I’m delighted to welcome back Maureen Klovers who recently released the sixth book in her Rita Calabrese culinary cozy, The Legend of Acorn Hollow! We met through a critique group born from an email through the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I think one of the ideas for this series might have been born from a discussion in that group.
Maureen: What inspired me to create a modern twist on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?”
A visit to the real Sleepy Hollow, NY, and the bucolic riverside estate of the legend’s creator, Washington Irving. The old stone bridge where Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman had their fateful encounter is still there, with the steeple of the Old Dutch Church rising behind it and the eerie three hundred year old graveyard stretching just beyond. You really can picture the headless horseman galloping across the bridge toward you…
And just a mile away, is Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s bucolic riverside estate, where I listened to master storyteller Jonathan Kruk, who recited the tale from memory…and left me wondering how I could weave it into my Italian-American culinary cozy series.
Fortuitously, my protagonist—the indomitable matriarch turned reporter Rita Calabrese—already lives in Irving’s neck of the woods, in the (fictional) Hudson Valley hamlet of Acorn Hollow.
And so I began to wonder, what if the citizens of Acorn Hollow thought that their town was the real inspiration for Irving’s tale? And what if there hadn’t been just one disappearance by the old stone bridge but three…and one of them involved the nephew of the town’s notorious centenarian “black widow”?
And so “The Legend of Acorn Hollow” was born!
In homage to original legend and my more modern take, I’ve devised a delightful Halloween- and fall-themed weekend tour of the Hudson Valley:
Saturday 9 a.m. Start at Olana, the Moorish-style home of painter Frederic Church, one of the leaders of the influential Hudson Valley school of painting. The art inside is impressive, but it pales in comparison to the landscape outside, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame. The fall foliage here is stupendous.
Saturday 11 a.m. Make a slight detour north to the Kinderhook one-room schoolhouse where Jesse Merwin taught; Merwin was reportedly Irving’s inspiration for the character of Ichabod Crane. Then take a tour of the home of Martin Van Buren, our nation’s only non-native English-speaking president (he spoke Dutch as a child, like many Hudson Valley residents of the time), who was a friend of both Washington Irving and Jesse Merwin.
Saturday 1 p.m. – At Millbrook Vineyards, sample a flight of wines while enjoying the spectacular fall foliage from their patio. While Rinaldis’ Winery in “Of Masques and Murder” (#4 in the Rita Calabrese series) is fictional, it’s based on Hudson Valley wineries like this one.
Saturday 2 p.m. – In nearby Millerton, pop in to Harney & Sons to sample dozens of hot teas and enjoy a lovely lunch.
Saturday 3:30 p.m. – Head to Bash Bish falls, the largest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts.
Saturday 6:00 p.m. – Just as the sun sets, you’ll arrive at the Culinary Institute of America in time for your reservation at one of the student-run restaurants. Rita often stops at the bakery here to pick up a pain au chocolat, which is not very Italian, but is very delicious! If you want to continue with the Italian food theme, nab a spot at the Tuscan-themed Caterina de Medici overlooking the rose garden.
Sunday 9:00 am -After pastries at La Delicioza, an old-school Italian bakery in Poughkeepsie’s Little Italy, head to Sleepy Hollow for a day of Irving festivities. Your first stop should be Irving’s estate at Sunnyside, where you will learn about the origins of Irving’s tale (like Shakespeare, he borrowed on older traditions) and the fame he enjoyed as the United States’ first internationally-known writer.
Sunday 6 p.m. By night, explore the almost endless options for Halloween-themed entertainment, from haunted hayrides to performances of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
If you could retrace the footsteps of one of your favorite fictional sleuths, who would you choose and where would you go?
Maureen Klovers is a former spy and middle school teacher. She has hiked through the jungle to Machu Picchu, toured a notorious Bolivian prison with a German narco-trafficker, and fished for piranhas in Venezuela. She lives with her family in Arlington, Virginia, and enjoys testing recipes and speaking Italian.
Blurb for “The Legend of Acorn Hollow”
The locals insist that Acorn Hollow was the real inspiration for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” But is that a blessing…or a curse?
As the Hudson Valley’s best garden-to-table home cook, fiercest Italian matriarch, and most dogged reporter, Rita Calabrese has many reasons to look forward to fall. Her garden is bursting with the ingredients for chicken cacciatore, apple crisp, and pumpkin cheesecake. Her son is starring in the local community theater production. And Acorn Hollow is at its most festive as it celebrates “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which the townspeople insist was inspired by their own bucolic hamlet.
But as the fall foliage peaks, so does the drama. First, a series of mysterious accidents befall the actor portraying Ichabod Crane. While most of the townspeople are willing to chalk it up to the supernatural antics of the headless horseman, the police have a far more mortal suspect in mind: Rita’s son, Vinnie.
Then the notorious “black widow” of Acorn Hollow offers Rita tantalizing new clues about a pair of cold-case Halloween disappearances bearing the hallmarks of the original legend, right down to the smashed pumpkin by the old stone bridge.In exchange, the widow asks Rita to cater her funeral—and she’s already set an exact date.
As the clock ticks down to the appointed date, Rita cooks up a fabulous funeral feast. But she begins to suspect that the widow is cooking up something of her own, and it just might be an elaborate trap to catch a killer…
Featuring drool-worthy fall and Italian recipes!