I can’t stand novels where the characters never eat! Think of how much we learn about new acquaintances from what and how they eat. For example, does she pick at a salad or wolf down meatball sandwiches? Why would an author deny us that insight? Given that Last Dance on the Starlight Pier is set during the Great Depression, food takes on an even greater significance. In the opening chapter, hunger drives my protagonist, Evie Grace, to make the decisions she does.
While Evie Grace and most of the country struggled to get enough to eat—standing in bread lines and inventing recipes like Mock Apple Pie that substituted Ritz crackers for more expensive fruit—she also experienced another world that remained untouched by hard times. This was the darkly glamorous world of the Galveston crime family that was so successful it kept the Texas Island immune from both Prohibition and the Depression.
In this world, swanky cocktails like the French 75 were popular drinks to accompany equally swanky appetizers like oysters and cucumber sandwiches. But the pièce de resistance—the ultimate in luxury dining —was Baked Alaska. I have a deep sentimental attachment to this dessert. Invented in 1867 at Delmonico’s in honor of the Alaska Purchase, it enjoyed a resurgence in 1959 when Alaska was granted statehood. That is when my mother made it for her awe-struck family. She covered the magnificent concoction of ice cream and pound cake with decadent mounds of meringue toasted to a golden brown. But the most spectacular part was that she had embedded clean eggshells in the meringue, filled them with warm brandy, and, in the darkened dining room, lit the brandy on fire, the blue flames dancing across the white peaks of meringue. It made such an impression that I decided to bake one into my novel and present it to Evie Grace at her moment of triumph.
It was a wonderful surprise when I discovered that Baked Alaska, renamed Baked Texas, was the signature dish at the poshest of all Galveston’s clubs, the Hollywood Dinner Club where the novel’s grand finale is set. The club was a well-known hot spot for fine dining, world-class entertainment, gambling, and bootleg liquor. If you want to really wow your book club, a Baked Alaska would be hard to top. It certainly beats Mock Apple Pie! Enjoy this easy version of the recipe.