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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Food And Fiction

Yesterday I stumbled across an online article about "Ten Memorable Meals In Fiction." I found it rather disappointing. It wasn't just that I'd read only two of the ten books. I could live with that and even say, "Hey, that sounds like a book I might try." It just didn't have any substance. 

So, here are a few(not ten, sorry!) universes which had food and eating scenes that I enjoyed. 

A Song Of Ice And Fire, aka Game Of Thrones

I've written about this before, including a review of the cookbook, A Feast Of Ice And Fire, written by some fans who did a lot of research, a lot more cooking and finally produced the book, presenting the author with goodies mentioned in his novels. And there are plenty! People in this series eat. And eat. Most of the foods - not all - are mediaeval. Some murders and mass murders happen at feasts - though I guess if you're going to kill all your enemies, it makes sense to do it when they're all in one place, and it has certainly happened in history.

Harry Potter

Another universe in which people eat and eat. I sometimes wonder why Hogwarts students don't come home bigger than Dudley Dursley. Even when they're not having a feast - and they do have one to celebrate the beginning and end of term and another one on Halloween(also on Christmas Day, but there are only a few kids left at school for that) - there is a large choice of foods for breakfast and dinner, including dessert. There are the Honeydukes sweets(including chocolate for overcoming the shock of Dementors) and such wizardly treats as cauldron cakes and butterbeer. We're never told what either of those are, but that hasn't stopped fans from trying to make both. What is a cauldron cake? Is it shaped like a cauldron or baked in a cauldron? Is it even sweet?

 And butterbeer. We know it's low-alcohol(unless you're a House Elf, in which case it's quite possible to get drunk on it). We know it's delicious and warming. That's about it. But there are masses of recipes out there. One, as I recall, includes butterscotch schnapps! Never had that, but I bet it's rather more alcoholic than butterbeer! The only butterbeer recipe I might consider trying is from the web site Food Through The Pages, which is written by one of the abovementioned Ice And Fire fans. Research by her produced a 16th century recipe for something called Buttered Beer. Sounds good to me.


The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien begins with the chapter "An Unexpected Party", establishing the Hobbits as a race who like their food - not to mention the Dwarves, who pretty much empty out Bilbo Baggins's walk-in pantry over afternoon tea. Of course, there are thirteen of them, plus Gandalf the wizard. A late friend of mine once sent me a carefully typed-out article called "The Pleasures Of The Hobbit Table", which I scanned in order not to lose it. All the food described is very English in style. And Tolkien's English food isn't the stodgy stuff most of us imagine when we hear "English food." Simple, yes, but not stodgy.  It has been said that simple food is the hardest to get right, because you can't hide it behind sauces and spices. 

In The Lord Of The Rings we have the opening chapter, "A Long-Expected Party" in which Bilbo and Frodo celebrate their joint birthday and Bilbo nicks off to live at Rivendell. There is a detailed description of what everyone gets to eat at this party.  Later in the book, Sam Gamgee offers to make fish and chips for Gollum, who just can't get his head around the idea of spoiling lovely fresh, tender meat by cooking it.

And the Elves! They can throw together a feast in no time. And I did love that scene in the Hobbit movie in which one of the Dwarves looks up from his vegetarian meal of mostly lettuce and asks plaintively if he could maybe have some fish and chips. It wasn't in the novel, but it does confirm my view that the High Elves, anyway, tend to be living in New Age artist colonies. 

 But the most important Elvish foods are lembas bread and miruvor, a drink that will warm and comfort you when you need it most. Lembas is supposed to be a travel bread that lasts and lasts. What it really is, is the blessed wafer you have in church, while miruvor is the wine. Tolkien was a devout Catholic. See my earlier post about March 25th. 


Terry Pratchett's POV characters are mostly English-type people, who like bacon and eggs for breakfast, the greasier the better. Sam Vimes, the world-weary police chief, can't handle eating anything that doesn't make his arteries clang. As far as he's concerned, Burnt Crunchy Bits are an essential food group. His wife, Lady Sybil, feels she ought to be cooking for him, but as she isn't very good at it, she delights him with greasy, burnt food, just the way he likes it. Sam's idea of a BLT sandwich is plenty of B and skip the L and T altogether. 

There are the dwarfs, who bake bread that is so tough you can use it as a weapon - and they do. There's an entire museum of Dwarf Bread, including guerrilla crumpets. The Low King is crowned on the Scone of Stone. You certainly can't eat dwarf bread. So it's good to take on a journey because it lasts and lasts -  you'll eat anything rather than the bread.The joke is clearly meant to be about the journey breads mentioned in Tolkien's fiction, in which the Dwarves have a long lasting journey bread called cram. Pratchett's dwarfs love to eat rats, whether rat on a stick or in a pizza(quatri rodenti pizza is ordered in the novel Soul Music). 

There are Klatchian takeaways where you can buy curry, though the English characters think curry is yellow and contains swedes and sultanas. 

Anyway, people eat a lot in the Discworld novels! 

Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher and Corinna Chapman

Kerry Greenwood writes crime fiction. And her characters eat. And eat. Partly, I think, it's because the author is herself a good cook who enjoys food. 

Phryne Fisher, her Jazz Era detective, is a small slim woman with Dutch Doll hair. She should be the size of a barn the way she eats. Phryne is wealthy and can afford to go out to dinner - and shout her dinner companions. Which she does. And we're treated to detailed descriptions of those meals. I suspected one was pollo e funghi pasta and tried it out and very nice it was. Kerry told me it was based on a pollo e funghi she'd had in Florence. 

But she has a wonderful cook, Mrs Butler, whose buffet meals are also described in great detail, from the soup to the dessert and savouries, followed by cocktails. And her adopted daughter, Ruth, wants to be a cook and in Dead Man's Chest she has the chance to cook for the family while they're on holiday at Queenscliff, because the staff of the house they're borrowing have vanished.

Corinna Chapman is a baker and she is a large lady. She takes great pleasure both in cooking and in eating out with her boyfriend Daniel. Restaurant meals are described and Corinna and Daniel usually end them with delicious gelato for dessert. Her apprentice Jason is a master of the muffin, including an amazing chocolate muffin for which the author provides a recipe at the end of the book. And I use her recipe for French Onion soup, very nice and easy to make and perfect for a winter night. 

I think Corinna is meant to be Kerry. She is built the same way and has the same love of food and cooking.

There are plenty more, of course, such as Enid Blyton. I've always wished I could try the honey biscuits described in the Faraway Tree books - and there are fans out there who have made up their own recipes for these. Characters in Enid Blyton books eat a lot. Don't forget the midnight feasts!

But I'll leave it here and invite your own thoughts on fiction and food. Any suggestions?

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