“Magic. And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” -Roald Dahl
Before I begin let me ask you a questions. Could you be persuaded that certain plants have magical powers? How about believing in the existence of a magic wine? Since October is a time when magic is celebrated and mystery is relished, it seemed only fitting that this month’s title, Garden Spells, is a book that blends magical realism with a touch of Southern Gothic and a cast of unique women that are secretive, quirky and just plain fun to read about.
Enchanting is the word that best describes this novel. From the first sentence, I was instantly drawn into the story by author Sarah Addison Allen’s descriptive prose. Allen’s literary style and ability to evoke images though her words, bring this story of the Waverly Clan and the small North Carolina town they live in to life. The Waverly’s have a reputation around town for being ‘different’ although the “magical” occurrences are nothing of great surprise to most of the town folks. The town simply accepts that the Waverley family are a curious bunch who possess special gifts some of which they would like to posses themselves.
The Waverley family have long been the stewards of a rather unusual property where apples from their tree tells people what the biggest event in their lives will be, while edible flowers and herbs aid in producing the magically endowed foods. Garden Spells is also a story of the bonds and difficulties found in any family, it weaves together two estranged sisters, Claire and Sydney Waverly, their elderly cousin, Evanelle and Sydney’s young daughter Bay who isn’t aware of her family legacy. Each Waverly has their own uncanny ability including knowing where things belong, giving people things that they will need in the future, and very special culinary and beauty skills that can change people’s lives. The Waverly’s whether they like it or not, have their own individual brand of magic.
I am keeping the story line of this book to a minimum because there are certain aspects of the book that deserve to be discovered through the course of reading it, not from telling you what to expect. Would you enjoy reading Garden Spells? You will if you enjoy escaping into a world filled with delicious culinary magic, including lush gardens filled with bewitching edible plants, intriguing old creaky houses, and a cast of lively and spirited characters who make you forget for awhile that magic isn’t real.
Author Stephen King is quoted as calling books “a uniquely portable magic” and I absolutely agree. After reading a number of Sarah Addison Allen’s books I think she is keenly aware of what it takes to make a book a magical portal for her readers as she spins stories with southern flavor, small-town charm, and a blend of captivating characters. Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Allen was a literature major in college and following graduation her course as a New York Times Bestselling novelist was set in 2007 with the publication of Garden Spells.
With the success of Garden Spells, Allen continued to publish memorizing stories over the next five years including, The Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased The Moon, and The Peach Keeper. Soon Allen’s writing would be put on hold as she took a break when she was diagnosed at the age of 39 with late stage breast cancer. In 2014 she returned to writing and published her bestselling novel, Lost Lake. Now in remission Allen continues to write “Southern-fried magic realism” novels that have a real connect with her readers, including a sequel to Garden Spell, which was released in 2015 called First Frost.
Photography credit: Amber S. Wallace courtesy of Sarah Addison Allen’s Website.
Exciting News from Allen’s Website shares that there will be a New Book Coming Soon!
“At long last, my new book is complete! Thank you all for being so patient. As soon as there is a title and a release date I’ll be sure to share in my newsletter and on my social media pages. (I’ll also be shouting with joy from the rooftop, but I doubt anyone but my – probably very concerned – neighbors will hear that.) I know 2020 has been a rough one for everyone. Here’s to a wonderful 2021.”
Allen’s novels are spellbindingly charming and I eagerly await the release of her newest novel, you may even see it as a Drink In Life Books title in the future.
Like many of her novels Allen displays a great appreciation of good food in Garden Spells, and she acknowledges that the credit goes to her “fabulous cook” mother. Garden Spells is blooming with garden inspired recipes created by the lead character Claire who runs her own catering company and always seems to know what Waverly magic her clients need most from her culinary creations.
Garden inspired culinary creativity can go beyond the fresh produce harvested and include dishes that have been garnished with edible flowers and herb blooms. Nature always seems to have a way of providing us more resources than we may realize, especially when it comes to discovering what is edible in the garden. For those looking to experience all that nature has to offer or are just looking to add a little flavor into your life, you need only walk through an herb garden collecting both leaves and flowers to experiment with.
Fun Fact: All the blooms of herb plants are edible and most herb blooms smell and taste like the leaves of the same plant. Nowadays many high end chefs as well as home cooks are decorating their plates with edible flowers and herb blooms and the good news is that it doesn’t take any special skills to create edible masterpieces of your own.
Pictured here: Chives are a perennial member of the onion family that sport beautiful edible flowers.
According to the Waverly Kitchen Journal (found in the book), chive blossoms ensure that you will win an argument and are conveniently also an antidote for hurt feelings.
I believe in the ancient adage that “First we eat with our eyes” so I wanted to share a recipe that not only get a flavor boost from ingredients found in the garden, but is also as aromatic as it is beautiful. The only question? Is this recipe too pretty to eat?
“Yellow joy was radiating from her. When you’re happy for yourself, it fills you. When you’re happy for someone else, it pours over. It was almost too bright to watch.”
― Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells
On a warm late summer day, nothing can compare to just picked sun ripened tomatoes harvested from the garden. Tomatoes pretty much have it all, mouthwatering acidity, great texture, and a natural juicy sweetness. My recipe this month is a simple Yellow Tomato Bruschetta that compliments the crisp character of Medlock Ames Sauvignon Blanc. This Sauvignon Blanc is tailor-made to cope with the acidity of tomatoes, the bite of garlic and layers of fresh basil.
Fun Fact: In Garden Spells, Claire cooks up so many delicate and intriguing things including lavender bread, crystallized pansies, violet white cake, lemon-verbena sorbet, and honeysuckle wine. Anything with apples from Claire’s backyard mischievous apple trees is not on the menu
Medlock Ames was founded in 1998 by best friends Chris Medlock James and Ames Morison, who after college dreamed of producing the classic Bordeaux wines they enjoyed drinking with grapes grown in California. Their journey to winemaking began when they moved to California and started the search for just the right property, a search that ultimately led them to Chalk Hill Road where the towering Bell Mountain stood watch over more than a dozen of untended Merlot vines. This land spoke to Medlock and Ames triggering the start of their dream to produce wines with organic farming and a light touch during the winemaking process.
All Medlock Ames wine are made from 100% organic, estate grown fruit from their 338 acre estate which is also home to more than 800 olive trees. The property also maintains a 100% organic garden that is filled with various fruits, vegetables, and herbs. With their commitment to sustainability, in the vineyards, gardens and winery Medlock Ames was the ideal choice to partner with for Garden Spells, which is filled with enchanting garden references. I would like to thank Medlock Ames for being the October Drink In Life Book Club wine sponsor.
The 2018 Lower Slope Chardonnay is both ripe and crisp with a fresh youthful acidity and a wonderful spectrum of aromas and flavors. The perfect companion on a sunny Autumn day this Chardonnay has the unique ability of delivering a combination of tropical, orchard and citrus fruit aromas with sparks of minerality. The enticing green apple with hints of apricot flavors and luscious mouthfeel is attributed to Medlock Ames’ method of fermenting.
“Nearly half of the fruit in stainless steel keeping it on the lees, and stirred weekly to improve the body and mouthfeel, creating the opportunity to develop brioche flavors. We aged the remaining half in French oak barrels before blending. We hold the wine in bottle for nine months before release to allow the wine’s bouquet to come to the fore.” Medlock Ames
The 2020 Medlock Ames Sauvignon Blanc is intricately complex with sophisticated aromas of lemon, wild flowers and grapefruit zest. There is a mineral edge to the wine that lifts up the soft crisp acidity making this a literal joy in the glass Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate this structured full bodied wine delivers flavors of green apple, tropical fruit and citrus. A perfect summertime sip but definitely a wine to enjoy year round, it is an incredibly food friendly wine.
While I finished reading Garden Spells on a beautiful late August day my mind kept wandering to the bottle of Medlock Ames Estate Red that still needed to be sampled. After reading the wine profile on their website I quickly made a run to the store for a small chocolate cake and fresh strawberries to create my own private Garden Party.
Comprised of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec this blend left me completely gobsmacked with its warm rich cherry, chocolate and spice overtones on both the nose and palate. A lush and soft wine that finishes with pleasant hints of garden rosemary, pepper and sprinkles of graphite salt minerals. A delightful wine to accompany my garden party chocolate cake and strawberries.
“The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper”. William Butler Yeats.
In the act of reading both as a passion and as a pass time, there is power in books. If you enjoy reading magical realism books like Garden Spells here are a few other books that would be the perfect companion on a Autumn day.
With the success of Garden Spells, Allen wrote a sequel published in 2015, First Frost, that continues the story of the subtly magical Waverley clan, ten years later.
The Practical Magic Series by Alice Hoffman, an enchanting witch’s brew of magic, suspense, and romance. On Hoffman’s website she shares “You can read them in the order they were written (Practical Magic, The Rules of Magic, Magic Lessons, and the soon to be released The Book of Magic) or you can read them in chronological order (Magic Lessons, The Rules of Magic, Practical Magic, The Book of Magic). It’s up to you!”
“Magic Realism is not new. The label’s new, the specific Latin American form of it is new, its modern popularity is new, but it’s been around as long as literature has been around”. -Terri Windling
A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan is a historical saga that traces five generations of powerful witches, mothers and daughters whose magical inheritance is both a dangerous threat and an extraordinary gift.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe travels seamlessly between the witch trials of the 1690s and a modern woman’s story of mystery, intrigue, and revelation.
I hope that I have inspired you to make this recipe to enjoy while you read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. Stay tuned for a few new recipes!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this recipe and the book. Cheers everyone.
“Claire lifted her glass after everyone had eaten. “Everyone make a toast. To food and flowers,” she said.
“To love and laughter,” Tyler said.
“To old and new,” Henry said.
“To what’s next,” Evanelle said.
“To the apple tree,” Bay said.”
― Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells
Previous Book Club Posts and Recipes can be found here.
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