The Secret of the Antique China - Prologue & Chapter 1 "Opening the B&B"

A Taste of .......
"The Secret of the Antique China"

A Cozy Mystery, Bed & Breakfast - Cook Book Novel 
By Karla Jones Seidita

A secret surrounds Jessica’s antique china.  A deep, dark, closely held secret.  The kind of secret you might be better off never having started to unravel except that your insatiable curiosity continually tempts you to pick at the threads holding it together.

Jessica’s china is two hundred and eighty eight pieces of delicious, pastel green, vintage bone china lovingly hand detailed with delicate brush strokes of twenty two carat gold.  It was a gift from her Godmother on her twenty first birthday.  As thrilled as Jessica was to receive a gift as grand as this, she was apprehensive about the dark and gloomy caveat that came with it. 

“This china is beautiful but cursed,” her Godmother began with foreboding caution.  “Right from the start, my mother-in-law was determined to destroy my marriage.  She didn’t want her son to marry me so she cursed the china and gave it to us as a wedding present.  We had a rocky marriage and so much trouble.”

“I always felt uneasy around the china so I never used it.  I swear it called to me, teasing me, taunting me.  On her deathbed, my mother-in-law confessed that she had cursed the china in hopes that our marriage would be a disaster.  She also told me that the china had a secret but she didn’t know what it was.  The happiest day of my marriage, I can tell you, was the day my mother-in-law died.  She was a mean, nasty, witch of a woman.”

“Even though her confession confirmed my suspicion that the china was cursed, I could never bring myself to give it away or destroy it.  I don’t know why.  But, now that you’re of age, giving it to you will break the curse because you’re not of my blood line.  Maybe I’ll finally be free of all my bad luck and trouble.  And once the curse is gone, maybe you’ll be able to discover the secret of this china.  All I know about it is that it’s very, very old.”

“All this fuss about a set of dishes, well, it seems silly but there’s just something about it - I don’t know what.  But if you can discover the secret, maybe you’ll find out the reason I could never get rid of it.” she continued, “There’s one thing you must promise.  You must promise that you’ll never let me see you use it – ever!  Promise me?” 

Her Godmother’s instructions were in a tone of voice so ominous that Jessica was afraid to ask any questions.  She just gave her Godmother a hug to thank her for the gift and promised to do as she asked.

Jessica adored the antique china.  It was a scrumptious set that included dinner service for thirty people, luncheon service for twenty and dozens of serving pieces in every size and shape.  The china was so delicate and so translucent you could see your tea through your cup. 

Given all that her Godmother had said, Jessica decided she could best keep the china safe and out of sight in the old Duncan Phyfe sideboard in the formal dining room. 

The soup tureen and meat platter were too large to store in the sideboard so both pieces were displayed on the top of the flatware hutch where all the Maryfield cutlery was stored.  The hutch, as the family had always referred to it, was another sideboard but much smaller.  The tureen and platter were quietly flanked on either side by two antique, rose colored, electric hurricane lamps that were so old their plug cords were unbendable, thick copper wire covered in cloth.  Without rewiring, the lamps could no longer be safely used but that didn’t prevent them from standing guard over the tureen and platter.  Jessica figured that if her Godmother ever came for a visit, she could quickly stash the tureen and platter in a closet to hide them from view. 

Jessica loved the china but was confused by her Godmother’s story.  She didn’t believe in curses and dismissed them as old world foolishness that didn’t have any place in today’s modern and well-educated culture.

But secrets were another matter.  Jessica loved secrets.  Did the china really have a secret?  Would she ever be able to discover it?   Her Godmother hoped she would.

Chapter 1   Opening the B&B

Jessica loves Maryfield, the Campbell family farm and estate.  She grew up there.  Now, being the last of the Campbell clan, it’s hers.

Maryfield was named for Jessica’s great, great, great grandmother, Mary.

A gracious spot in the Virginia countryside, Maryfield is known for its bucolic beauty.   Her lush pastures are home to meandering horses and playful ponies.  Tall grasses and field flowers dot the lazy meadows.  There’s an overgrown herb garden behind the manor house that’s just a step away from the kitchen door.  Maryfield is a peaceful refuge.

In its day, Maryfield was a grand show place of gentility and refinement but she’s well-worn now - maybe even a little worn out.  Maryfield is not the pampered princess she once was and, like everyone else these days, she has to earn her keep. 

Developers are always trying to buy Maryfield and Jessica has been offered huge amounts of money for the large property.  The developers’ plans are always the same - knock down the faded manor house mansion and build hundreds of tract houses.

Selling Maryfield would mean a lifetime of security for Jessica but, rather than sell her heritage, she is always thinking up ways to breathe new life into the grand old lady.  Jessica doesn’t want to give up on Maryfield.

