Today we welcome Louise Ligon & Hunter Maine to the blog. Louise & Hunter shares a very short romantic Christmas story that ends with a recipe with us.
A Blue Ridge Christmas
When Brayden, a devastatingly handsome heir to a prominent Southern family, is caught in a compromising position with his handsome male lover, Jackson, life as he knows it comes crashing down. Exiled from the only home he’s ever known and separated from his love, Brayden is ordered to live in Boston where he is expected to become a true man and a proper successor.
But life will show him that things don’t always go as planned…
When Brayden encounters the mysterious and powerful Vincent Gallaud, he instead embarks on an unforgettable adventure with his newfound king in the tantalizing world of New York City, forsaking everything he has ever known. Taken on a journey he never expected, Brayden experiences lessons that Daddy would never approve.
Back home, Jackson has no choice but to consent to marry Brayden’s greatest adversary and twin sister, Annabelle Steed. Consumed with greed and longing for revenge, Annabelle will stop at nothing to rob Brayden of his birthright and his happiness.
But years before were the Christmases that had started it all…
Abigail had been at it all morning. Her face and clothing were completely covered in flour and other ingredients. She hadn’t realized how much work cooking involved, having lived a rather sheltered life with slaves and house servants seeing to her every need. But this Christmas was different and she was determined to make it special. She wiped a loose hair from her eye with the back of her hand and leaned in to read the next step in what was her mother-in-law’s family recipe book. Its tattered spine was filled with family traditions and somehow made her feel closer to the woman she would never have the privilege of knowing.
As she turned the page in the recipe book, her mind wondered to how it all began and the previous Christmas when she had been a new bride. That had been her first Christmas in her new home with her new husband.
~ ~ ~
From the moment Abigail Kavanaugh arrived at the Steed family plantation known as Blue Ridge, she knew this sprawling but waning plantation was going to be no small under taking. The once grand home had begun to take on the appearance of overgrown ruins and, being from Charleston, Abigail hadn’t the faintest idea what it was to be the mistress of a large indigo plantation.
The one thing she was certain of was that she had quickly but quietly fallen madly in love with her new husband, Elijah Steed. Thinking about her strapping handsome consort made her grin like a cat that caught the canary and brought a blush to her cheeks.
She had been furious at her father when he first informed her that she was to wed the heir to a plantation far away from her beloved city life. Her mother had insisted her entire life that Abigail learn refinement and the art of being a lady of society. But now, her father was sending her away to a life in the country. She couldn’t imagine being married to some unrefined brute, no matter how grand his estate may be.
Blue Ridge had a long and prosperous history in South Carolina, but it had become widely known it had fallen on hard times. Elijah’s parents had died tragically leaving his uncle, on his father’s side, to oversee the estate until Elijah came of age. His Uncle William was far more interested in the arts and frivolities than he was in business. William had left the family legacy and his orphaned nephew in dire straits. Abigail’s father had seen the opportunity of a lifetime and was not above trading his daughter’s happiness to take it up.
Abigail was keenly aware that she was nothing more than a piece of property being exchanged in a matter of business. Her father’s coffers would be envious to even the mythical Midas himself. Regardless, she knew her beauty could land her any husband she chose. She was not one to be vain or salacious. However, she could not help but be aware of the effect she had on both men and women when they saw her. She had been fortunate to inherit her mother’s delicate French features and had the thick ebony hair and green eyes of her father’s Irish roots. At the end of the day, alas, she had no choice but to concede to her father’s demands. Her mother, rest her soul, would expect no less from the lady she had raised.
It had been a pleasant surprise when, after a long tedious trip from Charleston to Blue Ridge with her father, Abigail first saw Elijah awaiting their arrival. There he was standing on the front porch of his deteriorating mansion nervously adjusting his cuffs. Seeing the man she was to marry was nothing short of breath taking. The light reflected off of his dark cinnamon hair bringing out sun kissed highlights. He had a large muscular frame and the extraordinary features of which any man would be envious. It stood out as odd to her to see a man with such rugged good looks shifting fretfully like a young school boy.
She had prepared to greet him as a proper lady. Her life might not be hers to control, but she was determined to make it clear her soul could not be bought. However, even with her mind set to show no weakness, she had been forced to hold her breath and lower her eyes when their hands first met. As he assisted her down from the carriage, the simple touch had sent sparks through her body that awakened something new and undeniable inside of her.
With great restraint, her first words to him were quite formal and, as a gentleman, he responded in kind. There was something about his gentility that charmed her. She finally allowed herself to make eye contact with this unique man. A pang hit her heart when she saw his glossy chestnut-eyes owned a sweet sadness that spoke of untold burden.
Elijah unassumingly asked Abigail’s permission to take her for a tour of the grounds. Her stomach filled with butterflies at the thought of being alone with this handsome but unknown man. She hoped that her father would at least demand they be chaperoned for their first time alone during this budding courtship. As usual, however, her father failed to see the pleading in her eyes and cared only that the deal be sealed.
