Bill of Fare

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky
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Okay.  I started to write another Then and Now post.  But it was boring.  So I deleted it.

Instead, I thought we’d play a bit of a game. 

‘Tis the season for feasting.  I’m just back from a wonderful holiday trip to visit family on the other side of the country.  My mother met me at the door with a half dozen types of cookies (including her can’t-be-matched sugar cookies — heaven!)  During the course of one week, I indulged in Mom’s incredible teriyaki chicken wings, her brisket, and her mashed potatoes, along with Dad’s turkey (one of my favorite “big meal” stand-outs!).  That doesn’t even count my new favorite pie — Mom’s key lime, with homemade cookie crust.

All of which leaves me thinking about the food and drink in the novels I write.

It’s no secret that food is important in my novels.  Jane Madison has her Cake Walk bakery (with its dozens of specialties, including the famous Almond Lust and Lust After Dark…)  FRIGHT COURT has its cupcake tarot, with the characters reading their fortune through randomly-chosen mini-cupcakes.  My Diamond Brides baseball books have each featured at least one meal (ah, the seductive potential of food…)

Diana Wynn Jones famously derided Stew as a prototypical Fantasyland meal (and yet, stew is a good way to stretch tough cuts of meat and less-than-prime vegetables to feed a crowd.  Hobbits famously love mushrooms.  The Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster is legendary for its potency.

So…  What are your favorite foods in the novels you’ve read?  Or have you created special foods in the novels you write?  What food stands out in the magical words that have inspired you?

(For me, it was the Turkish Delight that lures Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I didn’t even know what Turkish Delight was, but it was so magical I wanted some then and there.  (Turns out, I’m not much of a fan, in real life :-) )

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18 comments to Bill of Fare

  • I always loved the simple feasts eaten daily by Menolly at Harper Hall in Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONSINGER.

    For the novel I’m currently I created sweetroot, a sticky brown delicacy that only grows in the coldest parts of my main character’s country. And then I use it as a place to stick a very poisonous little brown snake definitely *not* from the same region when the delicacy is presented to a queen in a distant land. Yay plot device! Delicious, delicious plot device… ;)

  • Mindy, It’s been a long time since I thought about food and writing or reading, mostly because Jane Yellowrock is the antithesis of a foodie character. She eats steak. Beast eats deer on the hoof.

    I have a pal, Tamar Myers, cozy mystery writer, who wrote an entire series with recipes. Several other mystery mystery writers have also done this, series with characters who are cupcake shop owners or chefs. There was one writer (I forget how) who wrote an entire book around a caramel pie that had me salivating all the way through, but I never tried to make the dessert. The real thing would have surely paled compared to the written thing.

  • I had a friend in grad school who used to refer to certain kinds of books as “food porn.” Not fantasy, actually, but “high society” books where the author would throw together all sorts of expensive foods that, if you actually knew them, would taste terrible together, but did scream “RICH WITH DISPOSABLE INCOME!!!”

    In Knychtspelle, when Deor, the MC, first gets to the Winter Court, she’s hungry (she flew from California to London, and then crossed to the Winter Court, then spends some time stuck in Immigration, so she’s really, really hungry) and buys a pie from a street vendor. It’s amazing. And she freaks out ’cause she knows all the “faerie food is bad” stories. Can she leave now? Is she addicted? Turns out, it’s just a really good pie, but still, her mom was seduced by faerie (and one faerie in particular, hence the MC’s need to be there at all), and so food initially is a big, sort of scary deal. And later on it matters a lot too, because things we take for granted, like cheese, are a rarity there, and very expensive. So her habit of a snack of crackers and cheese makes her seem all fancy, whereas here, a few bits off a slab of kraft cheddar and some saltines is hardly lifestyles of the rich and famous.

    In another thing I’m writing, there’s a huge, well stocked, but very unattended buffet spread at a party. ‘Cause nothings sadder than that at a party, right? An great party where nobody comes?

    In books, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (is that the right name?) in Douglas Adams always intrigued me. And the fat in Terry Pratchett books, in the vat of stew at the place Vimes always ate before he met Sybil. Those both intrigued me.

  • Ken

    Harry Dresden uses Pizza (Note the capital P? Pizza is *That* important :)) as a form of payment to his tiny Fae army. I’d always thought that was cool.

    In the WIP, I use nachos, although I don’t come right out and call them “Nachos”. Now that I’m thinking about it, I might see if I can work in the structural stability of the chips as an indicator of my MC’s state in the story.

    Yikes…all this talk of food and it’s still two hours before lunch…

  • Food plays a big role in the Thieftaker books, because Ethan spends much of his time in publick houses — taverns. Bostonians in the 1760s were eating a lot of a certain fish stew made with cream that they had recently taken to calling chowder. They also ate a tremendous number of oysters — mostly raw — which were very cheap and readily available. And in addition to ales and Madeira wine, they drank what were called flips, frothy hot drinks prepared with warm beer, rum, eggs, cream, sugar, and spices (cinnamon or nutmeg). I swear I’m not making this up.

  • From one of my WIPs:

    She drew her arms together in front of her, one hand clasping the wrist of the other. “I shall be staying here for a time. As for now, I would like some breakfast. See if you can’t manage to sober up enough to prepare me something to eat.” She turned away from him and smiled to herself. She remembered mornings in the summer house and their trenchers laden with eggs and bread and thin slabs of fried meats accompanied by cheese or sweet curdled milk and pomes from the orchard or slices of melon from the garden. Morning meals at the Order were simpler fare, usually a hearty though bland porridge, with a dollop of cream if there were a surplus.
    Melina didn’t know what was left in the summer-house pantry now that Tarner had gone. She was hungry enough to appreciate anything, even the Order’s porridge. When was the last time she’d eaten? The bite or two she’d had at House Bramdenag was not enough to sustain a cat. She was grateful now for Cabel’s presence and the freedom from having to concern herself with preparing meals. She had to sort things out, to figure out what had happened to her, and why, and what she needed to do next. By great good fortune, because the summer house would be all but empty until spring, she had a refuge and time to think.

