Food in Fiction: Authors Who Write Delicious Descriptions
There is nothing quite like a work of fiction that engages all of the senses, immersing the reader in a world they can feel, taste, and smell. George R. R. Martin creates a sensuous and beautiful fantasy world in his Song of Ice and Fire series that depict food tastes and smells in such a way that captures scenes from simple to sumptuous. Martin’s fantasy setting is savage and unenlightened, a world where even the strongest struggle to survive. The food in fiction within the story reflect this with multi-course feasts laden with herb-crusted quail, smoked fish, and roasted boar; in fact, the very boar that causes a pivotal character’s death is prepared, cooked, and served in a gesture that speaks volumes. In a world where there are no supermarkets, the wealthy make use of fragrant herbs and rich sauces within their kitchens, while the poor must contend with the reoccurring conflicts created by the scarcity of food, such as the “bread riots.”
Ale, spiced wine, and mead flow freely in the book, creating situations where characters are often drunk, disorderly, and ready to clash swords. The elaborate banquets are a pleasure to read even when the characters are thrown into squalor, as Martin manages to make the greasy rabbit meat roasted over a spit sound delicious. However, Martin is far from the only writer who can make us taste the food in his pages.
It is no wonder that Potter fans all over the net try to duplicate the amazing sweets and treats from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Straight from the cart of snacks on the Hogwarts Express with its chocolate frogs and cauldron cakes to the great hall with its tables packed with food and desserts of every kind. Once Harry made his way into Honeydukes in Hogsmeade, readers wondered “what might an acid pop taste like?” or “can Bertie Botts really come in every flavor?” Rowling really did capture the sugary appetites of children along with their imaginations.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is abloom with smells and tastes that make the mouth water. Lacing the air with smoke and caramel wherever the magical night circus visits and making the line between food and fiction fade. The novel’s tone is born from impossible or the unbelievable, making even the circus’s food a little dreamlike. In addition to the carnival food of cinnamon pastry with white icing, chocolate mice with almond slices for ears, popped corn, and spiced apple cider, more cultured culinary delights are also mentioned in detail. The circus’s founders have extravagant dinners featuring many courses that start at the chime of midnight in a large mysterious mansion where the identities of the amazing chefs remain a secret. One of the many desserts described in the novel is served as a sphere made of melted sugar with clouds of a mysterious whipped creamy concoction inside. Once the guests start to taste it, they realize that every one of them has received a different flavor of cream and proceed to taste each others plates with delight.
Making It Real
Fiction is often a muse for those willing to make it a reality and this is true for the culinary arts as well. More than a few cookbooks have been inspired by Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. The official version, A Feast of Ice and Fire offers the flavors of a real medieval kitchen with instructions on how to make mutton in an onion-ale broth, pork pie, and of course, the famous lemon cakes. Harry Potter has no shortage of its own cookbooks that claim to have the actual ingredients for pumpkin juice and cauldron cakes, but if you want the final word, the theme park in Florida seems to have perfected the flavors of the most famous treats. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter serves these delights to park-goers daily including real butterbeer. It is no surprise that Erin Morgenstern mentioned the famous perfumery, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, in her acknowledgements because many of the famous scents will bring back memories of her book. The purveyor of perfumes produces not only food, spice, herbal, and floral notes in the scents, but insists that aromas such as candle wax, black tea, blood, bay rum, opium, ashes, and book pages have been captured in their bottles as well. Not only could a reader discover scents that inspired Morgenstern to write her recent novel, but many perfumes from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab are based on classic or modern literature including Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. If that isn’t sweet enough, Morgenstern mentions on her blog that the chocolate mice from her story are real from their almond slice ears to their licorice tail and can be purchased at Burdick Chocolates.
Giving Life to the Story
Food in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series is treated as a luxury, a valued and scarce resource that is celebrated when in abundance. The language of Martin’s books take the reader back to a time when survival was a fickle and uncertain reward for cleverness or strength. Hosting large dinners for guests or offering hospitality in the form of food was often a sign of wealth and overall well-being, but the author goes a step further to describe each character’s meal for the reader. When one character is being offered, “sweetbreads and pigeon pie and baked apples fragrant with cinnamon and lemon cakes frosted in sugar,” while another makes do with “salt beef, hard cheese, and stale bread,” it sends a message that one character is in dire straits and the other is doing well. The Harry Potter books use food in fiction a different way, starting with the cake that Hagrid made from scratch for the young wizard’s special birthday, each meal seems to express the genuine care being taken with the children on their journey. Even Dumbledore is careful to always offer some sort of sweet to visitors in his office, showing warmth and affection through food. Ultimately though, the authors who write food in their novels are connecting to the reader on a basic and elemental level. Opinions on food are universal, experiencing comfort or emptiness as a result of a meal. Whether it is Daenerys requesting something other than horse meat because she is pregnant, Harry Potter looking for his favorite dessert, treacle tart on the banquet table, or Widget refusing to eat his popcorn unless some of the caramel from the apple stand is drizzled over it, they have a connection to the reader the instant they put the food in their mouth.
What have you read lately that makes your mouth water? Leave a comment about your favorite food in fiction!