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Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip

Updated on May 1, 2017

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A teen waitress searches for her father who hides in the woods at night. A teen boy follows a beautiful woman into the past and learns secrets of the kingdom. A boy who only knows his mother's powerful magic discovers a strange island, shrouded in mystery, where a weekly Friday Fish Fry at the Kingfisher Bar appears to be a sort of cultist practice. And the young female cook goes to work for the most hated man in town, owner of the most expensive restaurant, where food is artistic yet flavorless. All of this younger generation is strongly connected, by the curiosities of youth, and by the truths that their adult families have kept hidden for nearly a century. Mysteries and magic abound in this novel by award winning writer Patricia McKillip.

Similar Recommended Readings:

Patricia McKillip has a new novel being published in June of 2016, Dreams of Distant Shores. She has written scores of unique fantasy worlds for adults and children alike, including those most like this novel: The Bards of Bone Plain, In the Forests of Serre, Od Magic, Alphabet of Thorn, The Bell at Sealey Head, and The Changeling Sea as well as a delightful book of short stories: Wonders of the Invisible World.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs also follows a teen boy into the past, one filled with magic, monsters, and unbelievable histories that unknowingly happen all around us.

Sabriel by Garth Nix is a fantasy classic about a boarding school girl with barely any knowledge of magic, whose powerful father, the Abhorsen, disappears into the Old Kingdom.

The Shattered Court by M. J. Scott is similar to the story of the female protagonist in this book: in a court ruled by tradition,a young woman must learn to balance power and desire, and choose between loyalty and survival.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling also has a magical setting, and a quest to find an object of power, hidden by a riddle.

Themed Recipe

In the kitchen at the Kingfisher Inn, Carrie created the intriguing combination of pears poached with vanilla and peppercorns, drizzled with salted caramel and grated lemon peel. To recreate this in a cupcake form, I poached brown pears in a pepper vanilla sauce with a little lemon juice, chopped them up and put them in yellow cupcake batter, and topped it with the most delicious salted caramel buttercream you’ll ever taste. Below is the recipe for Poached Pear Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting.

*For poached pears, you can either poach them yourself using the following recipe, or you can buy canned pears in water (NOT heavy syrup) and toss them in the pepper, cinnamon, and vanilla.

Poached Pear Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting



  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 sticks salted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 tsp pure vanilla extract, divided
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 ¼ tsp salt, divided
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 cup salted caramel sauce


  1. *For poached pears, you can either poach them yourself using the following recipe, or you can buy canned pears in water (NOT heavy syrup), drain most of the liquid, and toss the pears in ¼ tsp salt, the pepper, the cinnamon, and 1 tsp vanilla. Peal and quarter the pears, removing the stem and center. Heat 1 cup of water and ½ cup of sugar in a medium saucepan and add the spices (½ tsp pepper, ¼ tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ tsp cinnamon). Lay the pears into the pan and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Turn the pears over halfway through cooking time, if they are not completely submerged. Let the pears cool in the juices for another 20 minutes before using in the cupcakes. Dice the cooled pears before adding to the cupcake batter.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line cupcake pans with paper cupcake liners, or spray them with non-stick spray. Combine the AP flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl. In a stand mixer on medium speed, combine 2 sticks of softened, salted butter with the combined cup of sugar (½ cup each of brown and white sugars). Mix for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after one minute.
  3. Then add the eggs, one at a time, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Mix until fully incorporated. Drop the speed to low and add the flour, baking soda, and baking powder slowly, and in thirds. Wait until each third is fully combined before adding the next. If the ingredients are moving up the side of the bowl instead of fully mixing, stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl and push the mix back down into the center.
  4. When all ingredients are fully incorporated, remove the mixing bowl and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the diced, poached pears into the batter until evenly distributed.
  5. Scoop batter into paper-lined cupcake pans, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clear of raw batter. A few crumbs are fine. Allow cupcakes to cool for 10-15 minutes before frosting.
  6. To make the frosting, cream together two sticks of softened, salted butter in a stand mixer on medium-low. Add the cooled, salted caramel sauce slowly, along with an extra tsp of salt. (I used the salted caramel sauce recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. It's the best I've ever had!) Drop the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar in thirds. Before adding the last one-third portion of frosting, add the tbsp of milk. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes, or fresh fruit, or you can just lick the bowl.

