Tag Archives: Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County

Earth Day 2017: Look to Your Elders

If we want to take environmental concerns seriously, most of us can start by emulating the habits of our elders. Few people threw things out the way we do today, and wastefulness is a huge part of the problem.

When I met the Delany Sisters, they were surprised that their small city – Mt. Vernon, N.Y. – was starting a new, vigorous recycling program. Why were they surprised? Because they’d been recycling (without calling it that) for years.

The term “carbon footprint” wasn’t widely in use then, but I guarantee that the Delany Sisters impact on the environment was extremely minimal. They were frugal, thoughtful people.

My mother grew up in deprivation during the Great Depression of the 1930s followed by World War Two-era rationing and, at 91, she still saves every piece of aluminum foil she lays her hands on. Because she didn’t always have enough to eat as a child, she will spend a half-hour carefully cutting away the “bad” parts of a rotten piece of fruit in order to salvage a small bit of it.

A few years ago I met Marion “Strong Medicine” Gould who became the subject of my oral history ‘Strong Medicine’ Speaks: A Native American Elder Has Her Say. It’s not an exaggeration to say that her awareness and consideration of the environment were essential to her world-view. This was a woman who collected wild plants to make salves. She was the matriarch of a Native American Tribe whose members will do almost anything to avoid cutting down a tree, and if they do, they will leave a gift to the spirits as a form of acknowledging the tree’s passing.

When I decided to try my hand at writing fiction, focusing on Florida in the early 1960s, the impact of humans on the fragile ecology was crucial to telling the story. Some reviewers noted that the Everglades is, in a sense, a main character in the second novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County. The classic battle of man versus nature is a primary theme. I was a newspaper reporter in Florida years ago, and it was the old-timers who understood how to live on the land with minimal impact. These were folks who lived a rough life among the mangroves and the manatees. They took only what they needed.

It’s time we listened to all of them and followed their example.

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When It Comes to the Creative Use of Language, Southerners Steal the Show

“Mrs. Conroy was nervous as a rat terrier.”

“Mrs. Bailey White was ten years older than God.”

“That there is a sorry excuse for a road.”

These are a few of the “Southern-isms” from my latest novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County. When it comes to creative expressions, there’s no question about it: The South wins. As a writer, I am forever grateful that my parents moved us from Up North to South Carolina when I was six years old, and that I later lived in Florida, and that I acquired all kinds of delicious Southern expressions along the way. Here’s a few more that I share in my novel:

“She was screeching like a banshee on a coconut-milk binge.”

“Ugly as a toad’s hindquarters.”

“We talked that ol’ topic to death and right into the next world.”

“Just when you think you got enough grit in your oysters….”

“She was gussied up.”

The preacher has “a voice deep as a bullfrog’s in mating season.”

She moved “faster than a Chihuahua that smells a chicken bone.”

“He is plumb jack crazy.”

Can you tell that I had fun? While I hope my novel provides some deep insights into life in a small Florida town in 1964, part of the motivation for writing it was, quite simply, the joy of creating characters who speak in the colorful language that is uniquely Southern.

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Hot Where You Are? Try a Boston Cooler

Avid fans of my first book, the 1993 oral history, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 YearsBoston cooler, may recall that the centenarian Delany Sisters’ favorite beverage treat was something called a “Boston cooler.”

What is a Boston Cooler, you ask?

It’s an ice cream soda similar to a root-beer float, except it’s made with ginger ale and vanilla ice cream.

Boston Coolers were all the rage in the Victorian era when the Delany Sisters were young, and they still prepared the refreshing treat when they were both past 100 years of age when I met them in 1991. In fact, whenever we had something to celebrate – a birthday, the publication of our book, the day the book became a New York Times bestseller – the sisters and I would have a slice of Sadie’s pound cake (which she made each week, in case company
stopped by), accompanied by Boston coolers prepared by Bessie.

It takes only minutes to make a Boston Cooler – just fill a tall glass two-thirds of the way with ginger ale and add a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can eat it with a spoon, or wait until the ice cream dissolves and use a straw.

I associate Boston Coolers so closely with ladies of the Delany Sisters’ era that when Mrs. Bailey White, one of the characters in my new novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, serves a beverage to the other characters, I chose – what else? – Boston Coolers.

I know the Delany Sisters would have approved!

Had you ever heard of a Boston Cooler? Do you have a similar ice cream and soft drink treat that you like to make, or that you enjoyed as a child?

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Late Summer Treat: Collier County Key Lime Pie

Collier County Key Lime Pie features a Nilla Wafer crust

When I was a newspaper reporter, I knew a novice food writer who got the assignment of her dreams from a big magazine: She was to travel throughout the South in search of the best Key Lime Pie. It seems the distinctive flavorings of Key Lime Pie have inspired epic struggles about the “right” ingredients, and the food writer was thrilled to have an opportunity to investigate first-hand.It didn’t work out quite as she expected. Sure, she found some great recipes. But she returned to New York City twenty pounds heavier and swearing that she’d never be able to look at another slice of Key Lime Pie as long as she lived.

