October 17: Top Ten Yummy Foods Mentioned In Books (Does a character eat something you’d love? Or maybe the book takes place in a bakery/restaurant that makes yummy things? You could also talk about 10 of your favorite cookbooks if you don’t read foody books.)
I’m not really a foodie. I mean, I like food, don’t get me wrong! I like to eat. But I hate to cook. My dislike of cooking means that unless I’m ordering in or eating out, I tend to opt for simple things. Think spaghetti, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches. But I can get my fix of exotic foods on the page!
1. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harrris- Chocolat seems to be the popular Harris choice for lists about food books. But I actually prefer this one. Framboise Darigan is an old lady who recalls the her childhood in a small, French town, which coincided with the later days of the Occupation during WWII. Framboise and her siblings traded with the Germans on the black market. They meet Tomas, a charming young Nazi who gives them gifts. But this friendship leads to a tragic, violent series of events that still torments Framboise years later. This sounds heavy and it is, but there’s some yummy food there too. Framboise and her mother are gifted cooks. In her narration, Framboise often speaks in terms of food.
“This is something different again. A feeling of peace. The feeling you get when a recipe turns out perfectly right, a perfectly risen souffle, a flawless sauce hollandaise. It’s a feeling which tells me that any woman can be beautiful in the eyes of a man who loves her.”
2. The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan- Pearl Louie Brandt is the American born daughter of a Chinese mother. She and her mother have never been very close, but when she goes home for a wedding, she gets the truth of her mother’s past. Here the narrative shifts to Japanese occupied China in the years around WWII. Winnie Louie (Pearl’s mother) was an orphan who lived with her uncle and his family. A marriage was arranged for her when she grew up. This marriage turns out to be a disaster. Her husband is abusive. She likens her situation to a Chinese fable about the wife of a man who was horrible to her no matter how much she did for him. This man still became known as the “kitchen god”. This is also a heavy topic, but with some very yummy sounding descriptions of Chinese fare.
“I take a few quick sips. “This is really good.” And I mean it. I have never tasted tea like this. It is smooth, pungent, and instantly addicting.
“This is from Grand Auntie,” my mother explains. “She told me ‘If I buy the cheap tea, then I am saying that my whole life has not been worth something better.’ A few years ago she bought it for herself. One hundred dollars a pound.”
“You’re kidding.” I take another sip. It tastes even better.”
3. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen- Claire Waverly is a caterer who makes her food with mystical plants: nasturtiums are for keeping secrets, pansies are for thoughtful children etc. Her cousin, Evanelle, also has some strange gifts. The two of them are the last of the Waverlys. Well, except for Claire’s sister, Sydney, who ran away from their small town home of Bascom, North Carolina, as soon as she could. But when Sydney comes back home, she brings with her a young daughter and a dark history. She and Claire struggle to reconnect and create a family and a home. A few weeks ago, I wrote about First Frost, which is a stand alone sequel to this book.
“Business was doing well, because all the locals knew that dishes made from the flowers that grew around the apple tree in the Waverley garden could affect the eater in curious ways. The biscuits with lilac jelly, the lavender tea cookies, and the tea cakes made with nasturtium mayonnaise the Ladies Aid ordered for their meetings once a month gave them the ability to keep secrets. The fried dandelion buds over marigold-petal rice, stuffed pumpkin blossoms, and rose-hip soup ensured that your company would notice only the beauty of your home and never the flaws. Anise hyssop honey butter on toast, angelica candy, and cupcakes with crystallized pansies made children thoughtful. Honeysuckle wine served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark. The nutty flavor of the dip made from hyacinth bulbs made you feel moody and think of the past, and the salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen, whether it was true or not.
4. The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell- Rachel has spent her whole life keeping the fact that she can make wishes come true a secret. The consequences of granting wishes have a history of being disastrous. So when she accidentally grants a wish for the first time in years, she decides its time to hit the road. Her car runs out of gas in Nowhere, North Carolina. There she meets Catch, an old woman who can bind secrets by baking them into pies. She also meets Catch’s neighbor, Ashe, a handsome fellow who makes Rachel believe that a happily ever after might be possible for her. But when wishes start to pile up all over town, Rachel must finally learn to accept who she is, and how to control her ability. This was a nice “comfort read” at the end of a long day. And it made me want pie. A lot.
