Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Power of Food in Fiction...and a Yummy Praline Recipe!

We humans tend to love food. Big surprise, eh? Just writing this post makes me want to grab a little snack, a treat, a munch, and morsel, a smackerel, a goodie (see, so many terms of endearment!). Readers can form a subconscious yet strong bond to a novel and its characters through the use of food, do you agree?

What do Various Food Items Represent to you?
What would Chinese take-out every Friday night unveil about a character? Fudge ice cream? Filet Mignon? James Bond sipping a hot chocolate? I don’t think so. What if the hero in any given novel first sees the heroine holding a ball of cotton candy? Now take the cotton candy away and substitute it with crème brulee. Different, right?

I was reading my monthly Romance Writers Report when I stumbled upon an article on Food in Romance Novels that made me sit up and say, "Woohoo! I agree!" It made me think about my own novel. In retrospect, I’ve found a few passages in my YA contemporary romance that uses food to accomplish something (at least I hope so!).

Food in My Novel
Seventeen-year-old Sienna Owens is on vacation in Georgia when she meets Austin Dobbs, a sweet (and quite attractive) recent high school grad. While they’re on River Street, Austin convinces her to get an almond praline ice cream cone, because the best pralines in the world are on River Street, or so he claims (mmm, and I agree!). Austin seems to know everyone on River Street: the ice cream scooper at the River Street Sweets, the sample guy, even the saxophone player collecting cash in a hat on the street. When Sienna asks Austin how he knows so many people…

He flashes a dimpled smile that makes my knees all tingly and holds up his ice cream cone. “I just eat a lot of almond praline.”
I laugh and then lick my own cone, the cold sugariness taking me back to a time when everything about life was coated in numbing sweetness. I liked it better that way.

Tragedy recently struck Sienna’s family, and she is torn between wanting to move on and yearning to relive (no, redo) the past. Austin makes her feel carefree again. Alive. He’s the type of guy who eats pralines ‘n cream on a Friday night. It serves as a subtle hint I want the reader to pick up on about his character. You tell me, what does ice cream say about a guy (ha ha, this is totally my husband’s favorite food, so I really want to know!)?

So I guess I was using food—ice cream—to hopefully give readers a taste for Sienna’s longing to change the past as well as a glimpse inside the mysterious Austin. Always an elusive answer from that Austin, a man with a past of his own, as Sienna will discover.

Praline Recipe
And now for the recipe part. Anyone been to River Street in Savannah, GA? (Read my thoughts on River Street in my about me page). Much to my husband’s delight, I scoured the internet, pieced together a recipe (of all the recipes I researched and sampled, the recipe I use is most similar to this one onallrecipes), and did the trial-and-error thing to come up with…

Austin’s Pralines
2 cups               Toasted pecans (some broken in half, others whole)
3 T.                  Butter
1 ½ cup            White sugar
¾ cup               Brown sugar
!¼ cup              Evaporated milk
1 tsp.                Vanilla extract

1.      Toast pecans (on a lightly sprayed cookie sheet in oven 350 degrees for 4-5 min).
2.      Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment.
3.      Combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, evaporated milk and vanilla in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring, and boil appx. 3 minutes (heated to 240 degrees F).
4.      Stir in pecans and remove from heat.
5.      Immediately put pan in ice bath for 10 seconds. Yes, strange. Do it.
6.      Beat with beaters until mixture develops a cloudy shine.
7.      Then spoon them out lightening fast (spoon onto prepared baking sheet). Let cool completely. Super yum!

Novels with Food Scenes:
Ever read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or seen the play? Odd, I know, but every time Scrooge eats his bedtime porridge, I want to dig into a bowl of that Cream of Wheat my dad (who has since passed) used to make for me growing up. See, powerful. Simply by taking a bite of porridge, Scrooge has reached into me, made himself a character I want to spend time with despite his not-so-likeable self. Such a rich guy eating mush? Intriguing.

In Jane Eyre, her teacher gives her a little “seed cake” and hot tea, symbolizing warmth and relief. What about pumpkin juice in Harry Potter? Or the Turkish Delight in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia that seduces children into following the wicked White Witch? In The Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah, mother and grandmother Anya Whitson hordes food, stashing even the smallest amounts into her freezer for safe keeping. At one point, her daughter finds her ripping down wallpaper and cooking it for food. Anya’s relationship to food is tragic, to say the least, hinting to her daughter the truth of her heartbreaking past as a young girl in Leningrad during the Stalin Regime.

Me With a Praline, Being a Goofball

Actually, my husband made me laugh (he tends to do that) and then he snapped the picture.

I Love Comments!
If you could sit down with any character in fiction and eat something, who would it be and what would you eat? Have you used food in your writing? What is your favorite food and what does it say about you? 


  1. LOVE fiction books with food in the story!

  2. I would like to have afternoon tea with Alice in Wonderland, please - to make up for what she never gets from the Mad Hatter and the March Hare! A very Victorian afternoon tea - thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches, scones and strawberry jam, and plum cake, plus plenty of tea (preferably without the Dormouse in the teapot).

    Your post reminds me of the teacher who failed to notice the chocolate cake recipe that we inserted in a history essay to check whether he really read our homework. And another teacher who requested we submit chocolate with our essays to give her the strength to mark them! More of that here if you are interested:

    1. Tea with Alice in Wonderland. Now that would be something! :) Loved your story about the chocolate cake recipe in the history essay on your blog, Debbie!

  3. Sadly, I don't have the time or desire to cook or bake (My husband and children are dangerously thin--ha!) The last book I wrote was about an angel who had the common angelic attribute of always being at her ideal weight--no matter what she ate. THAT WAS FUN! She got to eat everything I love but rarely eat because just looking at something naughty adds 10lbs. to my scale. Peanut butter cups, hot cocoa, more baked goods than you could point a candy cane at -- that was the BEST book to research. I was hungry ALL THE TIME!

    1. Um, yeah, that DOES sound like a way fun novel to write! Would love to read!

  4. I just got back from girl's camp (cooking for 300 girls) so I don't want to cook anything for anybody...but I would love to sit down with Sir Percy Blakeney and chat the breeze and have others serve me a full course meal (and if sushi was on the menu, that would make it even better).

  5. I always thought Roald Dahl or his characters would be fantastic to sit and eat with, I always wanted to drink frobscottle with the BFG and let off whizzpoppers ;-)

    As for my writing I have a tendancy to liken everyday things to food; ie cherry blossom looks like candy floss with leaves or pom poms that could taste like marshmallows...

    PS Thanks for the huge craving I now have for ice cream!!!

  6. You're adorable! I want Butter Beer from Harry Potter! Oh man, so many stories I'd like to enter the world. Thanks for the recipe.