Previously published for The Huffington Post.
You’re sitting still, engrossed in a novel.
Subconsciously, you lick your lips. Or maybe your stomach starts to rumble. Through reading the words on the page, not only can we hear what the character is saying, see what they’re seeing and feel what they’re touching. We can also taste what they’re eating.
The author has mentioned food. Suddenly you’re reading about a Victoria sponge. Or an apple pie. Ooh – chocolate cake! The food leaps out of the pages and straight into your taste buds. You desperately want some of that chocolate cake or apple pie too. You’re inspired to bake.
And, handily, as you turn to the back of the book, the author has included a recipe straight from the story.
Food in fiction is nothing new. Many of us grew up, after all, fantasising about midnight feasts at a fictional boarding school or picnics on island adventures thanks to Enid Blyton. And in the early eighties Nora Ephron wrote Heartburn an autobiographical novel where her main character throws a key lime pie at her cheating husband. Handily she gives us the recipe for the pie just before she goes on to describe this, now famous, pie-throwing incident.
Recently, however, we have seen food appear more in novels; whether it is in the title, is heavily featured in the story or recipes from the story are being included.
Cathy Bramley, Lucy Diamond and Alexandra Brown are just a few authors where food features in the story and a corresponding recipe appears in the back. Jenny Colgan in Meet Me At The Cupcake Café, includes a recipe at the beginning of each chapter. Rosie Blake has a novel out in November entitled How to Stuff Up Christmas, which, she promises, is packed with Christmas recipes. Talking of Christmas, Scarlett Bailey in The Night Before Christmas provides us with recipes including Whole Salmon Baked in a Course Salt and Herb Crust. A friend of mine recommended the novel Netherwood by Jane Sanderson saying she adored her writing. I turned to the back before reading a page and saw the recipes mentioned: Raised Pork Pie, Yorkshire Pudding and Drop Scones. Yes, I thought, this is definitely a novel for me. It is now at the top of my “to-be-read” pile.
Sometimes, most deliciously, the food plays a main character in the novel, such as in That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay. I was delighted to find, in the back of the novel, the recipe for “Granny Cooper’s Peanut Cookies”.
For us readers we not only get a recipe for something that made our tastebuds tingle whilst reading the story, but we also get to know the author a little more. But what does the author get out of it? Cathy Bramley, author of Appleby Farm, loves including recipes as “it’s the next best thing to actually baking for her readers.”
At the heart of many of these novels is love. At the heart of baking, of creating meals, is also love. Baking is a way of showing you care. Could it be that, for an author, including recipes in the back of the book is just an extension of that?
It certainly shows a passion to connect with readers. And, as I happily bake my way through fiction, I’m all for that.
My recipe for Pistachio Meringue is in the back of Appleby Farm by Cathy Bramley.