Discussion Questions:

  1. The author of this book has an amazing ability to tell short, wondrous stories within her stories, using only a few short sentences. One is: “Fire licking wood as the Fire Bear licks her newborn into flesh and blood; she swallows their fire, their immortality.” what do you think is the rest of the story, and what children’s tales might have been the inspiration?

  2. Pierce’s mother, the sorceress, told her son that “cooking is my magic now.” Aas she telling the truth? Who else had cooking-magic? Does it ever seem as if real people have that ability as well? If so, where does it come from?

  3. Often the sorceress watched him “out of a borrowed set of eyes.” What were some of the shapes she took, and why?

  4. Carrie’s father often became a wolf at night. Why did he choose this form, and how did this explain some of his odd behaviors?

  5. What was the significance of the Friday Night Fish fry, and the serving cauldron?

  6. Why did Todd Stillwater appear so handsome and alluring, and why did his food appear the same, but have such dissatisfying effects? Was one a metaphor for the other?

  7. Why did the knights follow the god Severen, and the women of the court obeyed the river goddess, Calluna? Why was there so much division between the two factions? What did each god/goddess represent and what were their “holy objects and places”? Hint: metal belonged to Severen, and was not allowed in Calluna’s sanctum.

  8. Daimon’s father questioned him about the woman he followed, and his love for her. Did he love her? Did the type of love change at a certain point? Why? What did his father know about it?

  9. King Arden said that knights (or soldiers, or kings) often have a tendency to rumblings of discontent and especially that “the notion seems to spread more often in peaceful times, when there’s little else to complain about.” Why are the soldiers and leaders this way? Are all people? How long can we remain content before finding something to complain about, particularly in peaceful times? Why is this?

  10. Daimon and Vivien walked together “again down some path that he had never taken but that he was beginning to remember.” Normal people who aren’t in magical stories sometimes feel this way-why? Was that a different reason than why Daimon did? Had he traveled these roads before somehow? Why did Vivien have him follow her, and why did she wait until he was an adult? Who was it that really wanted to meet Daimon?

  11. Why was the cauldron important to Vivien and Ana, and as a result, to Daimon? What role did he play, and had there been others whom they had hoped to help them acquire the vessel?

  12. What was the power and significance of the kitchen knife that Pierce stole? Would the story have turned out as it did without it, or did that one object play a pivotal role in unravelling Pierce’s destiny? How?

  13. Explain this riddle of finding the cauldron and how it worked out in the end: “The vessel can only be seen through the clarity of understanding. It must be named in order to be truly seen. It can only be truly seen by those who, in the most profound way, already possess it.” Who was able to see it, and who wasn’t?

  14. Explain the conundrum of Todd Stillwater’s cooking. How could his food look “Like a sweet explosion of fireworks, like edible music...beautiful little piece of art, food jewelry-it tasted like nothing. Just. Nothing”? Did that represent him in a way as well “He shows you a face to fall in love with, then he starves you. You can never have it, and you can’t live without it”? Why were people so desperate for more, since it satisfied nothing?

  15. How was Pierce able to break the sorceress’s spell in the mansion? What was her critical mistake, and why was it a mistake?

  16. Todd and Carrie’s foods were described in terms of art and music. One of Carrie’s dishes was called “a chord for the palate.” How can a dish have different “notes” and create a musical “chord”? What are some examples of foods that are lower notes, and higher notes? What makes two foods balance each other, but three can create a deeper flavor and balance? Can you think of any examples Carrie made, or that you’ve tasted or created?

Rate the Recipe

4 stars from 2 ratings of Poached Pear Cupcakes w/ Salted Caramel Frosting


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