mail-order bride story set in 1890?
I needed a place in Illinois, where a woman from Massachusetts, could meet a man from Kansas. While doing research, I found out the American Horse Show was held in The Yards on Nov. 1-8, 1890 (125 years ago!). The setting and dates were perfect for my contribution, Lilly: Bride of Illinois, book twenty-one, in the American Mail-Order Bride Series, which debuted Dec. 9th. This book is a spin-off of my Brides with Grit Series featuring one of Pastor and Kaitlyn Reagan’s boys, Seth, as an adult.
The Union Stockyards was established in 1865 and became the point where livestock raised in the west, were shipped and processed. Then the meat was shipped on to the Eastern States. (This is where the Texas cattle were shipped to after arriving in the Kansas cow towns.)
This color lithograph was made by Charles Rascher, and published by Walsh & Co., c1878.
Caption below title on lithograph: Packing houses in the distance. Covered pens for hogs and sheep; open pens for cattle. Area of yards, 75 acres; 50 miles railroad tracks. Daily capacity:25,000 head cattle, 160,000 hogs, 10,000 sheep, and 1,000 horses.
A tidbit from Wikipedia:Processing two million animals yearly by 1870, in two decades the number rose to nine million by 1890. Between 1865 and 1900, approximately 400 million livestock were butchered within the confines of the Yards. By the start of the 20th century, the stockyards employed 25,000 people and produced 82 percent of the domestic meat consumed nationally.
Eventually, the expanded 375-acre site had 2300 separate livestock pens, but closed in 1971.
Here’s the story line for Lilly: Bride of Illinois.
Lilly Lind was forced to emigrate from Sweden two years ago, due to circumstances beyond her control. She finds a job as a garment maker in the Brown Textile Mill in Lawrence, Massachusetts, finally feeling as though she is settling in her new country. Then a suspicious fire burns the mill, making Lilly seek another way to survive. She answers a mail–order bride ad in the Grooms’Gazette and sets off for Chicago, believing she will be a business owner’s wife.
Kansas rancher Seth Reagan travels to the Union Stockyards in Chicago to attend the 1890 American Fat Stock Show, the American Horse Show, and to purchase horseflesh to augment his herd. When arriving at the train station, he overhears a conversation between a young woman and a shady–looking man. Seth becomes concerned for the mail–order bride who is whisked away to a saloon, not to her new husband’s home.
When Seth goes to the saloon to check on the young woman, he finds her in trouble and offers to help her escape. While buying horses and arranging their return travel to Kansas, Seth realizes he would like to bring Lilly home with him, too, but she is still being hunted by the saloon owner’s thugs.
Lilly’s good fortune in meeting Seth makes her want to start a life with this man, but he came to Illinois for horses, not a bride. Would he want her after he learns of her secrets?
I’m giving away a Kindle version of Lilly to someone who comments on…If you could visit Chicago, what would you like to do and see there?
The American Mail-Order Brides Series is a joint venture with 45 total authors representing all 50 states. On fifty consecutive days beginning November 19, 2015, a romance will be published featuring a mail order bride, one set in each of the fifty states and released in the order the states were admitted to the union. The stories all take place in 1890, when a factory fire in the East burns to the ground, leaving these women unemployed. These women answer mail-order bride ads in the Grooms’ Gazette, and then head out to find their groom.
Linda writes historical fiction and sweet western romance books about pioneer women who homesteaded in Kansas between 1854 to the early 1900s, often using her Swedish immigrant ancestors in the storyline.
Sign up for her newsletter at www.LindaHubalek.com.to hear about the release of future books, contests and more. Linda loves to connect with her readers, so please contact her through one of these social media sites.
In Texas, pecans are a Big Deal. The trees are native to the state, and according the archaeological record, they’ve been here since long before humans arrived. When people did arrive, they glommed onto the nuts right away as an excellent source of essential vitamins (19 of them, in fact), fats, and proteins. Comanches and other American Indians considered the nuts a dietary staple, combining pecans with fruits and other nuts to make a sort of “trail mix.” They also used pecan milk to make an energy drink and thickened stews and soups with the ground meat. Most Indians carried stores of the nuts with them when they traveled long distances, because pecans would sustain them when no other food sources were available.
An individual Texas pecan tree may live for more than 1,000 years. Some grow to more than 100 feet tall.
