Food in literature

Sunday, April 3, 2011


What are your favourite descriptions of food in literature?

There are some great books that have a food theme.  You might choose Chocolat by Joanne Harris. It’s the story of a woman who opens a chocolate shop during Lent, across the street from the church.  (“Chocolate curls, white buttons with colored vermicelli, pain d’epices with gilded edging, marzipan fruits in their nests of ruffled paper … I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crash-crash-crashing among the hazels and nougatines…”)

Or maybe you’d go with non-fiction.  Laurie Colwin’s wonderful Home Cooking gives recipes along with chapter-length anecdotes about her life. (“Soup embraces variety.  There are silken cream soups that glisten on the spoon and spicy bisques with tiny flecks of lobster.  There are broths in which float tiny tortellini and bouillons served in teacups on cold days or, in the case of my great-aunt Julia Rice, ladled from silver punch bowls and served in punch cups to the conductors on the old Fifth Avenue streetcar during snowstorms.”)

Maybe you’re thinking of a great food scene from a book.  When I asked my daughters for their ideas, one of them mentioned the chocolate frogs that Harry Potter loved.  Or how about the mince and slices of quince that the Owl and the Pussycat served at their wedding?

Two food scenes really resonate with me.  I loved Little Women when I was a girl.  I’ll never forget Jo March sitting in the garret eating apples while she cried over “The Heir of Redclyffe”.  (Didn’t you want to be Jo March?  I did.  And it wasn’t until I saw the 1994 movie that I understood why she chose Professor Bhaer over Laurie.)

The second scene is from a book that I loved along with my girls when they were learning to read.  Poppleton, by the wonderful Cynthia Rylant, is the first in a series of books about a pig and his friends, written for beginning readers.  Poppleton’s friend Fillmore the goat is sick, and needs to take a pill.  He asks Poppleton to hide it in a slice of cake.  Poppleton does, but Fillmore keeps eating the pieces that don’t have the pill in it.  When he finally gets to the last piece, Poppleton asks him if he’s going to eat that, too.  “No,” said Fillmore.  “It has a pill.”

So if I could combine these two food scenes into one perfect food, it would have to be Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for apple cake. The April issue of Canadian Living magazine featured an interview with Dorie and four recipes from her newest book Around my French Table.  When I saw that one of those recipes was Marie-Helene's Apple Cake, I knew I had to try it.  Loaded with apples (four different varieties), it's full of flavour, and even the people in my house who don't usually care for fruit desserts loved this one.  

Give this recipe a try … and don’t forget to leave a comment telling me your favourite food scene in literature!

Marie-Helene's Apple Cake
(From Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table)

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (if possible, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 Tbsp dark rum (I used rum extract)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan or line with parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores.  Cut the apples into 1 to 2 inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until foamy.  Pour in the sugar and beat for a minute or so to blend.  Whisk in the rum and vanilla.  Whisk in half the flour and, when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so you have a smooth, thick batter.  Fold in the apples, turning the fruit so it’s coated with batter.  Scrape the mix into the pan and pat down until it’s even.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan, and allow cake to cool until it’s just slightly warm or at room temperature.

51 comments:

Emma said...

I often think of food when I'm seeing a movie for some reason .... I mean actors always seem to be eating in movies (or drinking or smoking for that matter!)

One food related thing in a book I'll always remember is the turkish delight in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. All these years later I still remember how lovely that sounded when I was 12 :)

Chocolat was just too much! I was compelled to buy some chocolate after I left the movie theatre.

Valerie said...

What a scrumptious apple cake, I really need to get that book!

When I was little, I used to imagine how delicious the Snow Queen's Turkish delights must have been in 'The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe'. :)

Belinda said...

So many wonderful movies that evoke food fantasies! Emma - I had the same reaction to both books!!! Tampopo was a hard one for me - there was only one thing to satiate the desire - a steaming bowl of udon noodles!

Lea Ann said...

Great post Beth. I think Chocolat is my favorite food movie, but can't think of any food in literature right now. Have to think about that one.