Maryfield is smack in the middle of Virginia’s burgeoning wine country near the little village of Joyful.  There’s lots of activity in Joyful these days which is probably one of the reasons developers want Maryfield so badly.

Wine enthusiasts from all over have discovered the refined taste of Virginia’s regional wines and flock to Joyful for a taste of wines made from the varietal grapes that grow so abundantly in her nutrient-rich, clay based terroir. 

But, there’s more to Joyful than wine.  There’s the “Joyful” life experience.  Fresh, clean, breathable air and lush, green grass kissed by early morning dew.  Healthy farm to table cooking with treats like fresh eggs for breakfast and homemade pies bursting with fruit for dinner. 

There are dozens of incredibly talented artists who call Joyful home.  Picturesque, tree lined streets are dotted with studios where gorgeous, one of a kind paintings, hand crafted pottery, intricate metal art and unique jewelry are created.  There’s even an aging hippy who sells his handmade, tie dyed tee shirts out of his rusty van parked by the side of a road.

Yes, Joyful is a city dwellers dream come true.  It’s a place where they can escape their hectic, rushed lives.  It’s a place to get away and reconnect.  A place to raise a family or to retire.  No wonder developers want Maryfield so badly and are willing to pay big bucks to get her.

Washington, D.C. and Maryland are not too far away so lots of people come to Joyful for the day.  People come from Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, too, but being farther away, they need overnight lodgings.

“A bed and breakfast!  Why haven’t I thought of that before?”  Jessica wondered out loud in a eureka moment. “I can turn the old Maryfield Mansion into a bed and breakfast!!”

Her grandmother had rented out rooms at Maryfield during WWII.  The war effort had everyone on the move and people needed places to stay so renting out spare rooms was what everyone did in those days.  It helped the war effort as they used to say.  The rooms were nothing fancy, just places to stay a night or two, and there was no breakfast… not even coffee.

Jessica figured that if renting rooms was a good idea during her grandmother’s time, it might still a good idea especially if she kicked up the accommodations a couple of notches with striking appointments, glorious breakfasts and plenty of southern hospitality!

“People are still on the move but today it’s to take a break from their hectic, modern lives.  Yes!” Jessica continued, “I’ll add a scrumptious, over the top, gourmet breakfast jam packed with all the yummy treats that busy, urban people crave but don’t have the time or skill to make.”

“I’ll bet that even guests who regularly spend their weekends watching The Food Network marathons will absolutely adore my quiches and stradas and omelets and even my scrambled eggs because they’ll be made with local eggs so wonderfully fresh that sometimes they’re still warm when I pick them up from the farm down the road.  Grocery store eggs can be months old which really affects their taste.  And old eggs are so watery, too!  Nothing like a farm fresh egg!”

“For toast, I’ll get gourmet bread from The Joyful Bakery in town.  They have a nice selection of fancy jams, too, plus cinnamon coffee cake, banana bread, blueberry muffins and croissants.  Got to have croissants.  Upscale guests will expect them and The Joyful Bakery makes wonderful ones.  That should do it!  I want my breakfasts to be so good that people come to Maryfield especially for the food!  I want our breakfasts to make us famous!”

If things went as well as Jessica was imagining, the money the bed and breakfast brought in would keep Maryfield going and breathe new life into her.   

“Yes!”  Jessica proclaimed triumphantly, “A bed and breakfast is certainly one of my better ideas!!!” 

The tired, old mansion needed some sprucing up before reservations could be accepted but the sprucing was nothing Jessica couldn’t afford with her credit cards.  It wouldn’t take much to shake out the shabby was the way she looked at it. 

First, Jessica took down all the old, worn curtains only to find dull, dingy windows hiding beneath them obviously from years of neglect.  A couple of spray bottles of her grandmother’s homemade window cleaner – half white vinegar and half tap water – along with her trusty squeegee made the windows sparkle.  She then opened every window as wide as she could.  Fresh air and sunshine flooded the rooms making everything sweet and new smelling without any trace of vinegar. 

New linens and towels were needed so a couple of trips to local stores provided crisp new sheets, fluffy, oversized towels and colorful, cozy quilts.  Instantly, the drab bedrooms were transformed into comfy retreats. 

As Jessica knows, no southern home (or in this case, her B&B) would be complete without at least some of the family silver on display so she decided to put the retired cache back into service.  Boxes and boxes of silver had been tucked away in butler’s pantry adjacent to the kitchen.  Each box was marked “Silver – Needs Polishing”. 

