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August 25, 2011

Food in Fiction

By Kim Harris Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk host

You’ve experienced it—the craving for a mugful of butterbeer when reading a Harry Potter novel, the irresistible need for Turkish Delight inspired by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Reading Joanne Harris’s Chocolat results in a night-run to the convenience store and the settling for some waxy substance made with soy lethicin.  You sit down to your well-worn copy of Anne of Green Gables, get to the part where Diana Barry ends up drunk on the currant wine Anne mistook for raspberry cordial, and suddenly . . . you’re thirsty. 

Food brings people together.  And if there’s one thing an author wants to do, it is to connect to her audience.  What better way to do that than to describe loads of lovely, mouth-watering food?

Farmer Boy (Little House)My favorite foodie novel is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, which is about Almanzo Wilder, the little boy with a big appetite who would one day become Laura Ingalls’s husband.  How would it be to sit down to breakfast in the Wilder household?  Well, I hope you haven’t eaten in two weeks, because this is what you could expect:

“Mother was frying pancakes, and the big blue platter, keeping hot on the stove’s hearth, was full of plump brown sausage cakes in their brown gravy . . . . There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar.  There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup.  There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts.  But best of all Almanzo liked the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust.”

What’s supper like?  Here you go:

“There were slabs of tempting cheese, there was a plate of quivering headcheese; there were glass dishes of jams and jellies and preserves, and a tall pitcher of milk, and a steaming pan of baked beans with a crisp bit of fat pork in the crumbling brown crust . . . . Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans.  He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth.  He ate mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy.  He ate the ham.  He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust.  He demolished a tall heap of pale mashed turnips, and a hill of stewed yellow pumpkin.  Then he sighed, and tucked his napkin deeper into the neckband of his red waist.  And he ate plum preserves, and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon-rind pickles.  He felt very comfortable inside.  Slowly he ate a large piece of pumpkin pie.”

And then there’s the after-supper popcorn:  

“When the big dishpan was heaping full of fluffy white popcorn, Alice poured melted butter over it, and stirred and salted it.  It was hot and crackling crisp, and deliciously buttery and salty, and everyone could eat all he wanted to . . . . Almanzo sat on a footstool by the stove, an apple in his hand, a bowl of popcorn by his side, and his mug of cider on the hearth by his feet.  He bit the juicy apply, then he ate some popcorn, then he took a drink of cider.  He thought about popcorn . . . . Then he thought that if he had some milk, he would have popcorn and milk.”

What’s that?  You’d like to be excused to the kitchen for a bit?  Of course.  I understand.  If you don’t mind, could you wipe the drool from your chin while you’re in there?

The actual, and very well-fed, Almanzo Wilder
Now, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy isn’t the only fabulous foodie fiction.  I crave soup when I read Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux, and a rich cream tea when I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory makes my sweet-tooth truly contumacious, and I long, oh! how I long for a “proper big mug of tea, and some biscuits” when I read Robin McKinley’s Beauty: A Re-telling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast.

Now I’m drooling... 

Do you have any favorite foodie-books?

Butterbeer for all! Cheers!


MKHutchins said...

Redwall! Some kind soul put together a collection of reader-concocted recipes for October Ale, deeper'n'ever pie, skilly and duff...the list goes on ( These books always made me salivate.

It probably speaks to my geekiness that I've actually made Turkish Delight. It wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be (all right, mine came out sticky). Yum! And now I must go eat breakfast, which sadly will not be skilly and duff or Turkish Delight.

Shelby said...

Now I'm hungry...

Lynn Hicken said...

In The Hunger Games, Katniss's description of Capitol food made me hungry. It was great to hear her describe delicious foods that she'd never been exposed to before because her district was so poor. I especially remember the Orange Chicken.

I hate to say it, but Twilight had a lot of food references too that made me hungry.

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm.... *drooling*

Butterbeer and Chocolate Frogs and pumpkin juice and (carefully selected) Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans and treacle tarts...

I want to go to Hogsmeade!

Katie L. said...

Awesome post!!!!

Another thing that food does REALLY well is to put you in touch with the setting and culture of the novel. I've been reading memoirs lately, so this isn't a fictional reference, but one that did this extremely well was Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She instantly transports you to the black communities of the deep south with her descriptions of fried chicken, mountains of potato salad, and sweating watermelon.

