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Food in Fiction

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I love food in fiction! Some of my favorite passages are from Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel), Farmer Boy (Wilder), A Christmas Memory (Capote), Babette's Feast (Dinesen), and Fried Green Tomatoes...(Flagg).

Love reading a passage that makes my mouth water - in-text recipes are just gravy, so to speak.

Any other suggestions? I've found the Food History Books post below, but no fiction yet...

Link: http://dailypie.blogspot.com

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  1. Good list: I agree, "Farmer Boy" is a little-appreciated chow classic! It seems like most of that book is about food (farm breakfasts ("stacked pancakes"!), lunches and dinners; popcorn and milk; making ice cream; eating pie at the county fair; baking potatoes in a bonfire; even searching for wintergreen berries in the snow).

    Some of my favorite chowish scenes are in "Prince of Tides" (Pat Conroy is definitely a chowhound -- the main character in "Beach Music" is a food/cookbook writer).

    In particular there's one long sequence where the narrator recounts the summer his mother decided she wanted to create a recipe for the local ladies league cookbook that would win her the admiration (and instant acceptance) of the ladies she aspired to associate with. The lovingly detailed descriptions of her various attempts are mouthwatering (it didn't hurt that the first time I read these passages, I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for a perennially tardy friend to show up for dinner, and was getting hungrier by the minute!). There are also some nice scenes with him eating in top NY restaurants.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Prince of Tides is a great food book. I agree that all the Little House books make my mouth water--they were always tapping trees for their own maple syrup and making balloons out of pig tails. Also Heidi is a really good one for making you want bread and butter. A lot of childrens books detail food memorably. I just reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and noticed for the first time how often they stop to have tea in Narnia. And Harriet the Spy always makes me want an egg cream.


    2. they aren't food-centric, but the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian have some wonderful food in them. they're also an excellent read. i believe one of o'brian's kids even published a companion cookbook.

      Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393...

      1. off the top of my head: Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki, Serving Crazy With Curry by Amulya Malludi

        1. j
          Jim Washburn

          Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels (about 70 of them) are full of good chow scenes, and there's a Nero Wolfe cookbook that isn't too hard to find.


          1 Reply
          1. re: Jim Washburn

            That cookbook is a great read. It has exerpts from the books where the particular dish is discussed, then the recipe follows. For me, having read all of the novels, the cookbook brings back fond memories.

          2. Although not a primary focus, Virginia Woolf makes much of Boeuf au Daube in "To the Lighthouse." Proust's madeleine is iconic. I guess Hansel and Gretel's near- death experience with the oven is neither literature nor very chowish.

            1. The gourmet detective books by Peter King are a hoot! The author goes way over the top in describing in analytical detail the meals the detective has while pursuing his clues. Lots of food arcana digressions pad out the plots. Paperback trash for chowhounds.

              1. In the Robert Parker "Spenser For Hire" series, Spenser is a bit of a gourmand and likes to cook. In reading the series as a youn'un, it gave me the idea and courage that a guy with an 18 inch like mine could be a decent cook.

                There has been over the years rumors that Robert Parker would put together a cookbook from the series, alas, that has not happened. But a fan site has done its best to cobble together a list and links to some recipes.

                Link: http://bullets-and-beer.com/Cookbook....

                1 Reply
                1. re: P.

                  I discovered the Spenser (book) series because of the Spenser (TV) series.

                  I always make it a point to try whatever beer Spenser's drinking.

                  Lately, he's been drinking Blue Moon Belgian. Even my wife likes it.

                2. I just finished Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson. The main character fancies himself a gourmet and comes up with the most hilarious recipes: Mussles in Chocolate, Otter with Lobster Sauce, etc. An enjoyable read.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Bruce

                    Well otter is a protected species now. Do you remember that news article in the midwest about 5 deer plunging off a garage roof? Carcasses given to lucky passerbys.

                  2. Not precicely on topic, but an anecdote I feel compelled to share.

                    In 2001, I was kind of at a dead end in my pursuit of a career in the theatre. I spent most of my time unemployed watching Food TV and reading, then puttering around in the kitchen like a hobby. Soon, I realized I was shaping my day around shopping and preparing food.

                    It was during this period that Thomas Harris released the newest book in the "Silence of the Lambs" storyline- called Hannibal. Though the book was quite good (better than the travesty of a movie it became) I found myself particularly enjoying Harris' (through the character of Hannibal Lechter) sumptous descriptions of cooking.

                    Even though he was talking about cooking PEOPLE.