“She relaxed her grip on the plate and inhaled the sweet scent of the peach pie. She would have eaten it even if it hadn’t smelled like heaven on a plate, but after the first bite, she was grateful Catch had ignored her initial refusal.”
5. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg- Evelyn Couch is 48 years old and having a mid-life crisis. Ninny Threadgoode is 86 and still living with a lifetime of happy memories. When they meet in the visitors room of an Alabama nursing home, Cleo begins to tell Evelyn about the town she grew up in, during the great depression. Much of the life in town centered around the Whistle Stop Cafe which was run by Idgie Threadgoode, a rebellious tomboy, and her partner, Ruth. Idgie, Ruth and the Whistle Stop Cafe survive just about everything; from the depression, to the KKK, to murder. And they do it amidst the smell of good food!
“The Whistle Stop Cafe opened up last week, right next door to me at the post office, and owners Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison said business has been good ever since. Idgie says that for people who know her not to worry about getting poisoned, she is not cooking.”
6. Sunshine by Robin McKinley-Rae “Sunshine” Seddon works at her stepfather’s bakery (where her cinnamon rolls are legendary!). One night she goes out to the lake in search of some peace and quiet. She ends up getting kidnapped by vampires. She’s held in the same room as Constantine, another vampire, who is also in chains. He’s been captured by his enemy who wants him to die slowly of daylight and starvation. But Sunshine has some secret powers (aside from baking, that is) and she frees them both. But they soon find themselves on the run from Constantine’s enemies. I’m sort of conflicted about putting this book on my list, since I ultimately disliked it for the same reason that it belongs on here: a lot too much time was spent on describing how the main character makes the best cinnamon rolls ever. But I’m putting it on the list because, well, the cinnamon rolls did sound pretty good!
“Mr. Responsible Media was looking rebellious, but this was my country. I was the Cinnamon Roll Queen and most of those assembled were my devoted subjects.”
7. Mistress of the Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni- Tilo is an old woman who sells spices in Oakland California. She suggests spices to flavor different dishes, but secretly these spices treat the spiritual problems of her customers. Because Tilo isn’t really an old woman. She’s really the immortal “Mistress of the Spices” trained in the art of spices and given special powers. But these powers come with rules. When she breaks those rules she doesn’t lose her magical abilities, but she does lose power regarding the outcomes when she uses her magic. Ultimately she has to chose between being a powerful immortal, or an ordinary woman. This book makes me hungry for Indian food.
“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”
8. Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder- Yelena faces execution for murder (the fact that he deserved it doesn’t seem to matter much….) She is offered a way out: become the food taster for the commander of Ixia. She’s kept from escaping by being poisoned. Only the commander’s head of security, Valek, has the antidote, which most be administered on a daily basis. But Yelena soon discovers that she has a role to play in Ixia’s future. She gets caught up in castle politics, but her actions make some people impatient with waiting for poison to finish her off. It seems strange to have a book about someone tasting a food for poison make a reader hungry, but almost every chapter has a description of a yummy meal- the fact that it may or may not be poisoned just makes it a bit more interesting!
“When you warned me that you would test me from time to time, I thought you meant spiking my food. But it seems there is more than one way to poison a person’s heart, and it doesn’t even require a meal.”
9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern- Behind the scenes of Le Cirque des Reves there’s a duel taking place between two magicians. Celia and Marco have been trained from childhood to fight to the death. However, the best laid plans fall apart when Celia and Marco fall in love. They’re still bound to their duel, unless they can find a way out. Nothing about the plot deals with food really, but the writing is very sensory. There are a lot of food related metaphors that almost let you taste what they’re talking about.
“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold.”
10. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- The Harry Potter universe should really come with its own menu. The books need no introduction. But whether it’s Mrs. Weasley’s feasts, the food trolley on the Hogwarts express, or the contents of Honeyduke’s sweetshop, there’s something mouthwatering, and something cringeworthy (Jelly Slugs? Blood flavored lollipops?) for everyone. I once had something claiming to be Butterbeer. It actually tasted suspiciously like ginger ale.
“He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, fries, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup, and, for some strange reason, peppermint humbugs.’’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.