Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kate's Food & Fiction Meme

I spent last week away from my blog, and a few of those days involved visiting with my oldest friend, someone I've known since age four. A lot of that time passed quickly in laughter and reminiscences, so when I saw Kate's Food & Fiction meme, it fit right in to all the recent rehashing of childhood. All those books my friend and I read (we were the bookish, bespectacled girls at the front of the classroom) and traded back and forth and used for the source of our Halloween costumes --we were even inspired us to try the food our favourite characters ate. So you can see that this meme is quite timely! Here it is:

Food from fiction that you'd like to sample:

There are quite a few books that I recall causing gustatory dreams; so much so that I now own the Little House cookbook and one called Aunt Maud's Recipe Book -- LMM's family recipes. I loved the idea of raspberry cordial from Anne of Green Gables, and I am sure that my fixation with tea comes straight from Anne and Diana's pretension to adulthood in serving tea to one another. In Emily of New Moon there is mention of the pickles that the New Moon ladies are known for, and that seriously made me want to make my own pickles. Thank goodness my mother was skilled at it and could teach me! Then there are all those Enid Blyton books that made me want some ginger beer.

From The Magician's Nephew, in the Narnia series, I have always wished I could try the toffee tree which grew from a candy in Polly and Digory's pockets. Here's a land that is newly formed and still magical enough to grow a tree from the stickily wrapped toffee he and Polly plant:

The low early sunshine was streaming through the wood and the grass was grey with dew and the cobwebs were like silver. Just beside them was a little, very dark wooded tree, about the size of an apple tree. The leaves were whitish and rather papery, like the herb called honesty, and it was loaded with little brown fruits that looked rather like dates.... Polly and Digory got to work on the toffee-tree. The fruit was delicious; not exactly like toffee - softer for one thing, and juicy - but like fruit which reminded one of toffee.

A fictional meal you would like to have attended:

The Mad Hatter's tea party, of course! It still makes me laugh reading it over. But there are many more I'd like to sit in on.

Any of the Austin family dinners from Madeleine L'Engle's books; they are always so genteel and discuss Bach and science while Mother sits down calm and fresh from making a huge meal for all six of them plus various last-minute guests.

Or, while not a meal per se, the Sunday School picnic from Anne of Green Gables when ice cream is still a novelty and Anne tastes it for the first time. It was only one page long but Anne's first church picnic filled me with longing to be in Avonlea; I always felt like I was missing a party.

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

Anne DeGrace's Wind Tails is a novel of many stories. It is centred around Cass' Roadside Diner, in an Albertan mountain pass, and follows a large cast of characters who move to, from and back to the diner again. With hitchhikers, truck drivers, bored policemen, hippies and diner staff alike taking their parts, this is a varied collection of tales to fascinate you.

And perhaps not set in a restaurant, but food related is the iconic short story "To Serve Man", by Damon Knight.

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

As everyone's been mentioning, from reading The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe I thought that Turkish Delight would be heavenly. It wasn't.

Or how about a book that didn't live up to the memory of food? I read Miss Osborne the Mop around Grade 3 or so, and the main thing I remembered about it was that the female character found a magic pair of glasses that would bring to life anything looked at through them. She and her boy companion look at a chocolate cake in a magazine and it pops into reality, and my goodness, how that cake lived in three layer glory in my imagination, shining with its chocolatey potential. How disappointed I was upon rereading it when I found that the children were unsatisfied with the cake; it didn't fill them or please them the way a Really Real cake would have. I suppose there's a didactic lesson to be learned there, since the rest of the book was mainly about housecleaning.

An unappetizing food description from fiction:

From one of my favourites from childhood, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a lesson in how not to make cornmeal mush:

Toward evening they set her to the easiest task they could devise -- the making of corn pudding. The corn meal had to be added to the boiling kettle a pinch at a time. Before half of it was consumed, Kit's patience ran out. The smoke made her eyes water, and there was a smarting blister on one thumb. She suspected that Judith had invented the irksome procedure just to keep her busy, and in a burst of resentment she poured in the remaining cupful all at once. She learned her mistake when the lumpy indigestible mess was ladled onto her wooden trencher. There was nothing else for supper. After one shocked stare, the family downed the mess in a silence that made Kit writhe.

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

I've had madeleines and linden flower tea in honour of Proust (though I must say that linden itself turns rather slimy which is a bit offputting when cleaning the pot. Use teabags.)

As for a direct recipe, I once made banana filled cinnamon buns from a recipe in one of Diane Mott Davidson's mystery novels. It was for a library luncheon and the dough was rising so much it was overflowing the mixing bowl so I quickly tried to fill it and roll it out before it became The Blob. It was my first try at yeast bread and despite everything they turned out AMAZING and everyone asked which bakery I'd got them at. He he he.

Food you associate with reading:

I don't really associate anything much besides tea. I love to have a cup of tea with my reading, which often leads to a surfeit of caffeine, all the better to stay up late reading... Otherwise I don't eat and read at the same time very often; I can't recall doing it very often as a child either.

Your favourite food-focused book/writer:

I discovered Colette Rossant and have really enjoyed her family memoirs, especially Apricots on the Nile. She is a marvellous writer who interweaves family and social history, and includes recipes. Her writing is completely infused with nostalgia and is irresistible. She is part French and part Egyptian, but grew up in Cairo in her paternal grandparents' household, and every element of all those things shows up in her books. They are a delight.

I've also just finished a wonderful book, Where our food comes from, by Gary Paul Nabhan, about the importance of seeds and maintaining genetic diversity in the world's food supply. He's an ethnobiologist (what a job!) and a professor and the book traces Nikolai Vavilov's footsteps through the world's centres of diversity. Fascinating, and up for a full review soon.


  1. I think most people associate tea with reading (I know I do!) What was that quote by CS Lewis? Something along the lines of "you can't find a book long enough or a cup of tea big enough to suit me!"
    Amen to that. :-)
    Great blog, keep up the good work!

  2. Yes, I love that quote by CS Lewis -- sums it up perfectly! Thanks for dropping by!


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