Food and books have always been an irresistible combination for me. Ever since I was a little girl, my favourite stories involved food. Just ask my mother how many times she was asked to read aloud Chicken Little, the title character relentlessly pursued by Mr. Fox as the main ingredient for his evening meal, stewed hen with dumplings. (I must admit that I was on Mr. Fox’s side in this particular conflict.) There was also Tina, who had a Magic Pot that churned out quantities of porridge until you uttered the magic words to made it stop. And The Big Pancake, which a poor widow woman made out of her very last bit of flour and butter and eggs, and which promptly leaped out of the skillet and rolled out the door to avoid being eaten.
It was a good thing that Reading Aloud was always followed by Merienda. By the time the poor widow’s seven sons, after a merry chase through town and countryside, finally caught the Big Pancake and devoured it, I was more than ready for some eats myself.
One of my most memorable Christmas presents was the entire set of Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Little House in the Big Woods is positively enchanting, with its detailed descriptions of sugaring-off, pig-killing, and cheese-making. However, my favourite book in the series, hands down, is Farmer Boy. For years I was convinced that to be a farmer was the best job on earth, because after a hard day’s work you could come home to a groaning, candlelit table, and the lovely sight of your mother coming out of the kitchen bearing a platter of sizzling ham.
(I went to dig up my tattered copy of Farmer Boy for a sample bill of fare to reproduce here, only to discover that one of my girls’ club members has checked it out of our small lending library. This is a bit like going to the refrigerator and finding out that someone else got there before you and has eaten the tidbit you were looking forward to eating. I salute her choice of book. I hope that right now her stomach is growling.)
There was also good eating in The Good Earth – in between bouts of drought and famine, that is – and in The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan’s debut novel about four women who forget life’s miseries by having regular get-togethers involving food and mahjong. On her New Orleans honeymoon, Scarlett in Gone With the Wind gorges herself on “Gumboes and shrimp Creole, doves in wine and oysters in crumbly patties full of creamy sauce, mushrooms and sweetbreads and turkey livers, fish baked cunningly in oiled paper and limes.” And who could forget The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which unlikely friendships were forged around a feast of roast pig…?
…Pardon me, but now my stomach is growling. Time for a midnight merienda!