She pulled the boxes down from the upper shelves at the back of the pantry and began polishing the pieces using the same brand of silver polish that Campbell women have used for generations.  They called it silver “rouge”.  It was a creamy, pink colored paste that was rubbed on the silver to remove tarnish then rinsed off.  Polishing silver, it’s often joked, is the southern woman’s valium.

Older women always cautioned younger women not to be too energetic when removing tarnish from intricate patterns.  A bit of black should always remain in the recesses to show everyone that the piece had been in the family for a long time.  Heritage and pedigree can be evidenced by the family silver in the south.

Jessica’s mother often shared the story of the young northern born and bred bride who wanted to impress her southern mother-in-law by polishing the family silver.  She took great pains to remove all the tarnish from a particularly intricately patterned piece and was quite proud of her accomplishment. Showing it to her mother-in-law, she commented about how she had scrubbed the piece for hours to get rid of every “nasty” bit of tarnish.  She expected her mother-in-law to be thrilled.  She wasn’t.

The sterling shined up as gorgeous as ever but many of the silver plated pieces had spots worn down to the base metal. 

In a DIY craft fever and with a little help from YouTube, Jessica sprayed the bare metal silver pieces with a shiny chrome paint then over-sprayed them with clear urethane.

“Not bad!” she thought to herself.  “Not silver but close enough!”   The silver plate re-treads, as she called them, were put to good use around the old house.  Pitchers and ice buckets became vases.  Trays were used in the baths, on dressers and bed side tables.  An old silver plate coffee service was elegantly displayed on a period table in a dimly lit hallway accented with a couple of faded, vintage, linen napkins with crocheted edges.  “If the guests don’t look too closely at my silver re-treads, they’ll think we’re old money!”  Jessica laughed.

“Curtains, next.  The rooms need better looking curtains.”  Jessica’s thoughts turned to the attic where lots of interesting stuff had been stored in old trunks - none of which had been opened in years.  Jessica remembered playing dress up in tulle, out of date bridesmaids’ dresses stored in one of the trunks.  She seemed to remember old bedding and old curtains in a couple of other trunks, too.

Unlike the pull down stairs typical of modern homes, the Maryfield attic had a proper set of stairs all its own. There was a door at the top of the stairs that was kept locked.  Jessica always wondered if the lock was meant to keep people out or keep the stored family treasures in.  Either way, the key to the attic hung on a hook next to the door so there was no point to keeping it locked anyway.  One thing was certain about the attic, that anything stored there, stayed there.  “Someday,” Jessica had always heard her mother and grandmother say, “we’ve got to clean out the attic and find out what’s really in there!” 

The creaky, old attic door lock was rusty and hard to turn but the big, ornate key eventually teased it open.  The attic was dark and dusty. A few cob webs hung here and there.  The only light was a single bare bulb with a pull chain that hung down from the ceiling in the middle of the room.  The half circle window at the far end of the room didn’t let in much light but, partially opened, it would let in some fresh air.  Jessica pushed and pushed on the window to get it to open it but it wouldn’t budge.  It window was stuck and probably had been for years.

Jessica moved some odds and ends to uncover the trunks.  They weren’t locked but it took some fancy jiggling to free the latches from the years of accumulated dust and dirt that kept them stuck tight.

Inside the first trunk, Jessica found the old bridesmaids’ dresses she remembered from childhood.  They were faded and not as brightly colored as she remembered but they none-the-less stirred her memory.  The glue that held a glittery design on each bodice had crumbled with age and glitter was scattered over the bottom of the trunk.  The poufy tulle that made twirling in the dresses so much fun had shredded.  She smiled, reminiscing.  “How easily we were amused as children,” she sighed.

Struggling but eventually getting another trunk open, Jessica found sheer, summer curtains – sheers as they’re called down south.  Sheers are curtains so light in weight that even the tiniest puff of air creates the illusion of a billowing breeze wafting through.

“Perfect!” she exclaimed as if there was someone to hear.  

“All these sheers need is a gentle wash.  I can hang them damp so they won’t need ironing.  This attic certainly is a treasure trove!  I’ll have to come up here again and clean it out to find out what’s really in here!”  She chuckled as the words so naturally fell out of her mouth, the same words Campbell women have been saying about the attic for years.

Jessica found old quilts in the attic, too, and bed skirts.  Didn’t her family ever throw anything away?  Everything she found laundered perfectly.  Drying them outside on the clothes line behind the house gave them a fresh scent.

Pulling it all together, Jessica took to her sewing machine stitching quilts into custom throws and tie-back drapes that coordinated with the new quilts she had purchased.  A few of the smaller quilts made gorgeous pillows for the beds and chairs.