It's interesting to think about how satisfying it is to READ about food. I think that explains the whole food blogging/food memoir movement that has gained some steam over the past several years.

Anonymous said...

MKHutchins: YES! The Redwall books!!! And how cool that you've made Turkish Delight! I've gotta give that a try.

Shelby: I had to stop twice while writing this post to grab a snack. But the snacks I had on hand weren't stewed pumpkin and ham gravy and large pieces of pie, so they were, of course, not good enough.

Lynn: Maybe because we know how absolutely YUMMY food like Orange Chicken is, when we read that a character is eating it for the first time, the food scene is even more potent!

Laura: No "bogie" flavored beans for me, thanks! :) I want to go to Hogsmeade, too!

Katie: YES! Food references are very orienting, aren't they? And there is something satisfying about reading about food. But there's something even more satisfying about EATING food. :)

Alix said...

oh Kim I'm so HUNGRY now!

I just finished Guitar Highway Rose, which is amazingly vivid and had me drooling for pasta and bread etc. I also seem to remember they eat amazing food in Swallows and Amazons and Aunt Fanny was always packing huge meals for The Famous Five!

Mark said...

I remember reading Farmer Boy when I was a kid. The food parts were my favorite!

Lisa said...

I was always amazed by the food in Farmer Boy and remember vividly him putting a piece of pie in his pocket. Love it. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Alexa: I only have to read the word "pasta" to be hungry! I'm going to have to read GUITAR HIGHWAY ROSE.

Mark: Almanzo Wilder had it good, didn't he? All that FOOD!

Lisa: How in the world did that piece of pie survive his pocket? Musta been some sturdy crust...

Amoniel said...

I rather can't believe you forgot Redwall! ;) And I totally agree with everything else, especially Despereaux :)

The Art of Kim Kincaid said...

Suddenly, my buttered whole wheat slab of bread isn't satisfying my taste buds. What a great post, Kim. Funny thing is, the only fictional food memory that is coming to me is that awful pail of grey slop offered to the poor orphaned boys in "Peter and the Starcatchers". When the gray chunks start to wiggle in Tubby Ted's bowl, I about lost my lunch.

Anonymous said...

Amoniel: I know! I can't believe I forgot Redwall, either! I know I forgot a lot of great books, unfortunately. Like Wendy Mass's THE CANDYMAKERS! Talk about yummy! And Joelle Anthony's RESTORING HARMONY, which makes me crave veggies galore, believe it or not! :)

Kim K: Isn't it fantastic how just as we can totally crave some food item an author writes about, we can also feel our tummies churn when the author writes about something nasty? Ew, ew, EW!

Amy Finnegan {} said...

What an awesome topic, Kim!!

I agree that the food parts in Harry Potter are some of the best scenes in fiction to make you drool!

And the Hunger Games - that part in the first book really stuck with me too! She was describing every day foods to us, but to her, they were part of a feast she'd never imagined existed. Very, very visual.

I bought a book this year called the Harry Potter Cookbook, and it has recipes for a lot of the meals mentioned in the books. Its very cool!

And I have to tell you just how AMAZING Butterbeer is! They have it at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it's totally worth the hour wait in line to get it :)

Rosebriars said...

Whenever I think of food in books I think of characters talking about food in books! One of Anne's roommates in Anne of the Island (I think it's Philippa) says she can't read the Pickwick Papers because it always makes her hungry!

Valette M. said...

As mentioned, of course Harry Potter tops my list. As much of any food you could want? And treacle tart? Mmm...
"I want to win a book."

Jaina said...

Mmm, now I'm hungry! I'd have to agree with everyone else, the food in Harry Potter is just delicious. I got a Harry Potter cookbook for Christmas, and the recipes are just scrumptious. Now I get an extra thrill whenever I read about food in the Harry Potter books, because I know I can actually taste it (or something that tastes similar) if I go through the steps of cooking it.

I want to win a book.

Julie said...

Some authors have a love of food that you can just sense through their work. Roald Dahl jumps to mind: the man who invented Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory surely has a deep respect for sweets.

I want to win a book!