The literary feast

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.

6 thoughts on “The literary feast

  1. I would go to any feast hosted by the Lannister’s or Starks – before things went downhill for them, in GOT. I know the series gets a lot of play for the sexy times, but honestly when I read the books my thought was “Man, George loves him some honey roasted chicken.”

    • I’ve never seen the series or read the books (I know, it’s hard to imagine, but I don’t know if I can commit to something that big), but yeah, I wouldn’t mind seeing the food scenes.

  2. It’s true what scoobyclue says, about a Game of Thrones cookbook. Weirdly enough–because neither of us have read the books or watched the series or expressed any desire in doing so–I have a copy of it. James and I received a copy of it (A Feast of Fire & Ice) as a wedding present from an uncle and aunt on his side who don’t know us at all. It is–authentic to the time period it’s trying to replicate–mostly full of meat dishes, and I don’t know if I’ll ever use any of the recipes, but it is kind of a marvel to look at the photographs, which are like set-pieces in and of themselves. Like I said, I’m not into the series, so much of the idiosyncrasies are lost on me, but I wouldn’t mind it if someone presented me with a “cream swan” (So pretty! But how could I bring myself eat something so delicate? If ever there’s a food item to be Instagrammed, it’s the cream swan.)

    You’re not remembering it wrong–the Hogwarts meals, as described in the books, are one of the highlights for me. Yes, please, I would like a magical feast that has dozens of dessert options. I also remember particularly liking the idea of breakfast in the Great Hall. I always get up the in the morning with a hungry stomach and I want to eat right away, and it’s always a chore to me to realize that before I can eat anything I first must MAKE the food. So the idea of getting dressed, wandering downstairs, and having breakfast laid out for me just seems amazing.

    Okay. This is an obscenely long comment already (but hey, did you ask about literature and food, so you must have expected a few words from me), but I came here originally with a book recommendation! I just finished reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender, and I think you would love it. It’s about a nine-year-old-girl who discovers, suddenly, that she has a magical gift: she can taste people’s emotions in their food. It all begins when the chocolate lemon cake her mother makes her tastes of despair…

    That’s all. Hooray for that excellent bread budding story! We were proud to feature you at Swoon!

      • I know, I know. I always feel half-guilty when I recommend a book to a writer because I know we all kilometres-high (see how metric and Canadian I am?) piles of books on our to-read list. Sigh!

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