RHYS BOWEN:If you're anything like me you've spent the last week or so baking. And if you're like me, you've been baking the things your mother baked before you. My family always expects mince pies and sausage rolls to eat as Christmas day snacks. A Christmas cake in the afternoon, complete with white frosting. They are not so keen on Christmas pudding but I have to have to anyway because it's part of the English Christmas tradition--it should be brought to the table flaming with silver coins and charms inside.
The smells and tastes of Christmas take me straight back to my childhood. Isn't it amazing the power smells and tastes have to evoke memory? I use them frequently in my books to create Lady Georgie's world of 1930s England. (I don't want to imply that my childhood was in the 1930s, but I'm sure her childhood was pretty much like mine, down to the freezing houses with no central heating). So Georgie eats what I remember eating--my sumptuous feast becomes her sumptuous feast.
And I love reading about meals in other peoples' books. One of my favorite books in the past few years was Nicole Mones's The Last Chinese Chef--an exciting novel that is all about the legends of Chinese cooking. And of course I'm looking forward to blogmate Lucy's new series making its debut next week, featuring a food critic. I hope there will be lots of description of menus.
So how about the rest of you? Do you like reading about food, writing about food? Was your holiday full of childhood tastes and smells?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: A little food is a nice touch in a book. It helps to know if someone is hanging on the refrigerator door eating out of containers or setting a nice table for herself, even if she's alone. Whether her idea of fine dining is pepperoni pizza or Paul Bocuse. Paula Holliday isn't much of a cook so she relies on diner food - some of which is pretty tasty - to keep her going. MY WIP is partly set in Brooklyn so you know there will be more food involved.
My family traditions have changed over the years. I like to have a pot of apple cider simmering on the stove so the house smells nice when people come over - even though not many drink it! And once it dips under 50 degrees I make a fire. My two fave holiday smells!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Baking. Huh. Nope, not me. Sorry, I'm not a baker. I love to cook, and I am a good experimenter, but you can't experiment with baking. That's--chemistry. I bow to you bakers, and will happily accept cookies.
My Gramma Minnie made a fabulous coffee cake, and it filled her house with cinnamon and mocha fragrance--still, my favoirite. After she died, we all pounced on her recipe file box. And we found the recipe! Hurray. But then--it had no quantities. Flour, coffee, sugar, chocolate, etc. No amounts. So the recipe is extinct.
JAN BROGAN - First off, Rhys, I must have that mince pie recipe - mostly because I've never really understood mince pie and I would love to know what's inside from a real, true, Englishwoman.
HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, Rhys, I LOVE Christmas pudding. With hard sauce. Or just hard sauce, served on an index finger.
My mother did not bake. She did not cook except the occasional command performance after which she left the kitchen looking as if it had been hit by Irene and expected others to do the washing up.
I cook all the time. And for the holidays I'm making hanukah cookies (mandelbrot) and iced ginger cookies and trying out a new recipe for a spice cake with a maple bourbon glaze.
LUCY BURDETTE: My father was the only one in the family who would eat mince pie--which I believe he most appreciated as a vehicle for the hard sauce. I already made my double batch of iced sugar cookies as we'll be visiting family over Christmas and not in charge. Somehow a coffee cake called "Aunt Alvina's crumb cake" became the gold standard amongst my family. It's a recipe in the back of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, though no one has any recollection of an Aunt Alvina. Nor can we find her on the family tree. It's mostly butter, sugar and flour, and completely delicious!
And Rhys, I loved THE LAST CHINESE CHEF! Also AFTERTASTE, by Meredith Mileti who was a guest here earlier this year. I love, love, love food in fiction!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Ladies, I'm salivating just reading your comments. So let's see: Baking. I make cookies, and Ross does all the cakes and pies. And I do enjoy reading about food in fiction, because it adds another sensory impression for the reader. If I read, "She stirred the orange chicken in the wok," I can see, smell and taste it.
I made the Rev. Clare Fergusson a foodie because when creating the character, I tried to think of what kind of hobbies or pastimes a young, female Army officer constantly on the move might have. Cooking and running seemed the logical choice. It's added some nice downtime moments to the book, as well as giving characters interesting "business" to perform while talking. Chopping, stirring, and tasting certainly livens up he-said, she-said dialog.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm not much of a baker, but my mom made wonderful pies when I was child. My fave? Mincemeat! I still love it, but unfortunately I'm the only one in the family who does, and I don't want to make a whole pie just for me. (Maybe I should reconsider that...) I love Christmas pudding, too, Rhys! But again, I'm the odd one out, so must fall back on store-bought.
I don't make Christmas cookies or candy, but I do make lovely gingerbread (the recipe is from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking.) And nothing smells more like Christmas than gingerbread.
I love books about food, and food in books (so looking forward to our Lucy's Appetite for Murder). What fictional (and real) characters eat and cook and how they feel about food tells so many things about character, personality, background, place... And, as Julia, says, food provides a very nice "bit of business" so you don't have talking heads in your scenes.