There are four kinds of food in books: food that is served by an author to characters who are not expected to taste it; food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are; food that an author cooks for characters in order to eat it with them; and, last (and most recent), food that an author cooks for characters but actually serves to the reader.
Looking back, I still remember the great excitement about Enid Blyton’s books was partly due to her detailed descriptions of food – the well stocked picnic baskets of Billy-Bob, the tea parties in Faraway Tree, Noddy and Big Ears feasting at home, the supplies stocked by the Famous Five when they went on their adventures.
PG Wodehouse introduced us to the magnificent Anatole, stolen by Aunt Dahlia from Rosie Banks, wife of Bingo Little. Anatole, “God’s gift to the gastric juices” made such brilliant dishes like Cepes a la Rossini and Mignonettes a la creme d’ecrivesses. One did not have to see those plates, simply the names were enough to salivate.
On to Hercule Poirot, the aristocratic detective who has so many times walked into the elaborately laid dinner tables and found people lying in pools of blood or poisoned. In the story Four and Twenty Blackbirds, he uncovers a heinous crime simply by investigating why a man who could not digest suet pudding, blackberries and thick soup ordered exactly that – thick tomato soup, beefsteak and kidney pudding and blackberry tart on a Monday night. As it turned out … (okay if you haven’t read, I won’t spoil it for you)
And then food becomes a subject for diplomacy and power struggles. Robert Ludlum’s The Janson Directive has Paul Janson meeting Hungarian arms dealer Lakatos at the Palace Hotel in Miskolc. Lakatos suggests libamaj roston, the grilled goose liver and the brassoi aprepecsenye, braised pork. Janson however prefers the bakayi serteshus,pork in mushroom and cream sauce. The dinner is accompanied with a bottle of Egri Bikaver, ’82 with the cancelling the initial choice of Margaux ’98. The dinner ends in an ambush with Janson killing Lakatos and his guards.
food that is served by an author to characters in order to show who they are
Annabel Richter orders “Water. Still. No Lime. Room Temperature.” She has just cycled to the Atlantic Hotel, driving Tommy Brue to dismay and immediate love. (A Most Wanted Man, John Le Carre)