                    I felt seriously freaked out by that for about half an hour, then realized that It was the descriptions, not the recipes that I loved.

                    I started cooking school in the spring, and worked as a cook, then a chef- and I owe a signigficant amount of credit to Hannibal Lechter.

                    The fact I became a trim butcher during 04-05 not withstanding...

                    Fava beans and a nice Chianti, anyone?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jdherbert

                      A few years ago, some friends of mine in the resto biz actually had a special one night of calf's liver in a chianti reduction with fava beans. I came in for dinner around 9:30pm, saw the special, and burst out laughing. Apparently, no one up to that point had noticed it, or, didn't react visibly.

                    2. On a signigficantly lighter note, I have been a fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series for the past 10 years. THough there aren't too many recipes mixed into the text, many of the domestic and urban characters make food part of their chracter and their charm. In 2004, Pratchett and one of his commonly used illustrators (paul kidby) released the Nanny Ogg Cookbook.

                      Wonderfully illustrated and full of really approachible recipes with a twist- Dwarf pastries (full of whole grains and seeds as gravel), Pratchett's version of North Africa/the middle east- Klatch, has its own curries, spice blends, and tagine like braises; not to mention the librarians banana, and some off-color pastries... fans of the series may know what I'm talking about.

                      The whole thing is written from the perspective of a mischevious 80 year old witch and footnoted constantly by two frantic editors trying to see that her saucy recipes and off-color comments don't make it into the final printing.

                      Sorry I'm rambling- fighting a cold...

                      Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0739...

                      1. The Joy Luck Club

                        1. a

                          Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries, especially when Maigret gets out of Paris and into the provinces.

                          1. A funny and disquiteing moment in one of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley books when Tom Ripley (a serial killer) gets squemish when he walks into the kitchen to find his cook dropping a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. This murder he doesn't have the stomach for.

                            1. Ah, food & fiction: two of my biggest passions!

                              Here are a few I've read in no particular order...

                              My Year of Meats AND All Over Creation both by Ruth Ozeki. One focuses on the beef industry and the other on potato farming with a bent towards the ethical/political issues involved.

                              Secrets of the Tsil Café by Thomas Fox Averill-- the story of a family where the mother owns a catering company and the father is a chef with a penchant for hot peppers.

                              The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester-- an unsettling novel to say the least.

                              Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech -- cute young adult book about an Italian grandmother and her grandson making soup while she imparts her tales and wisdom upon him.

                              The Food Chain by Geoff Nicholson --- a very bizarre and unsettling novel about a secretive dinner club.

                              Crescent by Diana Abu-Jaber -- the main character is a chef in a Lebanese restaurant and there are multiple scenes of her preparing food.

                              Little Indiscretions : A Delectable Mystery by Carmen Posadas-- murder mystery where the victim is a chef

                              I've read the following but it wasn't quite my cup of tea:

                              Death Dines In by Claudia Bishop, Dean James --- a collection of food-centric mystery stories.

                              And lastly, some I've been meaning to read:

                              La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior
                              Love and Meatballs by Susan Volland
                              The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
                              Chocolat by Joanne Harris
                              Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris
                              Eating Crow : A Novel of Apology by Jay Rayner
                              Serving Crazy with Curry by Amulya Malladi
                              Liquor : A Novel by Poppy Z. Brite
                              Pastries : A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries by Bharti Kirchner

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: mangorita

                                serving crazy is not great, but an enjoyable read. I'm even more of a critic of books than food.

                                Can I morph into movies? Tom Jones, Gregory's Girl, The coca-cola kid. Attack of the Cannibal Women of the Avocado Jungle.

                                1. re: semmel

                                  Pickled onions and dates don't mix, Gregory!

                                2. re: mangorita

                                  I'm surprised no one mentioned the Joanne Harris books yet (there's also one with a title like 'Two Thirds of an Orange' - all about torturing someone with food allergies!). Chocolat was definitely the best; I want chocolate just thinking about it.

                                3. I'm so glad to hear someone else loves the descriptions of food in "Farmer Boy"! :-) Mmmm....fried apples 'n' onions!

                                  1. I didn't realize there were so many murder mysteries involving chefs!
                                    My aunt had sent me a set of three books by Cecile Lamalle, who lives near her in upstate NY. I read all three without hardly getting up. And I am not a mystery fan (except Mystery Science Theatre, that's another story). The titles are Glutton for Punishment, Appetite for Murder and Prepared for Murder. The owner/chef of an upstate French restaurant, who is French himself, keeps getting involved in local murder investigations. The best is, my aunt told me what local restaurants everything was supposedly based on, which made it even more fun.

