1 June 2020 Susannah

Books About Food

Books about food

I’ve been listening to the fabulous Inspector Bruno books by Martin Walker which are set in the Dordogne. Bruno is an excellent cook and he loves to invite his friends for dinner, so the reader is treated to mouth-watering descriptions of what he cooks. The books always make me feel the need to go to the fridge in the hopes that someone might have put something delicious in there.

This started me thinking about books that contain wonderful descriptions of food. My granddaughter is very fond of two – The Very Hungry Caterpillar eats his way through cake, salami, fruit and cheese, but I’ve never thought that green eggs with ham sounded very appetising (green is not a good colour for meat!).

But what about some books for adults that make you peckish, thinking about food? Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris) is set mainly in Les Halles food markets, and the reader is plunged into a maelstrom of food and smells and intrigue. Five pages of the novel are dedicated to cheeses (the passage is known as ‘the cheese symphony’) with “the camemberts, suggesting high game; the neufchâtels, the limbourgs, the marolles, the pont-l’évèques, each adding its own shrill note”.

Other ‘food-oriented’ books include Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester, The Flounder by Günther Grass (which has been described as “one long meal”), The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais, Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Reading that run-together list in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (“coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssalad frenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater”) always fills me with a desire to go off on a picnic with a well-filled hamper. Enid Blyton’s novels made me long for crumpets with lashings of honey, scones piled with jam and whipped cream, and biscuits galore. Other novels horrify you by their lack of food – Hunger by Knut Hamsun, and the memoir Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt are two examples.

Food can be used so cleverly in novels – as a symbol of wealth, generosity, meanness, luxury, enjoyment of life, or of hardship (the women prisoners in A Town Like Alice seem to eat nothing but rice). Emma uses food brilliantly to depict a sense of community, and Mr Woodhouse’s obsession with gruel is one of the marvellous jokes of the novel.

What books get you salivating? Do you like novels or memoirs which also include recipes? Do you want an author to tell you exactly how a character makes a particular dish? Does reading food-filled books send you scurrying to the pantry or fridge? Let me know in a comment.

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Header image credit- Books about food, https://pixabay.com/photos/book-relaxation-strawberries-fruit-1136275/
Body image credit- Le Ventre de Paris by Émile Zola, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/366649.Le_Ventre_de_Paris
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Comments (14)

  1. Patrick Alley

    Richard Morais “The Hundred Foot Journey” is worth a look. Helen Mirren starred in the film of it too. Small French Village and Michelin Hats feature

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I saw the film and enjoyed it, but have not read the book. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Heather Grant

    One of my favourite “food” books is Van Loon’s Lives by Hendrik Willem van Loon. Interesting meetings with certain historical personages from Confucious and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson are set up. Hendrick van Loon and his friend (whose name escapes me) plan and invite these historical people for dinner. They research the food and wine of that particular period and that is what is served. Their intermediary is Erasmus, the Dutch philosopher.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh that does sound interesting! Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Hi Susannah

    I totally agree about the Martin Walker books. We have been fans since I fortuitously stumbled upon the very first book. We have visited the Dordogne and Vezere valleys several times and sampled some of Bruno’s favourite wines and eaten in two of the restaurants he mentions in the books. We have also visited the Chateau at Limeuil, which featured in the last book but one, and it is interesting but not the picture-book chateau which is shown on the book cover. One thing Bruno/Martin Walker is spot on about is the wonderful red wines of Bergerac… they are very like Bordeaux reds but at about one-tenth the price!
    I also like Bruno’s recipe for grilling a steak. Sing one verse of the Marseillaise and then turn it.
    Best wishes

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh now I am seriously jealous! I’ve been to Bordeaux, but not to the Vezere Valley, and of course I’d love to eat where Bruno eats and try those wines.
      And the other fabulous ‘food’ books are of course the Donna Leon books, which I know you also love. Paola seems to whip up scrumptious meals in her lunch break from the university!

      • Vanessa Stockford

        I was just about to suggest Donna Leon – I always salivate when I hear what the Brunettis are having each meal time. I should have known you would already have met Paula and Guido!

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Paol does seem to be the most amazing cook – those pasta dishes and risottos are just whipped up so easily. Sigh!

  4. Melody

    It’s a little embarrassing to reveal that one of my favourite authors — for when I just need something light to read while I let my mind refresh itself — is mid-century romance novelist Betty Neels. Her books are full of descriptions of vintage fashion, manners and a lot of food, from toast and tea at breakfast time to the Grill Room at the Savoy for a late night dinner. The dishes that she deemed exotic at the time may seem ordinary or weird to us now (jellied lobster, anyone?), but the way she uses food to illustrate her characters and their feelings is amusing and enlightening.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Gosh, I have never even heard of Betty Neels – I must investigate. Her books sound like good Covid reading. But I might give the jellied lobster a miss! Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Helen Tomlinson

    I haven’t read it for a long time but one of my favourite books is Kate Llewellyn’s Waterlily. It’s a beautiful book, mostly about her passion for gardening when she lived in Leura but I think she also wrote about her cooking adventures. This book was so lovely that I rationed the number of pages I could read each day to make it last as long as possible.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Gosh, I haven’t thought of that book for years. I remember reading and enjoying it when it first came out.

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