It was a fresh spring day and Abigail couldn’t help but savor the honeyed country air as they strolled past a beautiful oak tree. Suddenly, without warning, Elijah swept her effortlessly off the ground wrapping his massive hands around her tiny waist. Gasping with indignation, her first instinct had been to give him a solid slap to the cheek for his audacity. But, just as quickly as he picked her up, he moved her to the side and set her back down.
His cheeks turned redder than any slap delivered by Abigail could render them as he struggled to speak. “My apologies, Miss Kavanaugh,” he managed to stammer out, “but you were about to step in a spot of mud.”
Abigail’s temper quilled quickly watching this brawny man succumbing to his boyish insecurities. She tried to speak a proper ‘thank you’ but found herself meeting his persona with her own girlish fluttering. They both must have been lost in their own minds for a brief time because both of them suddenly noticed his hands remained forgotten resting on her waist. Seeming to be dying of embarrassment, Elijah swiftly removed his hands shoving them in the pockets of his trousers. It was Abigail who broke the moment.
“The trees are lovely. Are they elms?” she asked shyly, desperate to change the mood.
“Actually, they are black walnut. They were my mother’s favorite,” shifting uneasily, he continued, “perhaps we should return to the house. I believe our family has arranged a quiet lunch for us on the back porch.”
Abigail noticed the sadness had returned to his handsome face. She quickly agreed but the walk back seemed endless as they walked along side each other in clumsy silence.
They sat down to their lunch with Abigail’s mind still reeling from the sensations of Elijah’s touch and her unexpected attraction to him. She found his wistfulness endearing. Elijah attempted to keep the conversation flowing as he rambled uncomfortably, but she was at war with in herself. Inwardly, she was gathering her ire reminding herself that all of this meant exile from the life she loved and no one seemed to care what she thought.
All at once, she realized that Elijah had stopped speaking midsentence and was staring at her as if trying to figure out a puzzle. She tried to distract herself from his stare by reaching for her tea cup. Elijah surprised her by taking her hand into his. Brimming with sincerity, he patiently waited until her eyes met his and spoke simply.
“Could you ever see yourself happy here with me? What is it you want?”
Abigail could see his throat moving in nervous gulps. The honesty and vulnerability in his question melted her heart. For the first time in her life, someone actually cared about what she wanted and seemed to want her happiness above all else. At that moment, Abigail Leigh Kavanaugh knew she had met her perfect match in one Elijah James Steed of Blue Ridge.
The spring and summer months seemed to fly in a frenzy. Abigail and Elijah’s engagement had been announced at a grand affair kicking of the social season. They had quickly taken the society of Spartanburg County by storm invoking rumors of a prestigious new era for Blue Ridge. Before either could blink, their wedding had come and gone and they had set up house with the massive mansion undergoing unbridled renovations.
Abigail had unexpectedly grown to love the solitude of the country life as seasons turned and the snows began to blow. Soon, Christmas was upon them. While Abigail’s love for Elijah flourished, she began to know his heart but yearned to know him better. She wanted to provide the happiness for him that he had brought to her.
On that first Christmas morning as man and wife, she entered the library and found him pensively sitting in his most cherished chair. It was an old family heirloom passed down from one patriarch of the family to the next. Abigail often jokingly called it the family throne. She felt a wrench of love and concern in her heart. He sat staring out the windows. His gloomy eyes looked heavy with worry. She moved to his side in her natural role of wife and partner placing her hand gently on his shoulder. “What is it, my love?”
Sighing heavily, he warmly placed his hand on hers. “Oh nothing, Abbey Leigh,” he spoke using his tender nickname for her.
“You can no longer fool me, Mr. Steed,” Abigail teased as she softly kissed his cheek.
“I was just remembering past Christmases before my parent’s death when the responsibility of this plantation wasn’t placed squarely on my shoulders.”
“Elijah, it is Christmas. Why dwell on sadness?” Abigail asked.
“I don’t think I ever wanted all of this,” Elijah spoke with a flat tone voice causing Abigail’s heart to sink.
“I thought you loved Blue Ridge,” she questioned softly.
“I do, with all my heart.”
“Is it me?”
Elijah stood placing his hands lovingly on her shoulders, “No, it could never be you. You, Abbey Leigh, are my candle on the water.” Leaning in, he kissed her with every ounce of passion he had proven he possessed in their marital bed.
Love flooded her every fiber. She knew what she had to do.
“What is it you want?” Abigail probed realizing no one had probably ever bothered to ask him. It was no different than when no one but Elijah had ever asked her what she wanted.
Elijah pulled her into a snug embrace and clung to her as if he wanted their two bodies to be one. With modest authenticity, he replied, “Thank you.”
“Thank you? That is your answer to a question,” Abigail said snuggling her face into his chest.
“No,” he laughed, “but I appreciate the question.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t take well to the business side of Blue Ridge, but I know it is required for what I truly want. But what I really care about is having a family again. I want you and me to fill this house with love and children just as my parents had. I want to grow old with the most beautiful woman in the South and leave a legacy for generations to come,” Elijah spoke with love and conviction.