                                    Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/sea...

                                    1. Two other mystery writers full of food and recipes are Diane Mott Davisdon's "Goldy Schultz" books and Phillip Craig "Martha's Vineyard" series.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: babs

                                        I love the Diane Mott Davidson books. One of them, "Sticks and Scones," has awesome baking recipes (I'm sure the recipes in the others are just as good, I just haven't tested them out).

                                        One of my fave chick lit authors, Jennifer Crusie, worked chicken marsala and Krispy Kremes into the plot of her novel "Bet Me". It's a great read, and it'll make you crave carbs like crazy.

                                      2. Here's one I've thought of every time I've screwed up something in the kitchen. It's from "Jane Eyre" when the morning oatmeal porridge at the orphanage is so scorched that the children can't eat it: "Breakfast was over, but none had breakfasted".

                                        1. Zola's "The Belly of Paris" (Le Ventre de Paris) is about life in Les Halles, the Paris food markets in the second half of the 19th century. Zola gives detailed descriptions of the products and the preparation and the characters involved in them. It's an excellent novel, as are many of Zola's works.

                                          1. These are pretty incidental but a quite a few P.G. Wodehouse novels and short stories involving Bertie Wooster have mentions of food, particularly those where the services of Anatole, Aunt Dahlia's superb French chef, are at risk.

                                            My Search for Warren Harding (I don't remember the author) is hilarious and has one footnote, a recipe for coffee cake that, as I recall, the narrator says he is including on the advice of his editor. A friend made the coffee cake and said it was very good.

                                            1. Thank you thank you thank you!! Every one of you gave me a great suggestion - I can't wait to scour the library for these books.

                                              FYI - I blog my food-in-fiction favorites on Thursdays (link below). Your suggestions will keep Thursday Pie Lit posts coming for months!


                                              Link: http://dailypie.blogspot.com

                                              1. The Patrick O'Brien novels: Master and Commander, et al. Captain Aubrey is quite the dedicated food fan, so much so that the books actually generated a cookbook. Many are 'period' foods, none are cholesterol-free, some are funny, and many are from the annals of the British Navy.

                                                1. Very interesting thread to read. I'll have to make a list for myself! I just wanted to throw out there “Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue: a novel of pastry, guilt and music” by Mark Kurlansky. A very new york eclectic mix of food. I loved it.

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                                                  1. re: LNG212

                                                    Proust's madeleines from Remembrance of Things Past are very famous:

                                                    "She (Marcel's mother) sent for one of those squat plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell … I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure invaded my senses … "

                                                  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is filled with food and drink images. It's the first book I was assigned to read in High School that I actually liked reading. So delicious.

                                                    1. I just remembered about the Harry Potter books. They always contain descriptions of the school banquets, and references to interesting foods--real and "imaginary." Treacle tart, which is Harry's favorite dessert, is a real and traditional british dessert. Things like Pumpkin Juice are made up, but it's amazing that you can now find recipes for it on the internet. Also intersting is how the concept of "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Bean" has been picked up by the Jelly Belly company.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Non Cognomina

                                                        It was really cool in the very first book, at the opening banquet, when Harry--who has never in his life, it seems, gotten enough to eat--sits down and this huge abundance and variety of food magically appears on the tables.

                                                      2. The Redwall books by Brian Jacques all have charming feast scenes. I usually end up in
                                                        the kitchen after reading them.

                                                          1. Patricia Cornwell's heroine Kay Scarpetta is always relaxing after a hard days sleuthing and autopsy-ing by hand making parpadelle or whipping up a quick reggiano souffle...

                                                            She's even published her own cook book:

                                                            "In Food to Die For, Patricia Cornwell reveals another side of Chief Medical Examiner Dr Kay Scarpetta, in a cookery book that celebrates her passion for great food and cooking for friends.
                                                            Fans of Kay Scarpetta know that she likes nothing better than to unwind and recharge in the kitchen. After a heroic day on the job, Kay often escapes home to delicious food and wine with family and friends. Inspired by the dozens of food scenes in Kay's kitchen and favourite restaurants, Food to Die For is a cookery book tailor-made for Scarpetta fans. Among the criminally good recipes are:
                                                            • Miami-Style Chilli with Beer (All That Remains)
                                                            • Grilled Grouper with Butter and Key Lime Juice (Cruel and Unusual)
                                                            • Jack Daniel's Chocolate-Pecan Pie (The Body Farm)
                                                            • Lasagne with Marinara Sauce and Porcini Mushrooms (Cause of Death)
                                                            • Bev's Lump Crab Cakes (Unnatural Exposure)
                                                            • Kay's Grilled Pizza with Sausage, Pepperoni and Three Cheeses (Black Notice)
                                                            • Also recipes from Lucy, Marino and Rose, as well as from restaurants in Virginia, Washington DC, New York, London and Paris.
                                                            Brimming with full-colour photographs of Scarpetta-inspired culinary creations, Food to Die For offers the perfect accompaniment to the Bogs that keep you reading through the night"

