Think, when was the last time you reveled in a glorious meal enjoyed by the hero and heroine where the steaming dishes brought to the table reflect the steamy looks exchanged by the two? Is there a ban on food scenes circulating the critique groups? Are they on the editors’ no-no list?
In the interest of moving forward, are authors condemning their heroines to near starvation as they go on the run with the hero? Will the reader learn what comforting menu will be presented when they are forced to leave the storm-lashed road for the shelter of a wayside inn? When those proper Regency belles dither over which eligible potential beau will escort them to dinner, do they ever get to enjoy the meal? Does the reader ever get to see what is on the lavishly spread table? Must we go all the way back to medieval times before we’re ever allowed to sit down and feast?
If you think I’m making too much of this missing element, I’d like to remind you of some of the memorable food-related scenes in classic fiction. From the first page of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, we learn that the author should accept the obligation of providing a “bill of fare” for the reading to come. Fielding fulfills this duty throughout the book with sensual descriptions of all of Tom’s bad boy antics including an eating scene that is hilariously rendered in the Albert Finney film of the book. In this one scene, we learn about characters, plot points, and setting. What more can you ask a scene to show?
Moving further down literary lane, remember the sensuous strawberry-eating done in Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles? The picnic Scarlett prepared herself not to eat by the snack Mammy forced her to gobble? The cow’s brains and eyeball Leslie Benedict was presented with as an honor for her to eat at her first Texas barbecue in Edna Ferber’s Giant.
Of course, the top chef emeritus of the literary world has to be Charles Dickens. In his novels, rich and poor alike are delineated by the food they eat, serve or crave. Cookbooks, restaurants, and London shopping districts are dedicated to the menus in his books. What’s Christmas without the fond retelling of the Cratchits’ meager but appreciated meal, Scrooge’s nephew’s party fare, and the giant turkey the reformed Scrooge sends to amaze and nourish Tiny Tim?
Remember when Mrs. Cratchit serves the plum pudding?
“She entered the room, flushed but smiling proudly; with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in a half-a-quartern of ignited brandy and bedecked with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
Husband Bob immediately deems it “the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage.”
And who can forget the Miss Haversham’s abandoned wedding feast entombed in spider webs and mice from Great Expectations?
Are there any such unforgettable food scenes in modern historical romances? Am I missing them somehow? Aside from medievals where there is often a focus on food as the new heroine takes over the management of the manor, have you read or written one lately? Tell me about them.
For a few recipes reminiscent of Dickens, try www.thebrasssisters.com where you can find a Hearty English Meat Pie. Shepard’s Pie, an easy Irish Sponge Cake or Currant Creme Scones. Each recipe includes a brief description of the role of that food in Victorian times.
Two of my recent releases contain food scenes: Listen with Your Heart (www.desertbreezepublishing.com) and Cast a Pale Shadow (thewildrosepress.com) Haunts of the Heart‘s (www.aspenmountainpress.com) food scenes don’t involve eating. The characters are ghosts. But food is still an issue to heroine Deanna Butterworth as described in this excerpt:
The kitchen had no windows, but opened up into a small greenhouse. She was used to the sun speckling through the plants onto the kitchen floor and walls. Now, of course, there were no plants. No sun either. The boards on the greenhouse walls were sealed nearly tight. She had an urge to go out and rip them off, but she was not exactly dressed for that, so she suppressed it and turned on a light instead.
“Looks like Old Mother Hubbard’s,” she said as she opened the pantry door. Nothing but dust and mouse droppings. “Yuk!” Her empty stomach turned over.
“I know,” she muttered to it, “I shouldn’t resurrect you for this.” She stepped back and closed the door. Without enthusiasm, she opened and closed each of the cupboards over the sink. She found a canister in one and thinking popcorn, she opened it. It was buggy flour. Her stomach protested once again.“Foraging?” Anthony’s voice right behind her ear startled her.
The canister slipped from her grasp, its contents spilling to the floor, the bugs skittering for cover. Her stomach heaved its emptiness into her mouth as she stumbled for the nearest chair.
“Really,” said Anthony as he crouched to examine the flour, flicking through it with his finger, “there’s entirely too much starch here and very little protein. Not at all good for your uh…,” he appraised her, hunched in a ball in the chair, “figure.”
“It’s all right,” she managed, “the sight of you kills my appetite anyway.”
You can learn more about my books at www.barbarascottink.com