Jay McDonald

Readers who love a vicarious meal of classic Southern cooking have long felt welcome in Mitford, the fictional North Carolina village that serves as the setting for Jan Karon's popular series. Now, thanks to the lovingly assembled <B>Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader</B>, fans who have gobbled up the Mitford novels for years can have their cake and eat it, too.

"I envisioned this cookbook a long time ago," Karon says by phone from her home near Charlottesville, Virginia. "I don't think there are many, if any, cookbooks out there where you can sit down and read what for many will be their favorite series and then go into the kitchen and actually cook the very meal that you've been reading about. I wanted to give my readers this extra gift of making Mitford real on yet another level."

You won't need a culinary degree to prepare most of these down-home recipes while enjoying excerpts from the Mitford series that inspired them. From Sadie Baxter's Apple Pie to Emma's Pork Roast to Karon's mysterious Livermush, this collection's motto is damn the cholesterol, full-steam ahead. There are generous helpings of color photos, cooking tips, jokes, quotes and table blessings mixed in as well. Food was much on Karon's mind (and growling stomach) when she jettisoned her successful advertising career to hole up in the North Carolina foothills of her birth and write books about real Southern lives, dreamers and schemers.

"I had never written a book and didn't have a clue how to write one," she recalls. "In the meantime, I had to do something to earn a living, so I freelanced. I didn't have much in my cupboard and I was writing about food, and what I found was that all of these food references were really connecting with my readers.

"The language of food is really a language all its own. People would say, ‘I gained 10 pounds just reading your book,' and I would reply, ‘I gained 10 pounds just writing it!' I love food. It's a very Southern way of communicating. It's a way of loving people."

Food became such an integral part of the Mitford communal experience that Karon sometimes found herself in a pickle.

"Some of the food references, such as the Orange Marmalade Cake, were totally fiction, I had never heard of such a thing. I totally love orange marmalade but am not terribly fond of chocolate, so I just started talking about it. People wanted the recipe, and I didn't have a recipe."

Atlanta chefs Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis came to the rescue with a recipe that Karon says is as challenging as it is scrumptious.

After a false start with a pricey but disappointing chef, Karon's assistant introduced her to Martha McIntosh, a Mississippi kitchen magician who not only compiled this collection but also family-tested every one of the 150 recipes included here. Karon took great care to check the ingredients for Southern authenticity.

"For instance, Louella would use lard instead of shortening because she is in an age category where that's how she was taught to cook, being Southern of course. What would Lottie Greer use, triple virgin olive oil or vegetable oil? She would use Crisco vegetable oil off the shelf of her brother's country store; she doesn't know from triple virgin olive oil. That's the sort of thing Cynthia would cook with," she says.

Karon admits she has been far too busy wrapping up her Mitford series to cook much herself. Toward that end, the coming year will see a blizzard of Mitford books. Karon's Christmas tale, <I>Shepherds Abiding</I>, will appear in paperback in time for the holidays. Beginning next May, each of the Mitford books will be sequentially published one time only in mass market editions, one a month, leading up to the series finale, <I>Light from Heaven</I>, in October.

Fans take heart: Karon plans to take Father Tim and Cynthia on the road in a new series that kicks off with a trip to Father Tim's ancestral homeland, Ireland. And where Father Tim travels, can good food be far behind?

Readers who love a vicarious meal of classic Southern cooking have long felt welcome in Mitford, the fictional North Carolina village that serves as the setting for Jan Karon's popular series. Now, thanks to the lovingly assembled <B>Jan Karon's Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader</B>, fans who have gobbled up the Mitford novels for years can […]

Stewart O'Nan's ghostly trio takes the driver's seat One Halloween night, a speeding carload of partying teenagers misses a turn and collides head-on with the hereafter. What happens next, to those who survive and those who don't, makes for a wild and wicked ride in Stewart O'Nan's The Night Country, a spooky little tale in the Ray Bradbury tradition guaranteed to give parents the pre-Halloween willies.

It's Cabbage Night, the night before Halloween, in Avon, an affluent Connecticut suburb. With manicured lawns, peopleless, well-lit streets and stores of every ubiquitous, national brand, Avon is vanilla, vanilla, vanilla. Nothing wicked this way comes, ever. (Just ask the author; he's lived in the actual Avon for years.) Tim and Kyle, two teenage buddies headed home from their bagboy shift at the Stop'n'Shop, are tailed by kindly, troubled Officer Brooks. All of them were there one year ago when a Camry carrying five teenagers slammed into a tree. Three kids died that night: Toe, the driver; Danielle, Tim's girlfriend; and Marco, our narrator. There were two survivors: Kyle, whose massive injuries rendered him childlike, and Tim, whose survivor's guilt has hardened into suicidal intentions.

