‘A is for Apple.’ These are the first words many of us will read. When we are very young, we chew the cardboard covers of our bedtime books. We chomp along with Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar: ‘On Wednesday, he ate through three plums…’ We eat porridge with Goldilocks, and chocolate with Charlie, and midnight feasts with the girls of Malory Towers.
Later, we say: ‘I absolutely devoured it,’ after reading a particularly juicy novel. We admit to ‘bingeing’ on Jilly Cooper and Dan Brown.
Food and books, reading and eating go together. In my book The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite, a memoir of recovery from anorexia, I describe how wonderful descriptions of food on the page gave me the courage to try them in real life.
Here are five of my favourite literary morsels…
1. Ma makes snow molasses in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods…
‘One morning she boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in little streams onto the snow.
‘They made circles, and curlicues, and squiddledy things and these hardened at once and were candy. Laura and Mary might eat one piece each, but the rest was saved for Christmas day.’
2. Barbara upends the sugar castor over Widmerpool in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. Widmerpool will spend the next ten books avenging such early humiliations…
‘Barbara must suddenly have conceived the idea of sprinkling a few grains of this sugar over Widmerpool, as if in literal application of her theory that he “needed sweetening,” because she picked up this receptacle and shook it over him. For some reason, perhaps because it was so full, no sugar at first came out, Barbara now tipped the castor so that is was poised vertically over Widmerpool’s head, holding it there like the sword of Damocles above the tyrant… suddenly, without the slightest warning, the massive silver apex of the castor dropped from its base, as if severed by the slash of some invisible machinery, and crashed heavily to the floor: the sugar pouring out on to Widmerpool’s head in a dense and overwhelming cascade.’
3. Gustave Flaubert prepares a spectacular wedding breakfast for Madame Bovary…
‘There were four sirloins, six dishes of chicken fricassee, a veal stew, three legs of mutton, and, in the middle, a nice roast suckling pig, flanked by four chitterlings with sorrel. At each corner stood jugs of brandy. Bottles of sweet cider had creamy froth oozing past their corks, and every glass had already been filled to the brim with wine. Big dishes of yellow custard, shuddering whenever the table was jogged, displayed, on their smooth surface, the initials of the newly-weds in arabesques of sugared almonds.’
4. The King asserts his royal prerogative to have precisely what he wants – not marmalade – on his morning slice of bread in AA Milne’s The King’s Breakfast…
‘Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
5. Salieri seduces Constanze Mozart with chocolate truffles in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus…
Salieri: [producing the box]: Capezzoli di Venere. Nipples of Venus. Roman chestnuts in brandied sugar.
Constanze: No, thank you.
Salieri: Do try. My cook made them especially for you.
Salieri: Yes. They’re quite rare.
Constanze: Well then, I’d better, hadn’t I? Just one… Ta very much. [She takes one and puts it in her mouth. The taste amazes her.] Oh!… Oh!… Oh!… They’re delicious!
Salieri: [Lustfully watching her eat]: Aren’t they?