Friday, February 20, 2009

A Food and Fiction Meme

I'm not quite done with Marion Nestle's What to Eat yet, so I'll save that review for next week, and this week offer up a meme tailored to my Friday food theme instead. Here goes:

Food from fiction that you'd like to sample:

I don't know if my childhood favourite books are more thoroughly laced with delicious food descriptions than more recent reads, or if those just stick in my head because of repeated readings. But I could happily eat my way through much of the food described in the Betsy-Tacy series (Maud Hart Lovelace), the Anne series (L.M. Montgomery), and the Little House books (Laura Ingalls Wilder). From the Betsy-Tacy books, for example: Mrs. Ray’s fried potatoes, cocoa cooked in a pail on the Big Hill, anything baked by Anna, the peach pie at the Taggart's farm, Joe's sour-milk pancakes, and Aunt Ruth's bread. And from the Anne series and the Little House books, see the passages I quoted in last Friday’s post.

A fictional meal you would like to have attended:

There are a lot of contenders for this one but for now, sticking with the Betsy-Tacy theme, I'll go with dinner on the S.S. Columbic, for the food and the conversation (Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy and the Great World).

A memorable work of fiction set in a restaurant or a café:

Ernest Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place".

Food you've tried that didn't live up to the expectations raised by a fictional account:

Turkish Delight from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I figured it must be pretty spectacular for Edmund to be willing to sell out his siblings for a box of it, but I was sorely disappointed when I finally tasted some.

Or petit fours which sounded tantalizing in Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays but turned out to be oddly generic and tasteless (albeit very pretty) when encountered in a bakery. But I gather that in France the term is not confined to the square pastel-coloured confections that I sampled in my youth, so perhaps there's still hope for me and petit fours.

Food from fiction that you couldn't help but want to try even though you knew you would hate it:

I was a very picky eater as a child and wouldn't have eaten sardines or pork pie at any time of the day or night. But when these items appeared on the menu of a midnight feast at St. Clare's or Malory Towers, I wanted nothing more than to join in:

"Golly! Pork-pie and chocolate cake, sardines and Nestlé's milk, chocolate and peppermint creams, tinned pineapple and ginger-beer!" said Janet. "Talk about a feast! I bet this beats the upper third’s feast hollow! Come on—let's begin. I'll cut the cake."

(From Enid Blyton, The Twins at St Clare's.)

An unappetizing food description from fiction:

I'm generally partial to a fry-up, but after enduring one of the most vivid hangovers in fiction, I didn't find this breakfast any more appetizing than Jim Dixon did:

There was a pause, while he noted with mild surprise how much and how quickly she was eating. The remains of a large pool of sauce were to be seen on her plate beside a diminishing mound of fried egg, bacon, and tomatoes. Even as he watched she replenished her stock of sauce with a fat scarlet gout from the bottle.

(From Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim).

Or, moving from the unappetizing to the downright traumatizing, there's the cake from Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman:

The spongy cake was pliable, easy to mould. She stuck all the separate members together with white icing, and used the rest of the icing to cover the shape she had constructed. It was bumpy in places and had too many crumbs in the skin, but it would do. She reinforced the feet and ankles with tooth-picks. Now she had a blank white body. It looked slightly obscene, lying there soft and sugary and featureless on the platter.

A recipe you've tried or a meal you've recreated from fiction:

I've read the odd novel that included recipes but I've never tried any of them out. I guess the closest that I've come to this is the meal made from Lucy Maud Montgomery's recipe book that was served at the last LMM conference that I attended. The main dishes were delicious on the whole, though a tad heavy for the modern palate. But the desserts were teeth-achingly sweet, too much even for me. Different times, different tastes.

Food you associate with reading:

When I was a kid I often snacked on popcorn or cinnamon toast while reading, and now I find myself craving those foods when rereading childhood favourites.

Your favourite food-focussed book/writer:

I don't have a ready answer for this one, but I'm keeping it in the meme as I'm hoping for recommendations!

Tag, you're it!


priscilla said...

This is such a fun meme! I had forgotten about the food in the Little House books, but yes, you are right! Another one that always got me was the description of Boston baked beans and brown bread in Caddie Woodlawn. I also always wanted those meals Hannah was whipping up for Nancy Drew and her friends--a "light supper" of five courses or what-have-you.

Julie said...

Ha ha! I had the exact same reaction to Turkish Delight AND petit fours -- based on the same books! I've also eaten "apples 'n onions" from I forget which Little House book, and it was pretty gross too. On the other hand, my experiments with suet puddings (mainly inspired by Patrick O'Brian) turned out pretty tasty.

sassymonkey said...