The food writer had learned the hard way that Key Lime Pie is meant to be a refreshing alternative to desserts made with chocolate and other sweet, “heavy” ingredients. I don’t think I could eat it every day, either. But I do love it.

The recipe I’m sharing with you here today is the way it was made in Collier County, Florida in the 1960s, the setting for my novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County. In the novel, one of the characters makes a Key Lime Pie, and this is exactly the way she would have made it, according to my expert in all things Collier County in the 1960s – my husband, Blair, who grew up there.

Ideally, one should, of course, use Key limes for the recipe. If you can’t find Key limes, however, use Persian limes. Note that Key limes are smaller and therefore you will need twice as many – about ten Key limes for this recipe as compared to about five of the Persian limes.

Some people cheat and use bottled Key lime juice but this is strictly ver boten (a no-no) among Key Lime Pie afficianados.

Key Lime Pie, despite expectations, is not really green. Some bakers, especially in the 1960s, added a few drops of green food coloring, but purists did not.

While some cooks insist that a Key Lime Pie should have a baked pastry shell, the Collier County recipe calls for a crumbled vanilla-wafer crust, similar to a graham cracker crust. Vanilla wafers have been in existence for at least a century; Nabisco company’s much-loved “Nilla wafers” have been available in most grocery stores since the 1960s.

One standard 11-ounce box Nilla wafers
One-third cup butter, softened
Three eggs
One 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
One-half cup lime juice, preferably squeezed from fresh fruit
Three and one-half tablespoons water
One-half teaspoon vanilla
One-quarter teaspoon cream of tartar
Six tablespoons sugar

Separate eggs. Set aside. (Egg whites will need to stand at room temp. for 30 minutes.)

For edge of pie crust: Using as many Nilla wafers as desired, place wafers in a standing position around the edge of a nine-inch glass pie plate. Wafers should overlap, and flat side of wafers should face center of pie plate.

For bottom of pie crust: Crumble one and a half cups of Nilla Wafers into medium-sized bowl. Add butter and combine by hand. Press into bottom of pie plate. Place pie plate in refrigerator to chill for fifteen minutes.

To make filling, beat egg yolks with a fork in a medium bowl. Slowly add sweetened condensed milk. Add lime juice. Add water. Mix well. (If the mixture seems soupy, let it rest and it will thicken.)

Remove prepared pie crust from refrigerator. Using a spoon, add filling to pie crust. Be careful not to disturb the crust. Bake at 325 degrees for twenty minutes. Set pie on a wire rack. Immediately make meringue. (Must be added to pie before pie cools.)

To make meringue, combine egg whites, vanilla, and cream of tartar in a large mixing bowl (preferably glass, not ceramic). Beat with electric mixer for at least one minute on medium speed or until soft peaks form. Tips must curl when tested. Add sugar very gradually while beating on high speed for four to five minutes until stiff peaks form easily.

Spread meringue evenly over the hot pie filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Remove and cool on wire rack for at least one hour. Chill for at least three hours(preferably longer) before serving.



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Recipe for Collier County “Guilty Pleasure” Cheese Grits!

Collier County "Guilty Pleasure" Cheese Grits

The release date for my novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, is just around the corner – September 8. I’m celebrating by sharing recipes of yummy dishes and desserts mentioned in the book, which is set in Florida during the 1960s. Today’s recipe is for Collier County “Guilty Pleasure” Cheese Grits. Special thanks to my husband, Blair, who grew up in Collier during that era, for his dutiful assistance in helping me re-create these recipes.Lord help us, but the guilty secret about cheese grits, that Southern favorite, is that the best cheese for the purpose of making baked grits comes from – dare I say it? – the North. That’s right. The key is using the sharpest Yankee cheddar cheese you can find. You may want to hide it in your shopping basket. (Hence, why they came to be called “guilty pleasure” cheese grits in Collier County, Florida.)

Now, if you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, you may think it’s okay to use “instant grits.” Please be advised that Hominy grits are preferred, “Quick grits” are tolerated, but “Instant grits” are considered beneath one’s dignity!

While some recipes for Cheese Grits call for an egg or chicken broth, note that this was not the case, traditionally, in Collier County. For the truly adventurous, serve “Grits and Grunts” (see below).

