Thursday, August 18, 2011

Apple Butter and Water

 I don't have sisters, but I've been lucky enough for most of my life to have a few close friends who've been like sisters to me. Most of them are Pennsylvania Dutch.

When I decided to create a new mystery series with twin sister protagonists (first novel TWO-FACED), I knew I wanted them to be different than my Possessed series protagonist, Pat Montella.  Pat's a lot like me. All Italian, a refugee from corporate America, and the same age I was when I began writing her series—late thirties.  She's a better cook than I could ever be, but I've learned from her in that respect.

Gen and Sara Ziegler are lousy cooks. They're also products of the academic world and ten years younger than Pat. But probably the biggest difference is their background.  They're half Pennsylvania Dutch, raised in the Schwenkfelder church. If you're asking what a Schwenkfelder is, you're not alone.  Only a few of their churches survive, all in southeastern Pennsylvania, most at the northern end of my county. I learned about them through my best friend, Linda, and her sisters, who were raised in that tradition.

Casper Schwenckfeld isn't as well-known as other founders of the German Reformation, possibly because his philosophy was easy-going. He preached that ministers shouldn't tell their flocks what to believe, that everyone had to discover what to believe in their own hearts. His followers were therefore fairly tolerant of other sects. When they came to America in the early 1700s, they didn't settle in a segregated block like so many before them, but fit in and around other settlements, wherever there was room.

The main group of Schwenkfelders landed here on September 22, 1734, and two days later held a service of Thanksgiving. Since then, Schwenkfelders have observed this Day of Remembrance by sharing a simple meal of  bread, butter, apple butter and water.  (Side note:  Schwenkfelders make the best apple butter in the universe. No lie.)

So, making Gen and Sara Schwenkfelders meant creating a fictional hometown for them. I set Mount Ebal, PA up amid the rolling hills of my county, where there's still (for now anyway) more farms than development. The setting gives me an excuse to go to the Central Schwenkfelder Country Fair each year, where I can load up on apple butter, jams, and other Penn Dutch goodies, and call it research.

The other half of Gen and Sara's genetics? I couldn't resist giving them a mysterious Sicilian side. They are, after all, my kids.


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