                                                            I have a copy of "Scarpetta's Winter Table", but I haven't actually made any recipes out of it.

                                                            1. James Joyce's "Ulysses" is undoubtedly one of the foodiest novels of all time, especially when Leopold Bloom is gracing its pages:

                                                              "Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."

                                                              And let's not forget Nicole Mones' recent "The Last Chinese Chef":


                                                              1. I really enjoyed Jim Crace's The Devil's Larder, a bok of short stories, each of which relates somehow to food.

                                                                1. My post seems to have not made it -- here it is again.

                                                                  Steven Brust has a fantasy series about humans living in a land of long-lived tall human-types called Dragerians. The main protagonist is Vlad Taltos. Vlad is definitely a CHer. He loves to cook, although he claims to only be a good cook. He *loves* good food, and there is always something about food, Inns, etc.

                                                                  Brust has a very strong Hungarian backgroound, seen in his descriptions. Much of the food, plants, and animals are real, and many made up. (Longfish, kethra.) It's fun to guess what the madeup ones are like.

                                                                  The beginning of each chapter of his latest in the series -- Dzur -- is a great read for CHers. Each one starts in a flashback of one long scene in his favorite restaurant, Valabar's. His descriptions of the food, the servers, etc. -- including that of a dining companion discovering just how good food can be -- are priceless. Whether or not you're a fan of sci-fi/fantasy I heartily recommend it.

                                                                  1. It's not quite about food, but spices. Mistress of Spices by Chitra Divakaruni.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: minyming

                                                                      I'd say it's very much about food. At least, it qualifies, because it made me crave curry!

                                                                    2. Hey all,

                                                                      I wanted to share this little "10" story I did for CHOW on the topic of food in fiction (and non). I loved reading your suggestions and included this post in the story! http://www.chow.com/stories/10887

                                                                      I especially loved the Patricia Highsmith suggestion--she's a favorite of mine.

                                                                      Meredith of CHOW

                                                                      1. I'm reading John Grisham's "PLaying for Pizza" right now. It has some pretty good descriptions of all the Italian restaurants the main character and the team go to.

                                                                        There's also a murder mystery writer Lawrence Sanders who always includes descriptions of the sandwiches he makes.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: PDeveaux

                                                                          Digging to America by Anne Tyler has some good food scenes in it. I read a bunch of the Diane Mott Davidson mysteries, and enjoyed the food parts, but not the "mystery" itself. I loved the Lawrence Sanders sandwich descriptions, especially the "wet ones" that he would have to eat over the sink!
                                                                          Now does everyone else get aggravated when reading a book and they are sitting down to a meal and they don't describe the food?? Sometimes there will be a big setup to a restaurant meal or a party, and then...nothing! Not a single morsel of food is mentioned...so sad!

                                                                        2. I was about to start a thread about this, but I found this old thread and decided to dredge it up instead. Hope that's OK. It would be hard to decide which I love more, reading or eating, so it's a real pleasure when the two combine in unexpected places. Here are some of my most memorable scenes from books that are not about food.

                                                                          Early in "The Grapes of Wrath" a poor Okie family stops at a diner somewhere in the Dust Bowl, where they can't afford even a humble hamburger. Steinbeck goes into great detail about the counterman cooking burgers on the flattop, how he flips the patty once, and presses the meat into the grease and onion it to make the burger. That little sequence has always stayed with me for some reason.

                                                                          In the "Discworld" series Terry Pratchett seems to delight in descriptions of humourously gross food, as jdherbert said. Somehow, his lovingly detailed descriptions of the repulsive contents of Dibbler's street sausage always make me crave a bratwurst.

                                                                          In Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" a father and son are slowly starving to death as they progress along a literally hopeless journey. By a sheer fluke the father discovers an old bomb shelter and pulls up the trapdoor to reveal shelves and shelves of canned foods. Peaches, chili, ham, coffee, "the richness of a vanished age". I wanted that description to go on for pages.