Ohhh! I'll do it soon. Work first. Bah!

Suko said...

I've been a lifelong pretzel fan since reading Amy Moves In as a child, in which the protagonist savors the pretzel rod which helps her befriend a bulldog. Descriptions of food served after a long day of work--in the Little House series or Caddie Woodlawn or the first American Thanksgiving feast for Pilgrims and Indians--whetted my appetite,too, even for peculiar food. In college because of Proust I learned how to bake my own madeleines; this was before Starbucks, or anyone else for that matter, decided to make them popular. Today, I'm tempted by the stewed pumpkin and gasp--large pieces of fruit cake (which I'd never really eat) so frequently described in The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of books.

Kate S. said...


I've never read Caddie Woodlawn and I think I must. It sounds like a natural fit with so many of the other books that I loved as a child.


That's very funny! I knew that we had a lot of reading history in common. I wouldn't have expected suet puddings to be tasty based on the name alone but I realize that although I've encountered them in fiction I have no idea what they actually are! That might be a good bonus entry for the meme--food stuffs that you've read about but can't picture.


I look forward to reading your responses on this one!


How wonderful that Proust inspired you to make madeleines! That strikes me as very ambitious on both the literary and the culinary front!

ThirdCat said...

But turkish delight - good turkish delight - is one of life's great treats. It really is. The Lebanese baker a few streets from here sells turkish delight so good I'd almost sell my firstborn for it.

Fantastic meme.

Lesley said...

Do they have Big Turk bars in Ontario or are they just a Newfoundland thing? They are a sort of turkish delight covered in chocolate. I love them, but when my relatives brought some down and I generously offered some to my husband and in-laws - they took one bite and were not impressed either. So maybe Turkish Delight is something you have to grow up with in order to enjoy!

elizabethwillse said...

I came here via Sassymonkey, and I'm adding my voice to the crowd of anti-Turkish-Delight sentiment. It was this gelatinous fruit goo covered in chocolate! Cadbury totally betrayed my childhood reading. I gather there are alternate versions.

Stay tuned- I'm going to post my own answers to this meme.

Kate S. said...


I confess that I was rather quick to dismiss it. I only tried it once and I'm sure that it was a mass produced version. If I get an opportunity to sample the real thing, I'll take it!


I don't think I've ever seen a "Big Turk" bar in Ontario, nor in Saskatoon where I grew up. My encounter with Turkish Delight was in Scotland on a summer visit. From the various comments, it does seem that it's not an easily acquired taste!


Your Turkish Delight description sounds awfully familiar. I suspect that the one I tried was the Cadbury version as well! I look forward to reading your answers to the meme.

litlove said...

What a wonderful meme! Kate, you must get hold of a book by Jane Brocket called 'Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer'. It's a cookbook that gives recipes for all the food featured in children's literature. There are loads of recipes, but what I really enjoyed were the lengthy passages written by the author explaining where the food for each recipe could be found and reminiscing about the children's books involved. I think you might really enjoy it.

Linda said...

I remember how excited I was to find "Crunchie" bars in a collection of British candy. I remember Velvet and her sisters eating them in National Velvet and they sounded so delicious. They actually are, if a bit sweet for my taste (and I wish they were dark chocolate covered, not milk).

sassymonkey said...

Lesley, I grew up with Big Turk bars in PEI. I've seen them in Ontario fairly often. You have to look for them though and are most often found in corner stores.

Melanie said...

I remember Big Turk bars from Saskatchewan -- I hated them! This is a great meme, I recall reading so many of the same books as the ones you're talking about and really noticing the food. I've made a couple recipes out of the LMM cookbook but have had to alter them somewhat for my vegetarian diet; as you say, different times.

Lily said...

For some reason, the food we read about as children stays with us -- I don't know if it's because children are hungry in a way adults aren't, or because we believe the food descriptions when we read them, or because children's book writers have a way with food that's just different. I loved the many food memories in this post! Thank you.

Kate S. said...


That Jane Brocket book sounds wonderful. One to order from the Book Depository, I think!


I don't remember Crunchies from National Velvet but that's one British sweet that is available in Canada and your mention of them makes me nostalgic for my childhood! Funny how evocative food is.


I think you and I read a lot of the same books in our childhood. Between that and our Saskatchewan roots, we have a lot of common ground!


Yes, there's some magic to that childhood reading alright. One thing I noticed though when I went looking for quotations to illustrate my memories from childhood reading is that often the passages weren't there, at least not as I remembered them. Sometimes the descriptions themselves were quite pedestrian, but I had thereafter imagined whatever was described so vividly that I rewrote the source material in my head.