I was reading the New York Times over breakfast (natch), and came across an interesting article on the front page of the Dining In section (not Arts, for cross appeal). “Her Killer Meatballs are the Stuff of Fiction” (subscription may be required for link) reviews a new collection of short stories by Lara Vapnyar, who has written two previous short story collections as well as a novel. “Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love” is said to involve food as a major player itself, invoking other characters to conspire with, and react to, those among them with an intensity fueled by the food, its preparation, and its presentation.
This reminded me of a couple other books where food plays a major role; in fact, both these books include recipes. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel tells the tale of the youngest daughter in a traditional Mexican family who struggles to accept her role as care-taker for her aging mother. The daughter cedes her lover to her elder sister, as she dutifully fulfills her place in the kitchen, the heart of the home. Classic Mexican recipes begin each chapter, and are interspersed within the prose, echoing the emotion of the story as it unfolds.
The second book that came to mind is a favorite children’s story. Thundercake by Patricia Polacco is based on the author’s own “babushka” who was always a comforting figure to Polacco. In this picture book, the un-named child shows fear as a thunderstorm approaches. Her grandmother insists that the weather is perfect for making a “thundercake”; the two make their way around the farm, securing the ingredients they need for the cake. Along the way they encounter other challenges that the child overcomes: a prickly vine near the tomatoes, a hen who pecks instead of sharing her eggs, a cow who doesn’t stand still to be milked. The child’s confidence grows as she and her grandmother bake the special cake and wait out the storm. The recipe for Thundercake is included at the back of the book (the secret ingredient is tomatoes!).
I was also reminded of the recent film Waitress which had voice-over recipes for various (and unusual!) pies.
What are your favorite works of fiction that weave recipes into the story?
update 6/6/08: I just received an e-newsletter from Random House with more information about Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, including a recipe for Hot Borscht straight from the pages of the book. The excerpted section will let you taste the flavor of the collection, and perhaps whet your appetite for more. (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)