Monday, July 25, 2011

Don't Read on an Empty Stomach

Ran across this article today from The Atlantic on the role food plays in certain works, particularly the Boxcar Children series, the ueber-hot Game of Thrones, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. Looks like someone besides me slavered over the meals on Almanzo Wilder's childhood table. Even my kids remember how he could run in the house and grab a homemade donut anytime, whereas they have to beg to get even some stupid processed Goldfish crackers.

My book club attempts to theme our munchies to that month's reading. With some books it's easier than others. Selections like Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Depression and The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry already contain recipes--although the latter's were so complicated we ended up doing our own approximations. But others are a challenge. Take Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: Louie Zamperini starved aboard a raft and then starved some more in a Japanese POW camp. We had no intention of doing the same, so suggestions ranged from rice balls with little things in them to resemble maggots, to raw seafood, to Italian cuisine, since--after all--before he starved he was raised in an Italian home. Speaking of WWII, one book club food month continues to live in infamy. We had read Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union, and two of our members brought Noodle Kugel. Yes, folks--dueling Noodle Kugels. After politely sampling both and saying they were both--um--pretty good, they strangely sat untouched the rest of the evening. Now they've passed into legend, along the lines of, "Remember the time Julie and Christine brought noodle kugels????" Noodle Kugels, when that book dwelt so lovingly on the airport pie stand in Sitka(?)!

Can you remember any books that made you drool? I read Gone with the Wind as a teenager, and I still recall Scarlett's memories of the pre-war dinner table.
How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuits and waffles, dripping with butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do.

(Keeps typing over stomach rumbling.) And then there's the nameless, exiled narrator in Rebecca:
The feast was laid before us always, and yet we ate so little...Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavored and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier companion bursting with peel and raisins. There was enough food there to keep a starving family for a week. I never knew what happened to it all, and the waste used to worry me sometimes. But I never dared ask Mrs. Danvers what she did about it.
 Okay--haven't had breakfast yet. Clearly, my next book needs to have some detailed food scenes, if this is what sticks with me over the years. Meanwhile, if you have fond food memories from books, I'd love to hear about it.


  1. Clan of the Cavebear books! I always want to drink tea infused using Ayla's herbal concoctions or try her tasty roasted ptarmigan when Jean Auel describes their meals!

    In the fall I also crave that recipe for Jacob's lentil stew good enough to trade for a birthright.

  2. Jana, I read the CLAN books but do not even remember the food! At the age I read them, it was all about the racy scenes...

    As for the lentil stew, while I like the stuff, I wouldn't trade a thing for them!