Ingredients for Collier County Cheese Grits:
2 cups Hominy Grits
Three-quarter lb. sharp cheddar cheese
One-half lb. Gouda or Edam cheese
Water (typically 4 parts water to 1 part grits, but check packaging)
1 tsp Salt

Shred one-half lb of cheddar and all of the Gouda (or Edam) cheese. Set aside.
Using a cheese knife, flake one-quarter lb cheddar. Set aside for topping.
Using butter, grease a large casserole dish that is broiler-proof. A shallow dish is ideal.
In a large pot, add water and bring to boil.
Add grits to boiling water. Stir continuously with long-handled whisk or spoon until full cooked.
Add shredded cheddar. Blend.
Add shredded Gouda or Edam. Blend.
Add salt. Blend.
Pour into prepared pan. Smooth.
Sprinkle the “flaked” cheddar cheese on top.
Place in broiler or hot over for ten minutes or until cheddar cheese topping is browned.
Serve as a side dish to ham, bacon and eggs, shrimp, or “grunts.” Can also be cut into thin strips and deep-fried. Or let cool and serve with molasses.
Definition: Grunts are small baitfish. Roll lightly in flour and fry. For Collier County Grits and Grunts, add a splash of Kentucky bourbon to the batter. Eat whole (a la sardines) and serve with grits!

Do you have a favorite grits recipe? How does it vary from this one?

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When Baking Brings Back Memories


Collier County Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Features Oranges

One of the most popular desserts of the 1960s was Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. The way I remember it, there rarely seemed to be a gathering where someone didn’t bring one, and church suppers often featured two or three. At home, my mom sometimes made one when it was her turn to host her weekly bridge group or monthly League of Women Voters meeting.Upside-Down Cake is easy to make. It was one of the first desserts my mom and I made together, although I doubt I did much more than lick the spoon, or arrange pineapple slices into a pretty pattern. The very idea that the cake is flipped after it’s baked, with the bottom becoming the top, made the process quite exciting to a five-year-old.

Because my “Miss Dreamsville” novels are historical fiction set in the 1960s, one of my characters in the new one (to be released Sept. 8) mentions making the familiar cake, which, in a round-about sort of fashion seemed to give me the perfect excuse to make one. After all, this was research, right?

My husband, who grew up in Collier County, Florida where my novels are set, found it amusing that I was planning to make an Upside-Down Cake, just for old times sake. But to my delight he suddenly remembered the way they were made in Collier County, with orange slices as well as pineapple. (Note that they must be Florida oranges! Never from California. If the produce manager at Winn-Dixie was foolish enough to try to sell California oranges, he got an earful!)

Here’s the recipe:

Collier County Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Two tablespoons butter (unsalted, preferably)
One-third cup packed brown sugar
Three pineapple slices, each cut in half (drain if from a can)
One medium-sized Florida orange, peeled and cut into small sections. Remove seeds and segment walls where fibrous
4 maraschino cherries (cut into halves)
One and one-third cups of flour
Two-thirds cup of white sugar
Two tablespoons baking powder
Two-third cup of milk
One-quarter cup butter (soften by leaving on counter)
One egg
One teaspoon of vanilla

Step 1. Melt the two tablespoons butter in a small fry pan. Add brown sugar and one teaspoon water. Stir. Pour mixture into a nine by one and one-half inch cake pan (round). Place pineapple and oranges in any design you choose. Add cherries to decorate. Put on side burner.

Step 2. Using a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir flour, white sugar, and baking powder. Then add one-quarter cup of butter, one egg, vanilla, and milk. Combine by hand. Beat with electric mixer for at least one minute on medium speed. Using a spoon, carefully spread batter on top of the fruit in the pan that was prepared in Step 1.

Step 3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until a fork inserted near center comes out clean. Remove from oven and leave on wire rack for five minutes. Use a knife to loosen cake. Flip upside down onto a flat serving plate.

Best if served warm with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

P.S. I’ll be posting more recipes on my website, http://www.amyhillhearth.com

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Cover Reveal for My Upcoming Novel!

LOST HEIRESS COVER  I’m thrilled to share the cover of my new book, Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County, a sequel to my first novel! I am ecstatic about the cover and so excited! It’s scheduled for publication by Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books imprint on September 8, 2015. If you like, you may Pre-order it by clicking here: Simon and Schuster

or by clicking here: Amazon.com.

Here is the publisher’s description:

“In this sequel to Amy Hill Hearth’s “funny and charming” (Publishers Weekly) debut novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society, the eponymous book club reunites one year later, in the late summer of 1964.

“Their mission: to fight a large development along the tidal river where member Robbie-Lee grew up and where his mother, Dolores Simpson, a former stripper turned alligator hunter, still lives in a fishing shack.

“The developer is Darryl Norwood, ex-husband of narrator Dora Witherspoon, who returns to Collier County to assist in the battle. An old land deed, the discovery that one of the key characters has been using a false name, and a dramatic court hearing are just a few of the highlights. Not to mention the reappearance of the Ghost of Seminole Joe.

“Just as Hearth’s debut explored the ways we can find a sense of belonging in other people, her latest novel shows how closely tied each of us is to our sense of home—and the conflicts that can arise when our idea of that home becomes threatened. For Darryl, the river is a place ripe for development. For Dora, who’s known as the Turtle Lady because she rescues Everglades ‘snappers,’ it’s a place that belongs to the critters. And for Dolores, former stripper, it’s a place to hide from the world.”


This will be my ninth book (and second novel)! I look forward to sharing more about it in the months to come.

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