Forget about glowing author testimonials and ‘award-winning’ stickers.
What some novels really need is a health warning on their cover. A warning that reading this book will not just stimulate your mind, it will stimulate your appetite.
Because these are novels that contain fulsome descriptions of ingredients purchased, dishes cooked and meals ordered. Characters in films seem only to sit at a table and play with their cutlery. You hardly ever see them take a sip of wine or a mouthful of food. Meanwhile their book counterparts are tucking in heartily.
Reading these novels is a dangerous activity. Certainly not one to be embarked upon if you’re trying to restrict your calorie intake or you didn’t get a chance to eat yet.
Dangerous because just reading about food is guaranteed to:
- sharpen your appetite;
- send you running to the biscuit tin or
- get you foraging in the fridge/freezer
Here’s a shortlist of novels that really shouldn’t be read on an empty stomach.
The Cruelest Month
Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamach series is guaranteed to have you salivating.
Much of the action takes place in Olivier and Gabri’s bistro in the picture-postcard Canadian village of Three Pines. It’s a home from home for the Chief Inspector; a place where he and his deputy, Inspector Beauvoir, can reflect on the progress of their latest investigation. Policemen clearly need their sustenance.
Gamache’s coq au vin filled the table with a rich, earthy aroma and an unexpected hint of maple. Delicate young beans and glazed baby carrots sat in their own white dish. A massive charbroiled steak smothered in pan fried onions was placed in front of Beauvoir. A mound of frites sat in his serving dish.
Beauvoir could have died happily right there and then but he’d have missed the crème brülée for dessert.
Stay the night in the bistro’s B&B and you can be sure that breakfast will be a step up from packets of cereal and thin orange juice.
Yummy, yummy, said Gabri, placing the platters in front of his guests.Each held two eggs on a thick slice of Canadian back bacon which in turn rested on a golden toasted English muffin. Hollandaise sauce was drizzled over the eggs and fruit salad garnished the edges each plate.
I’ll skip the fruit salad (fruit and eggs absolutely no not belong together) but otherwise yes, yummy, yummy indeed.
If your tastes run to something more adventurous, perhaps my next book will be more to your taste.
How does “Pan roasted breast of Peking duck rubbed with berbère; grapefruit crumble à la Jamaïque with shallot confit” sound?
This is the kind of dish favoured by Pierre Athens, the greatest food critic in the world. He is dying after ” decades of grub, deluges of wine and alcohol of every sort, after a life spent in butter, cream, rich sauces, and oil…”
In his final hours, his mind returns to some of the most sublime flavours he has ever experienced. They were not always the most complex of dishes.
The raw tomato, devoured in the garden when freshly picked, is a horn of abundance of simple sensations, a radiating rush in one’s mouth that brings with it every pleasure. . . . a tomato, an adventure.
I wish I could discover where he buys these tomatoes because it’s years since I experienced any that had any flavour.
How about something a little more indulgent than tomatoes? Pierre, it turns out, holds sugary treats in high esteem.
Pastries . . . can only be appreciated to the full extent of their subtlety when they are not eaten to assuage our hunger, when the orgy of their sugary sweetness is not destined to full some primary need but to coat our palate with all the benevolence of the world.
Next time you experience pangs of guilt for picking up an éclair, just remember that you’ll be bringing joy to the world when you eat it.
For unsurpassed joy however, it’s not a pastry you want, but chocolate. the plot and characters in Joanne Harris’ novel may be rather twee but for a chocoholic, it represents absolute bliss. Almost every page oozes with the stuff.
Not everyone who lives in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is delighted when the young widow Vianne Rocher decides to open a chocolatier in a disused bakery.
Her timing is unfortunate. It’s the build up to Lent and the villagers have pledged to forgo sweet delights. But all it takes is one whiff of the aroma from the shop and their resistance melts away.
The air is hot and rich with the scent of chocolate. Quite unlike the white powdery chocolate I knew as a boy, this has a throaty richness like the perfumed beans from the coffee stall on the market, a redolence of amaretto and tiramisù, a smoky, burned flavour that enters my mouth somehow and makes it water.
Vianne’s mouthwatering bonbons, steaming mugs of liqueur-laced cocoa and flaky cream-filled patisserie become the battle ground between her and the village priest.
I know whose side I’d be on in this battle. How about you??