Dinah Fried cooked, staged, and photographed literary food scenes.
I was inspired to re-read passages from the first works that sprung to mind as containing notable food writing. Luckily, I own copies of each of the below, and quickly took the excuse to comb my bookshelves and flip pages.
"Wilbur stood in the trough, drooling with hunger. Lurvy poured. The slops ran creamily down around the pig's eyes and ears. Wilbur grunted. He gulped and sucked, and sucked and gulped, making swishing and swooshing noises, anxious to get everything at once. It was a delicious meal - skim milk, wheat middlings, leftover pancakes, half a doughnut, the rind of a summer squash, two pieces of stale toast, a third of a gingersnap, a fish tail, one orange peel, several noodles from a noodle soup, the scum off a cup of cocoa, an ancient jelly roll, a strip of paper from the lining of the garbage pail, and a spoonful of raspberry jello."
- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
"He looked at the crisp, crackling little pig lying on the blue platter with an apple in its mouth. He looked at the fat roast goose, the drumsticks sticking up, and the edges of the dressing curling out. The sound of Father's knife sharpening on the whetstone made him even hungrier.
He looked at the big bowl of cranberry jelly, and at the fluffy mountain of mashed potatoes with melting butter trickling down it. He looked at the heap of mashed turnips, and the golden baked squash, and the pale fried parsnips.
He swallowed hard and tried not to look any more. He couldn't help seeing the fried apples'n'onions, and the candied carrots. He couldn't help gazing at the triangles of pie, waiting by his plate; the spicy pumpkin pie, the melting cream pie, the rich, dark mince oozing from between the mince pie's flaky crusts...
The tender pork fell away in slices under Father's carving-knife. The white breast of the goose went piece by piece from the bare breast-bone. Spoons ate up the clear cranberry jelly, and gouged deep into the mashed potatoes, and ladled away the brown gravies."
- Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy
"Arrayed on the Ladies' Day banquet table were yellow-green avocado pear halves stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise, and platters of rare roast beef and cold chicken, and every so often a cut-glass bowl heaped with black caviar. I hadn't had time to eat any breakfast at the hotel cafeteria that morning, except for a cup of overstewed coffee so bitter it made my nose curl, and I was starving...
Under cover of the clinking of water goblets and silverware and bone china, I paved my plate with chicken slices. Then I covered the chicken slices with caviar thickly as if I were spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. Then I picked up the chicken slices in my fingers one by one, rolled them so the caviar wouldn't ooze off and ate them."
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
What does all this lovely food writing provide the reader (besides an appetite)?
The Bell Jar selection above also hints at an expectation for following societal rules. What fork to use, what interests young women were supposed to pursue. Sneaking in under the fancy glasses and silverware - the sounds of her peers acting "normal" - Esther eagerly dives into a bowl of caviar. Esther equates the action to spreading peanut butter (perhaps a nod to her working-class background), which stands in contrast to New York high society and the preppy world of her college.
In the NPR article, Dinah Fried talks about the special way imagination ignites when we read as children. As a child, I gleefully ingested the food passages in Charlotte's Web and Farmer Boy. When I think of those books, I always remember my enjoyment of the food descriptions.
Food descriptions often carry an air of unguardedness and innocence. There may be darkness and sadness in the literature, but the food descriptions can brim with pure enjoyment. A homage to the primal, simple things in life. Sometimes you have to make cheese toast, or brew tea with lemon and honey. Enjoy a small moment fully, take a break.