Ruth said...

I can think of a couple, right off the top of my head. One would be in Anne of Green Gables - Marilla was always cooking something wonderful, and Anne was always messing it up. "Mercy on us, Anne, you've flavored that cake with anodyne liniment. I broke the liniment bottle last week and poured what was left into an old empty vanilla bottle."

And then of course there's A Year in Provence: "It started with homemade pizza - not one, but three: anchovy, mushroom, and cheese, and it was obligatory to have a slice of each. Plates were then wiped with pieces torn from the two-foot loaves in the middle of the table, and the next course came out. "

laxsupermom said...

The apple cake looks wonderful! I think as far as food in literature goes, you can't forget the classic Alice in Wonderland for several references, but most memorably the "Eat Me" cake. "Oh, I feel most unusual"

Kittie Howard said...

I have to agree with the comment above about The Year in Provance. Yum! My grandmother used to make a similar apple cake. I think South Louisiana's combined heritage with the Acadians contributed to much. I've had the good fortune to visit Quebec/Montreal several times and enjoyed many of the commonalities. Going to check out the mag!

Thank you for your most welcome e-mail. I had begun a response when my computer's power cord died (delicately sauteed, lol) but didn't know that was the problem for a bit (back to delicately sauteed!) We've had severe thunderstorms here (Virginia). Anyway, I think your post stirred the genesis of a Normandy visit! Yay! More later!

Joanne said...

The apple cake looks divine, and I love that pretty dish it's set on. Interesting that I was once told that books with food in the title sell well. Something about that comfort hinted at with the food ...

Jess said...

Thanks so much for the apple cake recipe~ it looks delicious! I love food scenes in books, so much that my first attempt at a novel was a women's fiction story about a diet food reviewer who gets pregnant and starts eating beautiful, rich foods. It was called Craving Butter, and it was horrible...but I did enjoy writing the food scenes :)

My favorite food scenes tend to be ones with hearty stews, chunks of cheese, and sheepherder's or peasant bread torn straight from the loaf. I like rustic food descriptions :)

Kayte said...

So many associations/mentions, etc. but my current favorite is that a fellow blogger went to the Willa Cather conference in Red Cloud this year and sent me a book of recipes from Willa's books, family, friends, etc. in Red Cloud...at the time I was going through a Read All of Willa Cather AGAIN binge...lol. Fun to make some of the recipes and think of the books, characters, time frame, etc. Great post, thanks for sharing yours.

Joanne said...

Oh what a delicious apple cake! This is one I've been meaning to try!

One of my favorite book food memories is the chocolate cake in Matilda that the little boy is forced to eat. Mmm chocolate cake.

Claudia said...

I do love that cake - have made it and would eat it even if there was pill hidden inside. I think food adds so much to character - I remember a fellow director doing one of my shows asking, "Do you always put food in your plays?" (Yes.)

Gloria said...

All I see today look wonderful really I dont know what is more yummy!! look delicious, x gloria

jillbert said...

Your cake looks perfect, especially with the whipped cream on top! Thanks for the link to the Canadian Living article. I'm reading it next! I can't think of a food scene off the top of my head, but I loved Julia Child's My Life in France. It's a fabulous and fascinating book.

Angie's Recipes said...

One of my favouite food movie called "Eat Drink Man Woman" (a Taiwanese film directed by Ang Lee) ...oh man...all the delicious dishes presented in the movie...
Your apple cake looks divine!

justine said...

This looks lovely! I loved Stone Soup as a child, wondered about Turkish Delight and Sarsparilla in Anne of Green Gables, and read food memoirs as an adult (e.g. Ruth Reichl's _Comfort Me With Apples_) ... thanks for reminding me how much I love these! And yes, I absolutley wanted to be Jo March. :)

Carol said...

Great post, and it made me think of a series of books I read as a little girl and then read with my daughter when she was little. Centered around a little girl and her family on the Lower East side of NY at the turn of the century. Now I'm smiling just thinking about it! Thanks for the reminder of food with books!

