Recently, my friend Andy (one half of the podcasting duo behind Four Courses—where they really do care what you had for lunch) asked me to name my favorite food/dining/cooking scenes from literature. It’s a topic that comes up in one of their future episodes—I’ll post a link when it goes live—and he was having a tough time thinking of things.
I thought, well, that shouldn’t be too hard, but when I tried to actually think of anything, I couldn’t think of a thing. Eventually, I mentioned the dining hall scenes at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series—I still want to know what butterbeer tastes like—and just about every page of Like Water for Chocolate. With the latter, though, I couldn’t remember if I’d actually read the book or was just remembering the scenes from the spectacular movie that was made of the novel. To be honest, the same question could be asked of my Harry Potter memories.
I won’t exactly say that it’s a shame, how many of my food-based literary recollections are colored by their translation to film. I think it just points out how much of a leg up the movies have in that respect. Have you ever seen The Big Night, for example? One of these days, I’m going to attempt to make a timpano because of the scene in the film with that dish.
Children’s literature seems to do a better job of representing food, though. There’s Oliver Twist, of course, and Alice in Wonderland and the Winnie-the-Pooh series, and (though this may not be strictly children’s literature, it’s something I read as a kid) all of the hobbitsy obsessions with meals in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Again, there’s an instance where the movies kicked that up a notch.)
It disappoints me how few I can remember, especially when I considered that one of the stories I’ve written that I’m still fond of today—and I view my back list of stories the way I suspect a lot of writers regard their past work, with deep suspicion that it was written by someone else—is a story that revolves around a restaurant, love, and bread pudding. It was called “The Key Ingredient” and appeared in the anthology The Dirty Diner. I read an excerpt from it at Swoon in 2013. I set out to make that story an homage to Like Water for Chocolate, in fact, though with a very gay twist. Whether it succeeded is for other people to say, but it does capture my deep and abiding appreciation of bread pudding.
So! What’s your favorite food or dining or cooking scene from literature? What makes it stand out for you? Tell us all about it in the comments field—and include recipes if appropriate.