My favorite book feasts immediately sprang to mind when thinking about the letter F. Nothing quite engages the senses like a grand meal. I’ve often felt food was a good gauge of how descriptive a writer can be. It seems easier, somehow, to be descriptive when writing about, say, a rose. But food scenes have so many layers of nuance. There are the many senses involved, of course, like taste, sight, smell, and so on. But more importantly, food remains at the center of the human experience. The very best fictional feasts feed not only people’s literal appetites, but their desire for connection to other humans, as well.
What surprised me the most, while compiling this list, was that children’s books often contain the most vivid descriptions of food. From the chocolate centric Willy Wonka to the Great Hall at Hogwarts, children’s literature seemed to contain the most vivid passages related to food. Perhaps this answers the age old question of whether candy really did taste better when we were children. Four out of five passages are from the children’s or YA categories, and only poor Melville made it on to the list, for the adults. But then, he did devote an entire chapter to clam chowder.
“‘The waterfall is most important !’ Mr Wonka went on. ‘It mixes the chocolate! It churns it up! It pounds it and beats it! It makes it light and frothy! No other factory in the world mixes its chocolate by waterfall! But it’s the only way to do it properly! The only way! ’
“Harry’s mouth fell open. The dishes in front of him were now piled with food. He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots, gravy, ketchup and, for some strange reason, mint humbugs.”
But let’s not forget about dessert. :
“When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before. A moment later the puddings appeared. Blocks of ice-cream in every flavour you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, jelly, rice pudding… As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families.”
“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.
While he was eating, the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive.”
“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt…..we dispatched it with great expedition.”