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.