More Great Food Moments in Literature

Photo: flickr/Troy Holden

Flavorpill has a round-up of mouth-watering food moments in literature. In Moby Dick, for instance, Melville dedicates pages on the perfect clam chowder: “It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

And who can forget Willy Wonka’s sweets? “Marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds as you suck them, and little feathery sweets that melt away deliciously the moment you put them between your lips.”

Of course, Flavorpill’s list doesn’t begin to encompass all the great food scenes in literature, and if it was an attempt at the top ten, it didn’t quite make it. Here are a few more scenes that are worthy of consideration:

  • The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong: “Quinces are ripe, GertrudeStein, when they are yellow of canary wings in midflight. They are ripe when their scent teases you with the snap of green apples and the perfumed embrace of coral roses. But even then quinces remain fruit, hard and obstinate–useless, GertrudeStein, until they are simmered, coddled for hours above a low, steady flame. Add honey and water and watch their dry, bone-colored flesh soak up the heat, coating itself in an opulent orange, not of the sunrises that you never see by of the insides of tree-ripened papayas, a color you can taste. To answer your question, GertrudeStein, love is not a bowl of quinces yellowing in a blue and white china bowl, seen but untouched.”
  • Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie: “On the thali of victory: samosas, pakoras, rice, dal, puris; and green chutney. Yes, a little aluminum bowl of chutney, green, my God, green as grasshoppers…and before long the puri was in my hand; and chutney was on the puri; and then I had tasted it, and almost imitated the fainting act of Picture Singh, because it had carried me back to a day when I emerged nine-fingered from a hospital and went into exile at the home of Hanif Aziz, and was given the best chutney in the world…the taste of chutney was more than just an echo of that long-ago taste–it was the old taste itself, the very same, with the power of bringing back the past as if it had never been away…in a frenzy of excitement, I grabbed the blind waitress by the arm, scarcely able to contain myself, I blurted out: ‘The chutney! Who made it?”
  • Feast scenes in Redwall, by Brian Jacques: “The table linen was spread upon the orchard grass, with pretty blossom arrangements decking the fruit trees. Lanterns hung, ready to be lit by evening. Casks of strawberry fizz, October Ale, dandelion and burdock cordial and jugs of mint tea or pennycloud brew were placed in the tree shade. Scones, tarts, pies and pasties were there in abundance, alongside trifles, broths, oven-baked breads and delicate almond wafers.”

Oh, and the chocolate cake scene in Matilda? Makes you want to go find a rich chocolate torte to bury your head in.

What are your favorite food scenes in literature? Post as a comment.


Oh Hungry Devil

The day after I conceived of this blog, I was packing up my things from the classroom where I help teach journalism and gazed up at the bookshelves. The first title to become clearly legible was The Ravenous Muse, by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, which turned out to be a collection of passages from writers, philosophers, and artists all relating to food and eating. The front of the book sports a greedy raven scrambling to demolish a plate full of books, and the cover design plays with severe shades of blacks and reds, giving it a demonic air. 


A Table of Dark and Comic Contents, a Bacchanal of Books

The Ravenous Muse pieces together quotes and passages from mostly European and Slavic writers such as Balzac, James Joyce, Nabokov, Flaubert, and Rilke. Gordon interlaces these passages with mischievous descriptions and annotations, lending it a personalized cohesiveness. The subtitle of the book, “A Table of Dark and Comic Contents, a Bacchanal of Books,” hints at its hedonistic tone. However, while many of the quoted characters revel in the pleasure of imbibing, such as Toulouse-Lautrec when he asks his mother: “Has the goose-liver season started? If it has, remember to have a dozen tins sent to me,” many of the selections also deal with food metaphorically, as a tool to unlock the poetry of the everyday. René Char, a living French poet, uses allusions to bread and baking to delicately characterize his lover: “Woman! On her mouth we kiss the madness of time; or side by side with the zenith cricket, she sings through the winter night in the bakery of the poor, under the softness of a loaf of light.”

Gordon supplements her collection with a generous heaping of subtitles and a section of witty and unusual biographies of each writer at the end. I enjoyed stumbling across the collection as it united two of my passions, and made them seem inextricable yet bizarrely foreign to one another, depending on the quote.  Gordon’s selections sway between absurd, comical, eerie, and romantic. Sometimes they invoke the authors we’ve known and studied and shove them into a new light. “Is there not a sweet wolf within us that demands its food?”, asks Emily Dickinson, and we smile to imagine her in a stark, solitary house with a hungry canine as a companion. Gordon establishes an intimacy with us and draws out our appetites, addressing us in her introduction: “Since you are here, you too must be a bibliogourmand, taking sensual as well as cerebral pleasure in the act of reading. And that’s what’s on the table here: creation caught in the act, writer and muse in flagrante delicto, biting each other’s mouths.”

Foodies and farmers often seem fixated with the material substance of food, but it’s interesting to also consider it’s place in literature and culture, as a metaphor and a delightful participant in many surrealist fantasies. The Ravenous Muse does not claim to explain food’s importance in literature, but it’s exploration of authors and their depictions and musings on victuals will surely satiate.