The courtship between books and food is a long and withstanding one. It is the reason behind the ready success of book cafes; why poetry recitals are held in coffee shops; why Starbucks provides such a great number of power points to facilitate its author-patrons. It is why book clubs meet over wines and crudités, and authors mention different food elements in their stories. Here, I am not only talking about recipe books or stories with chef-characters.
Authors so often effectively explore food culture in their books because not only is food a requirement for survival but food habits is a telling glimpse into a character’s personality, background and even to a certain extent psychology. Little signs such as the way a character takes his coffee or the addition of hummus in the buffet at a party may add complementary or contrasting effects to the profile the author is trying to build. I recently read a book where the author elaborately used a variety of food elements in his world-building to set up the sexual symbolism that drove the base of the plot. Food can be present in stories as an active element as well as an inactive element, such as when a character bogged by emotional or physical stress just goes about the daily task of maintaining sustenance without any attention to what they are eating or the absence of food when a character starts to skip meals while grieving. Just as the infinite range of appetizing dishes available in this world, an author’s imagination can take flight in any direction they fancy with food.
As I was working on the manuscript of the current novel I am writing, where the protagonist is the owner of a popular pastry shop, I was considering what an integral part of books food is. I was thinking not only of how I wish to use food in developing the character, setting, and plot of my novel but also how I want my readers to be prompted by what they read into wanting to live it in their physical plane, i.e. I want my readers to want to grab that yellow butternut squash cupcake with the cheese frosting and experience the novel as they read. And as thoughts tend to do, mine trailed onto how certain books prompt my own food cravings. How reading a certain character eat something makes me want to taste it. How I have begun associating certain books with certain food in such a permanent way that the food dependency has now reversed and when I eat a particular dish, I am even reminded of that book.
The following are works of my favorite authors, writers whom I hope to emulate in my devotion to being a novelist, and the food cravings they inspire:
J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter series, and Buttered Toasts
Perhaps few authors have explored the realm of gastronomic exquisiteness as Rowling in the Harry Potter books. From the moment when Harry’s dreams are intruded upon to attend to the breakfast at No. 4 Privet Drive to the introduction of a myriad of candies on the Hogwarts Express to the welcome feast in Hogwarts itself, the HP books are a food galore and have inspired authentic HP items such as the Butterbeer and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. However, somehow I have associated HP with buttered toasts and tea and that’s what I always want to have when I visit the books each year. I think it’s because that is the food Harry takes when he is most nervous. It brings me down to the basics of his character, which is he is “Just Harry”.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, and Scones
Though there was nary a scone in sight in this classic tome, I always find myself wanting to stuff my face with scones and butter and jam whenever I read this book or watch its 1995 BBC adaptation. Particularly in the scenes where the Bennet family is gathered or when Elizabeth visits at Rosings Park or Pemberly. It just seems appropriate. To be perfectly honest, I cannot have scones without putting on an English accent. It just comes on automatically. I suppose Austen brings out the children’s tea party in me.
Jennifer Crusie, Bet Me, and Chicken Marsala followed by Doughnuts
There’s always an abundance of food in Crusie’s books. Welcome to Temptation makes me want to have cherries, Faking It chocolate, Fast Women Chinese food but I think the book where food is most relevant to the plot is Bet Me. Mini’s fascination with Chicken Marsala converted my palates to its beneficial properties. While the steamy scene with the force-feeding of Krispy Kreme never fails to take my behind to a doughnut shop.
Julia Quinn, the Bridgerton series, and Biscuits
While the Bridgerton series also greatly advocates sandwiches, I particularly latched on to the presence of biscuits in the books. Every time the ladies in the books call for tea, I feel the need to pop a Danish biscuit in my mouth and wash it down with well steeped English Breakfast (no additives). In fact, I can’t seem to ever have butter cookies without having the image of Violet Bridgerton or Penelope Featherington flutter through my mind. Although Penelope should inspire éclair cravings, I suppose, but I don’t like eclairs and I love Penelope. She’s definitely butter biscuits material.
Sandra Brown and basically any of her books, and Coffee
Coffee. Black. Although my usual coffee cravings run for cappuccinos (with an extra shot of the beans, of course), when it comes to Sandra Brown books, I need to have black coffee. I think it’s because her heroes are such black coffee guys and she did introduce me to the world of romance novels. Until reading her Love Beyond Reason, I didn’t know this world existed. I didn’t know those books with those covers that I dared never walk near could have such valuable stories. Thank God for her floral covers. And that was how I knew coffee can also taste good without frills.
[I also believe when Maslow was developing the Hierarchy of Needs, he left out an important element at the physiological level – books! Books belong right up there next to food. But the fact that I would need to be put in a mental asylum if I were to live in a world without books is not the question here. That is a topic to be examined separately.]