Cooking Up Vintage Cookbooks with Ellen Byron

These cozy mysteries are soul food.

Interview with Ellen Byron, the author of Bayou Book Thief

Murder & Mayhem: Where did you get the idea for the new series?

I collect vintage cookbooks. I developed this little weird hobby of collecting them at library sales and going right to those book sections in antique shops. My own collection inspired the idea. I gave this characteristic to my character that while I collect them, I never made a recipe out of a single one—until I wrote the first book. Then I'm like, ‘Well, you can't write a vintage cookbook mystery, and not include recipes.’ This is my third series and they all have recipes. The great irony of my mystery writing career is that I'm not a cook. 

I've said before that sometimes the recipes are the hardest part of it for me because I don't just list them, I want to make them my own. With the vintage recipes, some of it involves adapting, because the way you cook is different now than it was in 1935. But it's fun, and I love sharing a little of the history about the book when I do it.

new cozy mysteries to crack open this fall

Fatal Cajun Festival

By Ellen Byron

Mardi Gras Murder

Mardi Gras Murder

By Ellen Byron

Body on the Bayou

Body on the Bayou

By Ellen Byron

Food cozies are very popular. Why do you think they appeal to people so much?

It's hilarious that I write culinary cozies because that was never my intention. In Plantation Shudders, the only reason that I included recipes is that I hadn't been to New Orleans in a while, and I was writing the book,  and it was making me hungry. And I thought, “My readers may get hungry.” 

I never really intended to write them. If you're writing a series set in a Catering Hall, people are going to be expecting recipes. If I'm writing about vintage cookbooks, how could you not include recipes, and adapt them from their original time? It's like a little gift with every book.

Plantation Shudders

Plantation Shudders

By Ellen Byron

Murder in the Bayou Boneyard by Ellen Byron

Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

By Ellon Byron

How did you start collecting cookbooks?

I bought the first one when I was with my brother. My parents used to have a cottage on the lake in Connecticut.  We wandered into an antique store. I was looking around and I saw this really cute little book, the Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes From Famous Eating Places. It's yellow with these bright decorations in it. And it shows you a map of the United States and it shows famous eateries in different parts of this country. Ford apparently put these out for a while as a way of encouraging people to drive

I always went to the library sales in my neighborhood and looked for mysteries because I love reading them. I’d just wander over to the cooking section because I ironically worked for Martha Stewart as a part-time cater waiter. I started seeing more of the ones that no one else was buying, like the really old ones. Sometimes it was their titles like How to Keep Him After You've Caught Him Cookbook

The Photoplay cookbook that I'm looking at right now is 150 Favorite Recipes of the Stars. It's from 1928, which was the transition from silent films to the talkies. That's where the Greta Garbo recipe came from in my book. 

Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron

Bayou Book Thief

Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron
Wined and Died in New Orleans

Wined and Died in New Orleans

By Ellen Byron