Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A FEBRUARY TOMATO by Marisa Masterson

Many men had left to join a volunteer regiment, including the farmers. Boston, Massachusetts could no longer rely on importing food from the South . Can you guess the year or the circumstances?

Probably, the mention of both the South and regiments brought the American Civil War to your mind. In the early 1860s, some food items that the city of Boston enjoyed from the southern part of the country could not be imported. The cold New England winters definitely didn't allow for raising vegetables during the winter. At least, not without a greenhouse.

Greenhouses are not a recent invention. They date back hundreds of years. One, near Boston, became famous as it was owned by Christopher Gore, a former governor of Massachusetts who wrote about his experiments in agriculture as well as changes he made to make the greenhouse more efficient. This was in Waltham, Massachusetts,  not too far from Boston where my novel begins.
Waltham Place, home of Christopher Gore

I used this idea of greenhouses in my latest novel. Beginning in late 1861,  The Massachusetts Bride features a man who left the war and battles behind him. His mother schemes to see him far away from Boston and any temptation to rejoin his regiment so she gives him the farm she's inherited, knowing of his interest in agriculture.

The mother even has the perfect bride for him, a farm girl who wants to leave the city. Thus, because of the focus on agriculture, I was able to work in a marriage of convenience.

Milo rose and stood directly in front of the small woman. “What exactly are you saying, Mother?”
Her smile spoke of strength. She refused to be stopped or intimidated, it told him. “I won’t have you out on North Street with the poor. Or, for that matter, wasting away all winter alone in that empty farm house.”
“She—” They both turned to look at Fiona. The girl seemed to hunch as she sat on the sofa, obviously wanting to disappear. “—will care for you and help you run the farm. It’s what she knows best, not serving as a maid.”

My hero, Milo, transforms two rooms (one on each floor of the house) into a sort of greenhouse with the large south-facing windows. Gore's writings told me how my hero would need to heat the rooms and so I included a large grate placed into the floor with a furnace directly underneath.

Moving over to the grate in the floor, he felt for heat. In the last week, he’d dug an ash pit into the earth foundation of the house. A small furnace hung above it.
After cutting a hole into the floor of the room, he’d installed the grate. Looking up, he studied the grate in the ceiling. Its hole went straight through to the bedroom above, where he also kept plants. More lettuce and radishes, plants that didn’t need quite as warm of temperatures.

Everything he tried here was based on Christopher Gore’s work and writings. The man lived in nearby Waltham. His studies in the use of manure seemed especially important to Milo. He carefully followed the instructions in Gore’s book, mixing cow dung with the dark soil.

And, because my own daughter was wrestling with starting tomatoes from seeds, I made that Milo's focus, too. So, my hero in the book earns money by selling February tomatoes to the people of Boston.

Massachusetts, 1861

All’s fair in love and war.
Hardly! Neither war nor love have been kind to Milo Roberts. He survived a battle no one expected only to have his brother die next to him. Wounded, he lays in a cot and determines to leave war behind, no matter what his abolitionist father says.
Fiona immigrates to the United States after her cousin promises her a job. While on the ship, she worries about the war ramping up in that country. Little does she know danger is much closer than the battlefields.
At the Boston docks, she escapes the trap set for her. When the woman who gave her safety asks Fiona to marry her son, the girl agrees. She longs to live on the farm that will be his when they marry.
If only her husband isn't so tempting.
While the North and the South war, the battle in their farm house involves unfulfilled love and the tormenting nightmares. What can a man do when his beloved wife prefers the cow’s company? With unrest among the Irish and interference from Fiona’s cousin, will his Irish beauty ever love him?

This is a 216 page sweet romance with a historical background.

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