The apple cake looks delicious!

Beth said...

I loved the Turkish Delight references and, yes, poor Anne of Green Gables did mess up anything Marilla made. I think that's why I loved her so much!

And Joanne, I loved Matilda too. I read it aloud to one of my daughters ages ago when she was home from school sick, and I couldn't put it down!

Ann said...

I really want to make that apple cake. I've been looking for the perfect apple cake. I remember lemon meringue pie in Amelia Bedelia. Couldn't get through the book without craving it!

Catherine said...

Mmmm.... this looks so yummy! Well who couldn't sit down with a lovely cookie cook book and look at it all day? I know I can! That can sort of be classified as literature... no? :)

Happy Sunday Beth!
xo Catherine

Fresh Local and Best said...

I adore all of Dorie Greenspan's recipes. I recently had the pleasure of meeting her, and had a wide sampling of her cookies. If this apple cake is anywhere near those cookies, I am sure it is amazing.

Reeni said...

I love the Chocolat book! And this delectable cake! This is the second apple cake I've seen today - it must be a sign!

tenaciouslyyours.com said...

Oh, food in literature. This one will sound super-dorky, but Brian Jacques' Redwall books had absolutely incredible food descriptions in them - every 40 pages, there was some sort of ridiculous forest feast. My mouth was watering for years in elementary/middle school.

Jackee said...

Mmm! That cake looks divine.

I love old English books and movies for eating scenes. It always makes me want tea and fresh, homemade bread. :o)

Have a great week, Beth!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I haven't tried Dorie's apple cake recipe yet but I will - it sounds wonderful and your photo of it looks so appealing.

My favorite food scene is the infamous Albert Finney tavern scene in the movie version of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones.

comfortablydomestic.com said...

Your recipe lead-ins are so fantastic. I definitely wanted to be Jo March, and her apple eating resonated with me, as well. I love dorky food reads like Cooks Illustrated's stories behind the final recipes.

Heather said...

I must make this apple cake! It's a perfect treat for apple lovers, including myself. My goodness, I remember those chocolate frogs - we would get them in milk chocolate and white chocolate. That's a long time ago.

XingyMingy said...

Firstly, great apple cake! Secondly, my favourite food scene in literature...there's just so many! I guess I have to say I love reading about Asian food, and there's this book I remember reading when I was little, called Chinese Cinderella. They described the most wonderful foods about dim sum and rice, but the character wasn't allowed any. I cried with her for ages, but it was a happy ending in the end! :)

Angela Felsted said...

Heater Heplin wrote this book called The Cupcake Queen, which takes place in a shop where the character's mother sells cupcakes. It isn't my favorite book, but the premise is the reason I bought it.

Who can resist cupcakes with pink frosting and sprinkles?

Lydia K said...

I remember food scenes from books vividly. The dinner at the beavers' in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; every meal in the Little House series; the food scenes from Thorn Birds. I love food scenes!

Medeia Sharif said...

I remember reading Lawrence Sanders during my high school and college years. The man brought a sandwich to life.

ezsrecipes.com said...

When I read "The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood" many years ago, they made multiple references to shrimp etouffee. So much so that I went down to a restaurant we have here in KC called "Jazz Louisiana Kitchen" to get some shrimp etouffee and try it for myself. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I am glad that the book drove me to try something I might not normally try. Darn it, now I am hungry for some! :)

allieksmith said...

I love reading about butter beer and pudding in Harry Potter. Actually, they came out with a Harry Potter cook book! Have you seen/heard of it?! It is pretty cool :)

Chiara "Kika" Assi said...

I love the way Anthony Bourdain describes his favorite dishes from around the world in "Medium Raw". He's so good I can actually taste the food.

Katerina said...

I loved Little Women as a kid also. Only I wanted to be Amy but In fact I am a Joe lol. I really loved the dinner and lunch scenes at the Days of Innosence with Pfeiffer and Lewis. This apple cake along with a scoop of ice cream is ideal with my cup of hot chocolate for this evening!

Rita said...

