A Matter of Broiling Importance

Or, You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Last week I posted what I thought would be a throwaway question on my FB feed. To my shock, it turned into a hot topic, garnering nearly a hundred comments, and even spawned a spinoff post on a friend’s timeline.

What did I ask? Why, whether people knew what a broiler was, and if not, how did they treat that thing under their ovens. Having lived with broilers under my oven my entire life, even in Russia, I couldn’t believe the variety of responses and the heated certainty of the responders! Turns out, broilers can be anywhere and nowhere, powered by gas or electricity, and mistaking a gas broiler for a storage cabinet can have…erm… torrid consequences.

Taylor Ham or Pork roll? The things books teach unintentionally.

Anyone who has spent any time in New Jersey, will understand the question. North Jersey is firmly camp Taylor Ham. Move to Central or South Jersey and it is vehemently Pork roll. As an author, I find it impossible to be an invisible narrator. My frames of reference flood my prose, even if I’m convinced I’m writing a character completely different from me. My characters broil under the oven (although I might have them use a George Forman grill in a future piece), they live in split-levels, and wear slippers, all of which I’ve been told are regional terms. They “think about” things and not “think on”. They listen to music I listen to (I gotta work on that one. I know.) Anyone who reads what I write will get a deeper glimpse of my life than I mean them to, and this might be true for all authors.

What have you read in a book that taught you something about the author or a place, unintentionally?

In one highly touted novel from a few years ago, I learned that neither the author, nor any of the editors knew what rhubarb was, which told me none of them ever saw it in the wild or a store or cooked it, though they might have eaten it in a pie.

How about you?


  1. I confess I don’t know much about ovens but I do know what rhubarb is. Part of the fun of reading is learning new things. I learned a lot about gourmet cooking and orchids from Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series. I only tried tarragon because Archie Goodwin likes it.

  2. That’s really great! I also learned a lot unintentionally from novels. For example — vinegar and newspapers to clean windows. Learned that in junior high from a YA novel.

  3. I saw the broiler post go by and was too consumed with something to respond. Anyway, I was curious why when DS Sean Duffy in Adrian McKinty’s books is offered so much tea, so I asked him on Twitter. Floods of responses from N. Ireland. Apparently its expected when you go into someone’s home to be offered tea and you have to drink it. I like tea. I could live with this.

  4. I’ve been to a number of restaurants that were featured in mysteries I’ve read. Turns out, being a good mystery writer doesn’t make you a gastronomical expert, but it was fun to experience dining out where scenes took place.

  5. Emilya, rhubarb??? I can’t imagine anyone not knowing–but then I can’t imagine spoiling it with strawberries either. My Danish grandma had a rhubarb patch that ended up in amazing rhubarb pies and rhubarb sauce. I have the recipes, but since I’m the only one in my family who loves rhubarb, I don’t make them often. What is the matter with some people??!

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