Pecans have been an important agricultural product in Texas since the mid-1800s. In 1850, 1,525 bushels left the Port of Galveston; just four years later, the number of bushels exceeded 13,000. In 1866, the ports at Galveston, Indianola, and Port Lavaca combined shipped more than 20,000 barrels of pecans.
Nevertheless, as the state’s population exploded, pecan groves dwindled. Trees were cut to clear fields for cotton. Pecan wood was used to make wagon parts and farm implements. One of Texas’s great natural resources was depleted so quickly that in 1904, the legislature considered passing laws to prevent the complete disappearance of the pecan.
Left alone to regenerate for a couple of decades, Texas pecan groves came back bigger than ever. Until 1945, Texas trees produced more 30 percent of the U.S. pecan crop. In 1910, pecan production in the state reached nearly 6 million pounds, and the trees grew in all but eight counties. During the 1920s, Texas exported 500 railcar loads per year, and that was only 75 percent of the state’s crop. The average annual production between 1936 and 1946 was just shy of 27 million pounds; in 1948, a banner year for pecan production, the crop zoomed to 43 million pounds produced by 3,212,633 trees. In 1972, the harvest reached a whopping 75 million pounds.
During the Great Depression, the pecan industry provided jobs for many Texans. The nuts had to be harvested and shelled. Shelling employed 12,000 to 15,000 people in San Antonio alone.
The Texas legislature designated the pecan the official state tree in 1919. Between then and now, pecan nuts became Texas’s official state health food (Texas has an official health food?), and pecan pie became the state’s official pie (and my official favorite pie). Pecan wood is used to make baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, carvings, and firewood.
Yep. Pecans have always been, and continue to be, a Big Deal in Texas—especially during the holidays. I’d be surprised if any native Texans don’t bake at least one pecan pie for either Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or both.
The first known appearance of a pecan pie recipe in print can be found on page 95 in the February 6, 1886, issue of Harper’s Bazaar. I’ll bet Texans were baking the pies long before that, though—and I’ll bet even back then Texas pecan pies weren’t the wimpy little milk-custard-based, meringue-covered things Harper’s recommended. In Texas, we make our pecan pies with brown sugar, molasses or corn syrup, butter, eggs, a whole bunch of pecans, and sometimes bourbon.
Another thing Texans have been making with pecans for a long, long time is cinnamon-pecan cake—another treat lots of folks enjoy around the holidays. My family doesn’t put bourbon in this dessert. Instead, we pour a delicious whiskey sauce over each slice. (It occurs to me that for a passel of Baptists, my family sure cooks with a lot of liquor. See the old family recipe for muscadine wine here.)
On to the cake recipe!
Cinnamon Pecan Cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped pecans
Additional chopped pecans or pecan halves for topping, if desired
Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.
In large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt.
In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed 3 to 4 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beating at low speed, add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
At low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture into sugar mixture, beating just until blended. Fold in pecans. Spread in pans. Sprinkle chopped pecans or arrange pecan halves on top, if desired.
Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove to wire rack and cool completely.
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. sugar
¼ cup bourbon
In small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream to a boil.
Whisk cornstarch and water together and add to cream while whisking constantly.
Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer until thickened (taking care not to scorch the mixture on the bottom). Remove from heat.
Stir in sugar and bourbon. Taste. Add sugar and whiskey to adjust sweetness and flavor, if desired.
Folks in Fort Worth in the 1880s would’ve eaten this cake—or something very similar—during the holidays. That’s exactly when and where “A Long Way from St. Louis,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’s Christmas anthology A Mail-Order Christmas Bride, takes place. The book—with stories by fellow fillies Cheryl Pierson and Tanya Hanson—bows November 27, but it’s available for pre-order now at Amazon.
Here’s a little about “A Long Way from St. Louis”:
Cast out by St. Louis society when her husband leaves her for another, Elizabeth Adair goes west to marry a wealthy Texas rancher. Burning with anger over the deceit of a groom who is neither wealthy nor Texan, she refuses to wed and ends up on the backstreets of Fort Worth.
Ten years after Elizabeth’s father ran him out of St. Louis, Brendan Sheppard’s memory still sizzles with the rich man’s contempt. Riffraff. Alley trash. Son of an Irish drunkard. Yet, desire for a beautiful, unattainable girl continues to blaze in his heart.
When the debutante and the ne’er-do-well collide a long way from St. Louis, they’ll either douse an old flame…or forge a new love.