It seems anything with food is My thing. Love the look and sound of this apple cake; great post again Beth.
Rita

5 Star Foodie said...

Yummy apple cake! I'm reading a trilogy on medieval England and enjoying the descriptions of the feasts Eleanor of Aquitaine used to give. Just made a salmon pie based on one of those description.

Sue said...

I have Dorie's book, but haven't tried this cake. Thanks for the review:) I can't think of a literary food scene offhand, but right now I am reading the book, My Life from Scratch by Gesine Bullock-Prado. It's a fun, easy read.

Donea Lee said...

Hello Beth! Jess @ Falling Leaflets sent me your way, which I'm very happy about. I have a particular weakness for baked good AND travel! (two things I need to eat and experience more of...) Chocolat, I wish I could have sampled everything in the shop. Harry Potter, too. A good friend of mine and I are actually planning a Harry Potter cooking night - all pumpkin pasties and butter beer. Should be fun. Look forward to delving deeper into your blog! :)

LDH said...

Oh, yum! Delicious looking apple cake! I must be getting a bit tired because I can't think of one food mentioned in a book. Maybe when I wake in the morning, I will remember something and be hungry :)

Mary said...

I love this cake! I browned the butter when I made it, and it added another layer of flavour. I loved reading Like Water for Chocolate, in which every chapter had a recipe. When I was a kid, I always wanted food like the kids in Enid Blyton books had. And my favourite food movie is still Babette's Feast.
:)

julie said...

I loved Chocolat. Such a wonderful movie. Other favorites are Like water for chocolate and dare I say, the scene in When Harry met Sally.... "I'll have what she's having."

This pie is just gorgeous. I'm betting that using four different varieties of apple really brings out a beautiful complexity in the flavor of the pie.

Raina said...

Great post! Food can really add to the impact of a story, makes it more real or familiar,speaks to the senses, I think. Right away I thought of Harry Potter too and his butterbeer:) I loved Little Women too as a girl. I did admire Jo.

This cake looks wonderful. I have been searchng for a great apple cake, since my grandmother lost the recipe to hers. Thank you.

Barbara said...

I don't know if it's my favorite, Beth, but certainly the most recent AND mouth watering. The croissant-making scene from It's Complicated. Not that great a movie, but that scene was delicious!

Grapefruit said...

My favorite food in literature would have to be Turkish Delight: I constantly fantasized about how awesome it would taste after I read 'The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe' in 4th grade but didn't get to actually taste it until a trip to Turkey a few years back.
Your apple cake looks very moist & I'm sure it's excellent (as is everything by Dorie)!

Cristina {Teenie Cakes} said...

Hi Beth: Thank you so much for visiting my blog :)

Food scenes in literature. I would have to mention Tolkien's LOR books. I read the books as a teen and at the time (it's been awhile since I've read them), all the food scenes sounded so good. It made me hungry for things I had no idea what they tasted like, but he had a vivid way of describing it.

I like the use of different apples in this cake. I need to get my copy of Dorie's newer book. I hear so many good things about it the recipes on the blogosphere just look and sound so good!

Val said...

I would love to have a slice of this apple cake for lunch!!

Amie Kaufman said...

I grew up reading Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and a thousand Enid Blyton books. Those were all about picnics outdoors, with sandwiches, lemonade and piles of cake. Definitely my favourite food in literature! (Though I wouldn't turn my nose up at a chance to break into Willy Wonka's.)

Victoria said...

I agree, food in literature is great. Although I haven't read Chocolat, I've seen the film. As a former film nerd, I personally am tremendously inspired by food scenes in films! There are so may fun food references in film, and I even discussed the use of food in gangster films (The Godfather and Goodfellas notably) in a paper I wrote back in college, haha. Inspiration comes from everywhere... :)

Sofia said...

the spaghetti sauce-making scene in the world according to garp is truly fabulous. thanks for the reminder :) and thanks for stopping by my blog!

Ali said...

Has anyone mentioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? THAT was a good food movie. :)

Post a Comment