Food in Fiction: Let's Dish!

By Laurie Sanchez

I was talking on Twitter the other day with a new friend who told me that she purchased the new Debbie Macomber book because it was positioned next to a companion cookbook. The combination, she said, intrigued her.

I didn’t fully understand what she meant until I was in Target shortly afterward and saw it myself: Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Creek Cookbook
, positioned there next to Macomber’s latest fiction novel set in Cedar Creek, 92 Pacific Boulevard. Huh. …

I looked it up later on Macomber’s blog. She explains that she wrote the cookbook because so many readers had requested recipes from her romance novels, particularly the nine books in her Cedar Cove series. “Preparing and serving a meal is probably the ultimate expression of hospitality and friendship, comfort and love,” she says. And this is why so much food makes it into her stories.

It prompted me into a few conversations this week about food and fiction. They do go hand-in-hand, as far as I’m concerned. And no, I don’t mean the red pistachio stains you get on your fingers as you read and distractedly eat pistachios under the grapefruit tree (although that’s a wonderful memory of mine) – but I mean the use of food inside a story. Food in fiction can represent a way of giving love, a way of keeping (or losing) control, a tie to regions, a tie to traditions, an emblem of an era, basic substance, a baby’s life, or a woman’s body image. Several romance writers do a wonderful job of incorporating food into the themes of their books. (Shirley Jump is known for this, incorporating her recipes, and Jenny Crusie does a good job of weaving people’s perceptions about food into her themes.) Food stands for so many things in real life, and I believe we easily recognize – and identify with – so many of those same themes and issues in fiction.

Sometimes we wish we could simply be sitting at a table with our characters for a memorable meal, like Lady Brett and Jake and the gang slouching in various outdoor cantinas in Pamplona in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Or perhaps Nick and Daisy out on the veranda the first night Nick visits in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby – I would like to have been there, with the candles flickering, enjoying dessert and tea with Nick and Daisy. I always wanted to meet Nick.

Other times we might just want to try a food item named in fiction, like the river of chocolate in Ronald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or -- speaking of chocolate -- how about that thick, foamy cocoa described in Joanne Harris' Chocolat? And who didn’t want to try the “Turkish delight” when they read C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe?

My book club takes this food-and-fiction fascination to its logical end by planning our meeting menu around each book we’ve read. We tried the Lane cake from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the onion-and-Rice-Krispies concoction Gogol’s mother makes when she’s pregnant in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, and the honey butter from Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees. It really makes the book come to life for us, and trying the recipes has become half the fun of the book club. I even bought The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp to help us along.

What about you? What food item in fiction stands out in your memory? Or which fictional meal would you like to have attended?

Laurie Sanchez lives in Southern California with her hubby and three kids and is putting the polishing touches on her first contemporary romance novel. She also blogs as Mizwrite and blogs over at Health Bistro on Fridays. Tonight she had a margarita, although it had nothing to do with the Eloisa James historical novel she’s currently reading. …

92 Pacific Boulevard --
Cedar Cove Cookbook --
Doughnuts -- BusinessWeek
Nick and Daisy -- Cornell Cinema
The Book Club Cookbook --


  1. Cool topic! But you know I think that. Memorable fiction/food pairings: Laurence Sanders' character Edward X. Delaney ate the most intriguing sounding sandwiches. The "wet" ones needed to be eaten over the sink they were so messy. And Jan Karon's wonderful residents of Mitford cook up a storm...Some day I'll make Ester's marmalade cake.

  2. Hi, @KyraTX! The very woman who prompted this discussion! Did you end up enjoying the Debbie Macomber? Yes, Edward X's sandwiches always seem to get mentioned in those books, but I've actually never read them. I think I'll have to check out some Lawrence Sanders just to read about these crazy sandwiches! But isn't that fun, that Sanders can create such a memorable feature in that character? Love when authors do that. And Ester's marmalade cake sounds fun. We loved trying the "Lane cake" from "To Kill a Mockingbird"! One of our book club members had to research it online to see what exactly it was, but it was fun to see it and taste it. (Turns out from a cookbook in that era with the recipe-writer's name "Lane" in the title...)

    Thanks for adding your memories, Kyra! Happy reading (and munching)!

  3. In Linda Howards TO DIE FOR her main character made Krispy Kreme Doughnut Bread Pudding.

    She was asked by so many for the recipe that she put it in the back of the sequel DROP DEAD GORGEOUS.

    I haven't tried it yet, but one day...

  4. Hi, Crystal! Wow, so was the Krispy Kreme doughnut bread pudding the thing the book "To Die For" was named after? ha, ha ... Sounds scrumptious. That's interesting, though, that so many readers asked for it that she put it in the next book! Very cool.

  5. Have you read Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books? I love how she weaves food into her stories but in a goofy way that most women do...donuts when you are stressed, running to mom's for real food and the willingness to be bribed by mom for said food, eating in the car...her hamster even sleeps in a soup can. Hee, hee. And the books are funny, too~!

  6. Hey Laurie

    Lovely topic. I too think of Stephanie Plum where food is concerned, though in a house with kids, you do tend to get requests for food coming from said kiddie movies/stories. For example, every time we watch a Garfield movie there's a little guy that chimes, Mom we haven't had lasagna in a loooong time. Understand by that the looooong time actually refers to, uh, 3 weeks!

    I'd love to find the Debbie Macomber cookbook. Will have to look for it on Amazon.



  7. Hi, Happy Hour! Actually, I haven't read Stephanie Plum, but that series is definitely on my list. (So many people recommend it!) And, from what you say, it's my kind of humor! Yes, that's exactly what I love -- seeing a book that uses food in the ways we all do: for comfort, for "proof" of something, as a "weapon" against self-image ... there are a million ways you could go with theme. Thanks for the recommend -- I'll be sure to check her out!

    Hi, Z -- So you're a Stephanie Plum fan, too. Wow. Two recommendations for her in a row! I will definitely have to check her out. And I love your little one's idea to request lasagna when he sees Garfield! So cute. ... Thanks for the comment!

  8. Hey Laurie

    Yup, love to sit with a Stephanie Plum book when I need to destress. Her world is so wacky and there are some twists and turns with eccentric characters that make you sound like an idiot when you suddenly burst into laughter and everyone looks at you like you're mad (happened to me in the doctor's waiting room!) My only peeve with the books is that I wish Stephanie would settle for Morelli or Ranger, and not continuously limbo between both. But then I guess that would be the end, when a woman like Stephanie settles down.

    Yeah, Garfield is a hit here, as is lasagna. Oh, and every time I watch NCIS, with Gibbs' coffee, I'm tempted to go for one too, but make it a latte and I'm in seventh heaven! We also got reqs for doughnuts when the boys' watched Homer Simpson but at that I drew the line (convinced them they too would start singing Spider Pig if they indulged in doughnuts!)




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