I don’t write culinary mysteries. And I only cook when I can’t get out of it. Nice people at Whole Foods feed us.
And we eat out a lot with friends. And love doggie bags. My current protagonists eat out or have a cook. Yet, I have the nerve to talk to you today about food in books. In my first books, CURRENT AFFAIRS AND DOMESTIC AFFAIRS, my protagonist cooked, and at the time I did, too. Writing about food is easier than cooking it.
In several books in the Kinsey Milhone Alphabet Mysteries, Sue Grafton did something I’ll never forget. She used food for character description and setting description. I think that’s genius. Or as my nieces would say, “bangin’” That’s what I want to talk about. Food is a subtle but exquisite way to portray your characters and settings.
In one instance Kinsey visited a home where she was served a snack of strawberries with mascarpone. In another book, someone made dates stuffed with an almond. Pretty sophisticated, right? Doesn’t that say a lot about the person she was there to interview? About their economic and social status. I think it’s more interesting than saying the person was rich or upper class.
I’m embarrassed to call these recipes since they are so easy, but here goes:
Strawberries with Mascarpone: I don’t know where you stand on the stems on or off question, but when I use the large variety I cut it off and spread the cheese on the top. For normal size strawberries, I half it lengthwise, leaving the stem on, and add the mascarpone on each side.
Almond stuffed Dates: This one is real tricky. : ) Remove the pit from the date. Put the almond in. Squeeze shut. That’s it.
For real recipes of dishes used in other real books, I highly recommend a fun blog, Cooking The Books.
In addition to describing characters, food is great for setting a scene because it asks the reader to use several senses. Consider the Aperol Spritz – what else would Stefanie Adams in M. A. Monnin’s Death on the Grand Canal drink while in Venice?
In Barbara Kingsolver’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, Demon Copperhead you can practically smell the ham and blackeyed peas cooking on New Year’s Day.
I hope you’ll consider using food or cooking in your settings and character descriptions.
Keep in touch,