  • Turkish Delight…I was so disappointed when I finally read a recipe for it. I’ve never tried it, because the recipe was enough.

    I always wanted to try absinthe, after reading about it in gothic novels for years. So one Christmas, my husband imported a bottle for me from France (this was back when it was still illegal here.) I could not wait to taste it. I poured a lovely bright green helping into the pretty crystal glass that came with it, closed my eyes and took a sip.

    And instantly wanted to throw up. It’s horrible! I won’t be drinking it, ever, but it’s perfect for clearing a sore throat.

  • Misty – isn’t it awful when you realize that a certain brand of cough syrup is what absinthe tastes like?

    I want to taste Miruvor and lembas. And I can’t remember the book, but I had a children’s book in which English children find a whole community of magical folk living in an oak tree that seems to be a combination Tardis and Yggdrasil (bigger on the inside, connected to the whole world). The tree’s inhabitants have a special “pop tart” (I think the modern pop tart maker stole the name from the book). These are flaky golden tarts that come out of the oven puffy like donuts and every bite pops in your mouth with a delicious honey filling. I’ve always wanted to have one, but I suspect my grandmother’s hot biscuits with honey taste like pop tarts.

    In Emily’s and my book Knychtspelle we made up a pixie wine that’s green and iridescent called Hwhilau. One drink tastes delicious. A second drink makes everyone and everything your friend. And after a third drink you’ll drink the whole bottle without realizing. It’s often consumed at Solstice time and sometimes at the signing of treaties, as a sign of good faith. It never causes a hangover, but it can have *ahem* consequences. It should only be consumed in the presence of people you trust absolutely. Many “what were you thinking?” stories start with “Well, we had some Hwilau…”

  • I don’t remember the specific book, but as a child I read something where treacle was a special treat for the children in the book. For years I wanted to try treacle without having any idea what it was.

    The story that always comes to mind when talking about food in literature is “Babette’s Feast,” by Isak Dinesen. I have to admit that it’s been years since I read the story, but I re-watch the movie periodically. Both place food front and center.

    In my WIP, the MC has never lived anywhere that valued food, so she just sees food as something to provide nutrition and is indifferent to taste, preparation, or sharing food. In her new life and home, others see food as important socially and one of the secondary characters cooks as a hobby. I’m having fun “introducing” the MC to foods that do more than provide nutritional value.

  • Razziecat

    When I was a kid, I hated mushrooms. Then when I was 20, I read The Lord of the Rings, and suddenly mushrooms became the food of enchantment. I adore mushrooms now ;)

    The Book of Atrix Wolfe, by Patricia McKillip, has a castle cook who keeps having to re-work his feasts because most of the food isn’t being eaten while the courtiers are out searching for the missing prince. The descriptions of the food, like everything McKillip writes, are gorgeous. In one scene there’s a mention of “pastries stuffed with nuts and cream, cold salmon, a swan carved out of melon with its wings full of strawberries.”

    I’m trying to bring food into my stories more often; we all have to eat, and we all have favorite dishes. One dish that I’d like to actually create in real life uses several grains, chopped fruit and fruit syrup, all baked together. I just have to figure out what grains and what fruit to use ;)

  • I remember when Anne McCaffrey passed away, everyone was posting recipes for klah, a hot drink made of tree bark, consumed by the Dragonriders. It’s made (on our world) with coffee, cinnamon and cocoa, so it’s basically a revved-up hot chocolate. Yum!

  • I can’t remember the book, but one of the feast’s courses consisted of sparrows stuffed with hummingbirds. I always wondered who got stuck catching and plucking all those birds as there were “hundreds” at the feast!

  • Razziecat

    Lynn, there were medieval feasts with dishes like that! Five or six birds of different sizes would be stuffed one inside the other. I’m sure this only happened at the wealthiest households, of course. As for plucking, the kitchen staff must have dreaded seeing those dishes on the menu.

  • ::grin::

    I’ve had fun reading these replies — especially with a cold, wet weekend that resulted in our being housebound yesterday! (The ice on the trees is gorgeous this morning. I’m glad I don’t have to go outside!)

  • sagablessed

    I like it when starving people describe their first bite in books. In MZB’s Darkover books, there is a dish of grains and cheese that is considered the lowest of foods for the Free Amazons.
    In my own works, I keep foods as character quirks (one likes Chinese, one likes scrapple and clams omelettes). But I throw in one dish per book that is like the cafe in yours. Current WIP has a-choco-hazelnut-cherry torte used in seductions. I plan to post the recipe in the back of the book when it is published.
    *Yes I said “when published”. Because I haz spokun!* ;)
    I plan to do so in each book hereafter when such dishes are possible in this world.

  • Misty! You made me laugh. I had about the same exact experience on both TD and absinthe.

    I had a scene in Path of Fate involving food. I love it. It took me three or four passes to cut it all because it was completely unnecessary. All the same, the book is full of food. I must’ve been terribly hungry while writing it.

  • I come from a long line of country cooks and learned pretty early on, so I love adding food elements into my works. I honestly didn’t realize how much I did it until recently. There are a couple dishes in Rogue 5 that I may make one day…with equivalent ingredients, of course. I have considered going along the lines of Black Butler the anime series (a cool series, BTW), and posting the recipes on my site for the meals in my books. :D