“Do you know what stories Sarah could tell you about the things that happened in these little cabins? They’d curl that pretty red hair of yours.”
Outside of Charleston, South Carolina, beyond hanging curtains of Spanish moss, at the end of a shaded tunnel of overarching oaks, stands the antebellum mansion of Peppernell Manor in all its faded grandeur. At the request of her friend Evie Peppernell, recently divorced Carleigh Warner and her young daughter Lucy have come to the plantation house to refurbish the interior. But the tall white columns and black shutters hide a dark history of slavery, violence, and greed. The ghost of a former slave is said to haunt the home, and Carleigh is told she disapproves of her restoration efforts. And beneath the polite hospitality of the Peppernell family lie simmering resentments and poisonous secrets that culminate in murder—and place Carleigh and her child in grave danger…
by Amy M. Reade
My new novel, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, is set on an antebellum plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina. Lots of people have asked me why I chose to set a story in South Carolina when I live in New Jersey and grew up in northern New York.
The simple answer is this: Charleston is fascinating. In fact, the whole Lowcountry area of South Carolina is fascinating. That part of South Carolina seems to experience everything in high-definition. Emotions (both positive and negative) seem stronger there, the weather seems more sultry there, the magnolias seem more beautiful there. The homes are among the most stunning in the South, and the people exude Southern hospitality.
Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started, is just a short distance away. There are historic plantations, working and non-working, in every direction. The city is known for its gardens, its churches, its graveyards, its homes.
It’s also the perfect place for a mystery. With its history of agriculture, architecture, fashion and design, social upheaval, slavery, war, and Reconstruction, the Lowcountry is rife with imaginative settings for a plot filled with twists and mayhem. It’s a good place to set a story that explores the often counterintuitive and even bizarre relationships within families, too, since it’s a place where generations stay put and, if they do leave, they invariably long to return.
The Lowcountry is a feeling. You know it when you’re there-you feel the history and the atmosphere and the culture; when you’re not there, you miss it.
I wanted to write a book that would transport readers to the Lowcountry, with its flowers and its heat and its humidity and its storms and its beauty. I’ve written many times about the importance of setting in a story, and I want readers to come away from my books feeling like the setting was one of the main characters, without which the story just wouldn’t be the same.
The food of the Lowcountry is unique, too. From benne wafers to Lowcountry boils, from shrimp and grits to flaky buttermilk biscuits, from pilau to she-crab soup, from Hoppin’ John to Huguenot torte, the cuisine of that area of the country is distinctive, rich, and delicious.
Benne wafers…mmm…that’s what comes to mind first when I think of Lowcountry food. I know everyone has a different opinion about food, but I thought I’d share my dog-eared and well-used recipe with you. It’s an old family favorite:
1 c. sesame seeds
½ c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
¼ t. salt
¼ t. baking soda
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg, room temperature
1 c. flour
Toast sesame seeds: preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread seeds in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Toast for 10-12 minutes or until seeds begin to turn brown. Keep an eye on them because they burn easily! Allow seeds to cool.
Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together the butter, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, vanilla, and egg until fluffy. Add flour; mix until smooth. Stir in cooled seeds.
Drop batter by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto lightly-greased cookie sheets (I use parchment paper instead).
Bake cookies for 8-9 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool for 1 minute on the cookie sheet, then remove them to wire baking rack to cool completely.
Store in airtight container.
I hope you try these and that you love them as much as my family does!
What comes to mind when you think of the South? Leave your comment below!
I invite you to have a look at The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, which is a standalone book. Peppernell Manor has seen better days. But when its owner hires restoration specialist Carleigh Warner to oversee its return to grandeur, disagreements over the property’s future threaten to tear the Peppernell family apart. Carleigh is swept unwittingly into a whorl of secrets that she must face to protect her future and her daughter’s life.
I also invite you to visit me online, where I love connecting with readers. You can find me at the following places:
Website: http://www.amymreade.com (my website has a page listing my appearances)
About the Author
Amy M. Reade is also the author of Secrets of Hallstead House, a book set in the Thousand Islands of northern New York, where Amy grew up. After graduating from Cornell University, she went on to law school at Indiana University in Bloomington. She practiced law in New York City before moving to southern New Jersey, where, in addition to writing, she is a wife, a full-time mom and a volunteer in school, church and community groups. She lives just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean with her husband and three children as well as a dog and two cats. She loves cooking and all things Hawaii and is currently at work on her next novel.
One lucky winner will receive an ebook copy of The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor by Amy M. Reade. Enter using the Giveaway Tools widget below for your chance to win. Contest is open internationally and will end on May 10th 2015. Please see giveaway widget for complete rules & regulations. Good luck!!