I'm sharing recipes of food and drink that are mentioned in my two "Miss Dreamsville" novels - and one, Boston Coolers, that was also a favorite of the Delany Sisters. Special thanks to my husband, Blair, who grew up in Collier County, Florida, for his dutiful assistance in helping me re-create these authentic 1960's recipes.

Boston Cooler (Dessert Beverage):

(Copyright Amy Hill Hearth)
Avid fans of my first book, the 1993 oral history, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, 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 gotten a kick out of it!

Collier County Key Lime Pie:

(Copyright Amy Hill Hearth)
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.


Collier County Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cake (Mrs. Bailey White's Died and Gone to Heaven Cake):

(Copyright Amy Hill Hearth)
Cake ingredients and instructions presented separately from frosting.

175 grams high-quality dark chocolate
One-third cup cherry liqueur
6 Tablespoons very strong coffee ( or espresso, if available)
One-half cup of sugar (Ideally, this should be finely-ground sugar called caster sugar. Or, you can put regular sugar through a coffee grinder, if possible.)
3 eggs, separated
One-half cup unsalted butter (melted and cooled)
One-third cup almond meal
One-third cup all-purpose flour, sifted.
15 ounces (or approximately two and a half cups) pitted black cherries, drained (Save juice!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 9 inch spring-form cake pan.
Melt and cool butter. Set aside.
Sift flour. Set aside.
Put aside 1 Tablespoon of sugar.
Separate 3 eggs. Set aside.
Melt chocolate, cherry liqueur and strong coffee in a double-boiler. There should be about two inches of water in the saucepan, simmering. Set aside. (Must cool.)
In a mixing bowl, place sugar (except for the one tablespoon set aside, as instructed above) and three egg yolks. Using electric mixer, beat until thoroughly combined. Add cooled melted butter. Combine by hand. Add almond meal. Using electric mixer, beat until thoroughly combined. Add chocolate/cherry liqueur/strong coffee mixture. Combine by hand.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add 1 Tablespoon of sugar (previously set aside for this purpose) and combine thoroughly. Fold egg whites, alternating with flour, into the cake mixture.
Add half of the drained black cherries.
Pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 35 minutes or until center is completely baked. (Test with toothpick.) Cool on wire rack.

100 grams of dark chocolate
One-quarter cup cherry juice (set aside from making cake)
One-third cup cherry liqueur
One-half cup unsalted butter, cut into small squares

Place chocolate, cherry liqueur, and cherry juice in a double-boiler filled with about two inches of water that is simmering. Slowly add butter, mixing gently. Remove from heat. Keep beating by hand until cool. Set aside. (Best to wait at least two hours before frosting the cake. Both frosting and cake should be room temperature.)
Frost the cake and add cherries to decorate. Serve at room temperature.

Special instructions:
Eat while reading Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Collier County!

Collier County Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
(Features Oranges as well as Pineapple):

(Copyright Amy Hill Hearth)

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!

Collier County "Guilty Pleasure" Cheese Grits:

(Copyright Amy Hill Hearth)
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!