“That is why I love you so. Our hearts are aligned,” Abigail said reaching up to kiss her husband on the lips. “Anything else?” she asked, her lips lingering on his. She reddened at her own forward behavior even toward her husband.
“Black walnut pudding,” Elijah responded as a matter of fact.
“What?” Abigail burst into laughs at his unexpected reply.
“My mother used to make the most amazing black walnut pudding. I miss it.”
Abigail knew he was teasing her, but she also knew he truly did miss that warm comfort of childhood. Releasing herself from his embrace, she walked saucily to the door of the library.
“Well, merry Christmas, Mr. Steed. For you, I shall learn to make your mother’s black walnut pudding,” she said looking back over her shoulder before turning on her full feminine guiles, “but, first, I think we should get to work building that family you want.”
Abigail winked and headed up the stairs with her anxious husband racing close behind.
~ ~ ~
Looking back now at that Christmas, Abigail giggled as she remembered how they made love throughout the afternoon. She leaned over the stove to open the cast iron door. She could smell the spices in the bread pudding. On any other day it would be a heavenly scent, but instead it caused waves of nausea. Abigail had to take a seat on a nearby stool while she patted her dewy face with a small rag.
The sick feeling passed. She stood up and pulled the piping hot bread pudding from the oven letting it to rest on the stove. She couldn’t have been more proud. She gently slid her hand down to rest on her stomach. It had only been a month or two since she realized she was to be a mother. She couldn’t wait to share the news with Elijah. He was an orphan no more. He had a family again and the black walnut pudding would remind him that continuing traditions meant keeping those we have lost alive. This would prove to be the most memorable Christmas for them both.
Starting the 23rd you can buy the kindle edition of Blue Paramour for $1.20 for 12 days
Abigail’s Black Walnut Bread Pudding & Bourbon Sauce
Black walnuts are indigenous to North America and have been harvested on the land for thousands of years. Early colonists thought the black walnut trees were a sign of fertile land and would seek to build their farms wherever they were found. Perhaps that is how the founder of Blue Ridge, Thomas Jacob Steed, chose his land when he set forth to establish a flourishing plantation with his lovely wife Margaret Ann.
When the walnuts fall from the trees in late summer they are large tennis ball sized strong green shells. Once they have been laid out to dry, the green shells are easily removed. However, getting the nut out of the shell is not easily achieved, and the shell can only be cracked with a hammer. That is why we suggest you skip that part of the tradition and run down to your local market.
Black walnuts are not easily found in many markets, but you can always do as we did. Order them from Amazon. Do not think you can cut corners by using traditional English walnuts. Black walnuts are sweet and oily, with a richer taste and texture.
We have a couple more notes before you head to the grocery store. If you want the richest and most traditional flavor, we highly recommend using organic ingredients and the freshest ingredients possible. This is not a diet dish, so don’t try to make it skinny bitch (or whatever) if you want a traditional flavor. Use whole milk, real butter, and real sugar. You will also want to keep in mind that the bourbon used in the sauce is added after it is cooked, so the alcohol will not cook out. Can we get an amen? That does mean the bourbon you use will greatly affect the flavor, so don’t break the bank, but do use a bourbon with a nice smooth finish.
Let’s get to cooking…
- 4 large whole eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 2 1/2 cups whipping (heavy) cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 12oz French or other firm bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices, then cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (10 cups) – we recommend a French Baby Boule using the top crust cut into the appropriate sized pieces for the top layer.
- 1/2 cup raisins – if desired but recommended
- 1/4 cup of bourbon
- 1 cup of chopped black walnuts
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- Mix raisons and bourbon in a small bowl and let soak for 2 hours. Get them good and drunk.
- Heat oven to 325°F. Grease bottom and sides of 13×9-inch glass baking dish with shortening or spray with cooking spray.
- In large bowl, beat 4 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk and 3/4 cup sugar with wire whisk until well blended. Beat in milk, whipping cream, vanilla and 2 teaspoons cinnamon until well blended. Stir in 7 cups of the bread pieces and the raisins. Let stand for a minimum of 20 minutes. Stir in the black walnuts. Pour into baking dish. Lightly press remaining 3 cups bread pieces on top of mixture in baking dish.
- In small bowl, stir 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon until well blended. Brush top of bread mixture with melted 3 tablespoons butter to get a nice coating but may not require all 3 tablespoons; sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Bake uncovered 55 to 65 minutes or until top is puffed and light golden brown (center will jiggle slightly). Cool 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan, melt 1/2 cup butter over low heat; do not allow to simmer. Remove from heat; cool 10 minutes. Mix water and 1 egg in small bowl; stir into butter until blended. Stir in 1 cup sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and mixture begins to boil; remove from heat. Take a shot of bourbon for yourself, and then add 2 tablespoons to the sauce. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Serve sauce over warm bread pudding. Store remaining dessert and sauce covered in refrigerator.
Eat up & enjoy with family and friends!
Happy holidays, everyone!