Brooks, the first officer to reach that gruesome scene, has retreated into the bottle to battle his demons. His only mission now is to prevent Tim and Kyle from repeating that horrible scene on purpose this Halloween.

What makes The Night Country so chilling is the haunting presence of the wisecracking undead. The ghostly trio drifts in and out of the lives of Tim, Kyle and Brooks, dropping vague references to an otherworldly agenda of their own. Although O'Nan chooses Marco, “the quiet one,” to narrate, Toe and Danielle add plenty of adolescent commentary via parenthetical, and often chiding, asides. O'Nan, the critically acclaimed author of seven previous novels, says he read a newspaper account of an actual multiple teenage fatality in a nearby community and couldn't shake it. “A year later, on the very day, the two survivors got in a Jeep with a suitcase of Bud in cans and a mobile phone and went driving around town to visit all these old spots that they used to go to with their friends and they telephoned all their other friends saying, ÔWe're going to kill ourselves, we don't want to live anymore because of the accident last year. We just wanted to say goodbye to you.' And they ran into the exact same tree that their friends had hit. Afterward, all their friends and the town put all these bouquets and teddy bears around this particular tree. The town came and cut the tree down because they didn't want any copycats after that. Very weird.” A horror fan from his earliest days growing up in Pittsburgh (also home to director George A. Romero of Night of the Living Dead fame, he notes proudly), O'Nan had long dreamt of writing an homage to Ray Bradbury, to whom this book is dedicated.

“He was one of my first great loves. There was something magical about his short stories. One of my favorite books of all time is Something Wicked This Way Comes. I loved that book and for years I've said that I'm going to try to write something like that,” he says.

The teen accident and double suicide seemed the perfect basis for a novel. “In Something Wicked, the dark thing comes to the small town and it's up to the innocents there, the two boys and their librarian father, to fight off this dangerous thing. There are no small towns anymore where I live; they're all suburbs. So when I started writing this book, I thought OK, let's bring the magical thing into this place that is decidedly un-magical.” Like Halloween, one of his favorite fright flicks, O'Nan conjures up foreboding from the very ordinariness of life in Avon. As horrifying as dying young in twisted wreckage might seem, surviving with Kyle's array of disabilities may be even scarier.

“In movies and TV and pop writing, it's always about events instead of consequences,” he says. “These things happen and that's supposed to be the big climax. But it's really living with this stuff; how do you keep living with this stuff? Because we all do. Your life doesn't just stop; you've got to go on somehow.” O'Nan, like Bradbury, is a decidedly free-range author, although some aspect of the gothic is never far from view in such disparate works as Wish You Were Here (2002), A Prayer for the Dying (1999) and A World Away (1998).

So what exactly is it that scares him? “Everything!” he chuckles. “I thought for a long, long time that I would die in a car crash. Fear of economic collapse. Fear of Republican presidents. Fear is one of the big subjects I always take on in every book.” That said, he doesn't intentionally set out to write intelligent horror with every book. In fact, each book tends to send him in the opposite direction, as if to “completely obliterate” the previous novel. It would be fair to say that distraction is the key to his creative process. “What happens is, I will start one book and have the characters and the action and the setting, all that stuff, and one lone little tiny character will zip across a sentence and will seem so much more interesting than what I'm doing that I will follow that character that I know nothing about to somewhere I hope is more interesting. And that's the book that I will end up writing, and the book that I had planned to write, I'll never get to,” he says.

Though it didn't get under his skin during the writing, O'Nan can now add The Night Country to that list of things that keep him up nights. “Now it sort of creeps me out a little bit. I have a daughter who just got her license and she goes to that high school. It's very weird. My great fear is that something bad will happen this fall when the book has just come out in our town. I've very worried about that.” Jay MacDonald is a professional writer based in Mississippi.

Stewart O'Nan's ghostly trio takes the driver's seat One Halloween night, a speeding carload of partying teenagers misses a turn and collides head-on with the hereafter. What happens next, to those who survive and those who don't, makes for a wild and wicked ride in Stewart O'Nan's The Night Country, a spooky little tale in […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!