The bedrooms were done.  “Gorgeous on a budget” became Jessica’s motto.  The more old stuff she used in decorating, the more gracious the mansion became.  The overall feel was definitely old money

Laughing out loud, Jessica chuckled, “Maybe I should change my motto from “Gorgeous on a Budget” to “Old Money on a Budget.  Now I think it’s time to go into the kitchen and treat myself to a pumpkin latte in celebration of a job well done!”

It only took a few minutes to whip up her latte.  “Yum,” she said out loud licking the foam from her lips. “As good – no better – than any pumpkin latte you could ever get at a coffee shop!”

Latte in hand, she stepped out to the porch and snuggled into a big comfy chair.  Rudee, her feisty feline and constant companion, tip toed over and jumped up on her lap. 

“Well, Rudee, there you are.  Hiding from the hard work were you?  Come here and give me a kiss.” 

“A kiss?  Well, maybe later but first a lick of latte!”  Rudee reached out her paw and stuck it in the milk.  “Nice and warm, the purr-fect temperature!” she said to herself before diving face and nose first into the latte. 

“Delish!” Rudee proclaimed as she emerged from the latte, whiskers white with foam and, with a swish of her tail, jumped off Jessica’s lap in search of a sunny spot to nap.

“Nothing like a nap after something yummy to eat.  That’s MY motto and I’m sticking to it!” 

“Good idea, Rudee.  Maybe I’ll have a little nap myself.”

Pumpkin Latte
From Jessica’s Kitchen
Maryfield Farm Bed and Breakfast
Joyful, Virginia

A gorgeously warm drink that celebrates fall.
Loaded with vitamin A.
Brimming with aroma therapy.
And soooo much cheaper (and easier) than getting one at a coffee shop!

Makes 1 mug
Skill level:  Very easy
Preparation time:  5 minutes
Cooking time:  About 3 minutes
Make just before serving

1 cup milk (any type including non dairy)
2 tablespoons pumpkin (canned or fresh puree – not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tablespoon sugar (or other sweetener – to taste)
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

Optional (use any or all)
¼ cup strong coffee or 1 shot espresso
1 jigger of your favorite spirits (bourbon, brandy, rum or other).
Whipped cream to garnish

In a small pot, whisk together milk, pumpkin, sugar (or other sweetener) and spice.

Heat mixture on low (uncovered and stirring) until it comes to a boil and foams almost to the point of boiling out of the pot – about 3 minutes.  Lift the pot into the boil to prevent the milk from spilling out.

Immediately pour into a mug – foam and all.

Stir in optional coffee, espresso and/or spirits.  Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Jessica’s “Before You Latte” Tips and Notes

Use any type milk – whole, 2%, skim, almond, coconut, soy etc.  The richer the milk, the richer the latte.

Pot Size
The recipe says to use a small pot.  That’s because the milk mixture needs to boil and rise to create the foamy top characteristic of a latte.  There are other ways to create a foamy top (like with a steam foamer or a matcha whip or a French Press coffee maker) but most people don’t have foaming tools in their kitchens which is why I suggest this method.

But when you use a small pot to foam milk, you have to watch it very closely.  If you don’t, the boiling milk will suddenly and without warning volcano all over the stove and make a horrible mess.

Right about now, you’re thinking that if you use a really big pot you won’t have to worry about it boiling over.  And that’s true in the grand scheme of things but, when making a latte with its characteristic foamy top, a big pot doesn’t work.

A big pot will give the milk a large surface area.  The milk will evaporate and form a skin before it has chance to foam.  So, for this recipe, just use a small pot and be careful – lifting it into the boil to prevent it from volcano-ing all over your stove.  Here’s how:

When the milk starts to boil, immediately lift the pot off the stove top (as high as 8 to 12 inches) following the foaming so it doesn’t spill out of the pot and onto the stove.  This is called “lifting into the boil”.  You are catching the milk before it spills out of the pot. 

Sweeten to taste with anything you’d like….. white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave – anything.

I like plain pumpkin or fresh pumpkin puree (when I have it) because I like to add my own spices in the amounts I like.  But, you can use pumpkin pie filling if you prefer or happen to have it around.  When using pumpkin pie filling instead of plain pumpkin or fresh pumpkin puree, mix the filling into the milk and give it a taste before adding any sweetener or spice.  Make adjustments as needed to suit your taste.  I haven’t tried it with sweet potato yet but I bet it would be great!!!!

Add more or less to your taste.  You can use just cinnamon if you prefer or cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.  This latte is really a “to taste” sort of thing.

Using the microwave is not recommended because you will not get any foam.  If you don’t care one way or another about foam, it doesn’t matter how you heat it.  But, no matter how you heat it, DON’T LET IT BOIL OVER.  It will make a horrible mess!

Copyright Karla Seidita 2019 - all rights reserved

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