So, readers… What dish—dessert, main course, side, or appetizer—absolutely must be part of your holidays? I’ll give an ebook version of A Mail-Order Christmas Bride to one of today’s commenters who answers that question. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)
Clichés are the bane of a writer’s existence. (I think I just used a cliché!) They’re so easy to fall back on because we’ve heard them all of our lives and they’ve become a part of our speech patterns—so, of course, when we write, they invade our work there, as well.
I really didn’t notice how often clichés appeared in the books I read until I wrote my own book, and my editor sent me a very nice note telling me I needed to go through and remove the clichés and find a different way of wording some of the passages…I had never seen so much red ink in my life!
(Here’s my first iteration of Fire Eyes–the one I had to take all the clichés out of!)
I got better as time has gone on, but there are still instances when I think, “Nothing else will do!” And I have to tell myself, “Yes. You’ll think of a different way to say it.”
As a reader, I do notice those clichés more now than I did before. And if there are too many of them, I have been known to lay the book down…for good. You might think such a thing isn’t a HUGE deal, but for me, being aware of it tends to jerk me out of the story when I see too many of them.
I subscribe to a newsletter called “QUORA” – it’s a fun little online publication, where people write in with questions and other people answer them. The rest of us can “upvote” the answers if we agree.
Yesterday I came across this question: What are the most common clichés in fiction writing? Author Ellen Vrana gives these answers—and they’re darn good! I had to laugh—I’ve used plenty of these. Take a look:
Every oak tree is gnarled. Every gentle wave is lapping upon the shore. Every mountain town is nestled in a valley, every chimney produces curled rings of smoke.
Every politician is slick, every banker is soulless. Journalists are moral and hardworking. Teachers are worn out. Every woman is unsatisfied, every man is flippant. Mothers are worn out too, but the fathers are emotionless.
Every woman has jet black hair and every day starts with bitter coffee (which might also be scorching) and ends with whiskey (who drinks whiskey?) and ice that clinks. (Or is it chinks? My eyes glaze over . . . )
In the city there are cars honking, lights blinking and there are many things that are incessant; noise, screams, cries, honking. Oh, and blaring lights. Lots of blaring lights which sometimes flicker.
The country has chirping crickets and waving grass. Parched earth abounds, there is lots and lots and lots of dust. The moon is always bathing things, the fog is always thick or dense, sometimes both. Thunderstorms rage while thunder cracks. Lighting illuminates, what, I don’t know. The sun shines down, as opposed to up, and clouds really don’t do anything except move.
Waves crash. Cars don’t. Tears roll down cheeks and faces break into smiles while the eyes always crinkle, when they aren’t sparkling, or flashing. Hair shines or curls, always curls. People are clad in clothing, never just clothed in it. Necklaces dangle and bracelets chink. Arms are thick and strong and eyes meet more than people.
Thoughts race or sometimes pervade while anger boils. Chills run up or down spines, depending on where you live, and ideas aren’t just clear, they are crystal clear. What is crystal? It’s what you drink your whiskey in. With the ice that clinks.
Things are notably pale, thick, greasy, cold, strong and dry which don’t need to be. If it’s a pillow we know it’s soft. Ditto Coke and cold. Words like eat and ran and speak are passed over for gobbled and raced and exclaimed. People can’t just hold they have to clasp, they can’t cry they have to sob and they can’t stop they have to come to a halt.
I’m not tired, I’m fatigued. I’m not messy, I’m disheveled. I’m not sad, I’m despondent. Ah whatever, at least I’m not gasping for breath or not sleeping a wink over the use of clichés. Every writer falls for them, at some time or another. Every oak tree is gnarled. Even this one.
(There was a reason I picked this particular photo that Rick did–the “gnarled tree”, the colors that looked “as though they were painted”, and the water that reflects those colors “like a mirror”…)
I’m giving away a digital copy of the PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS’ upcoming Christmas anthology for 2015—A MAIL-ORDER CHRISTMAS BRIDE! This fantastic collection of stories will be available on November 27. It’s got a fabulous line up of authors, including fillies Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hanson, and me, along with debut author Jesse J Elliot, Patti Sherry-Crews, Jacquie Rogers, Meg Mims, and Livia J Washburn.
Here’s the link to PRE-ORDER this fabulous collection, and receive it on your Kindle on November 27!