                                                                          For a series about political machination and medieval warfare, George R R Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" sure is full of sumptuous, overly-detailed descriptions of medieval foods, from stuffed swan and pigeon pie at the lavish banquets of the mighty to herring and black bread at the tables of the poor. It was no surprise to me when I found out that Martin is a jolly-looking bearded fat guy.

                                                                          Ray Bradbury wrote a short story about a band of lost explorers trying to find their way home on a planet where the rain never stops. As the constant rain starts to drive them insane they begin to fantasize about eating hot cinnamon rolls back at base as a symbol for salvation. I don't even like desserts and that story had me craving a cinnamon roll.

                                                                          Looks like I wrote a book of my own here, thanks for reading.

                                                                          1. First time poster to the site- great topic!

                                                                            These are some of my favorite food books, mostly anthologies with great food passages:

                                                                            Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History (Mark Kurlansky, Ed.)

                                                                            Food: An Oxford Anthology (Brigid Allen, Ed.)

                                                                            Eating and Drinking: An Anthology for Epicures (compiled by Peter Hunt)

                                                                            Food Tales: A Literary Menu of Mouthwatering Masterpieces (Mimi Sheraton, Ed.); good food photos too.

                                                                            The Literary Gourmet: Menus from Masterpieces (Linda Wolfe, Ed.)

                                                                            The Book Lover's Cookbook (Shaunda Kennedy Wenger & Janet Kay Jensen)- I've never tried the recipes but loved the included passages

                                                                            The Nero Wolfe cookbook and Scarpetta's Winter Table, as mentioned by others, are also good food reads.

                                                                            My other favorite food writing comes from Frances Mayes' Tuscany books- I may never afford to travel to Italy, but her descriptions are mouth-watering!

                                                                            I'm not that crazy about cooking, but I love good food descriptions in writing.

                                                                            1. I can't believe no one has mentioned The Last Chinese Chef, yet, by Nicole Mones. Now there's a companion cookbook I would buy!

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: kleine mocha

                                                                                That is a very enjoyable book. It has been mentioned several times before, if not in this thread.

                                                                              2. Another science fiction & fantasy writer who emphasizes food is L.E. Modesitt, who seemingly can't get through a chapter without a dinner scene.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: beachmouse

                                                                                  Fantasy food or real food? Fantasy food would be fun.

                                                                                2. Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. The title character is a cookbook author and she describes her dishes (even recipes at the end) which all sound tasty except for the lima-bean-and-pear casserole (cook beans for 12 hours? Only if you like munching on ball-bearings :-) )

                                                                                  BRIDGET JONES' DIARY, while not food-oriented, has two chowish chapters. One where Bridget attempts to prepare the fixin's for her birthday dinner and then, of course, there's the infamous "blue soup, omelette, marmalade" dinner party

                                                                                  1. The translation of Muriel Barbery's (author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog) first novel Gourmandise, is now available as Gourmet Rhapsody:

                                                                                    http://www.amazon.com/Gourmet-Rhapsody- ... 830&sr=8-1

                                                                                    It's the story of a food critic (who makes the critic in Ratatouille seem like a teddy bear) on his death bed rummaging through his memory to find the one taste/savor/experience that will give his life meaning. Structured through a variety of points of view (from his children--who detest him--through his mistresses--who really, really detest him--to his cat--who kind of likes him), it's really a book about food (and food-writing!) as art, the kind of intellectual and philosophical adventuring that the French have mastered. But with long expositions (rhapsodies) over such things as bread, sardines, sorbets, and mayonnaise (it's like sex), the novel should be a treat to read for anyone stimulated by literary gastronomy.

                                                                                    1. John Lanchester's "A Debt to Pleasure" is beautifully written and has a protagonist who is an excellent cook...the only problem being, you definitely would not want him to be cooking for you!

                                                                                      1. My entire list would take up too much bandwidth; but I'll concur on the Aubrey/Maturin books, Soused Pig's Face! Drowned Baby!! Spotted Dick!! Excellent!

                                                                                        I'll add Dela Lute's "The Country Kitchen", a lovely account of a year on the farm during her childhood. This book was recently re-printed, I'm fortunate enough to own a first edition.

                                                                                        Also "The Yearling" is a very food-centric book, by the incredibly wonderful Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The Cross Creek books as well, of course.

                                                                                        "Clementine's Kitchen" by the (nom de plume "Phineas Beck", but actually Samuel Chamberlain ) is also a good, if slightly cheesy read. It was serialized in Gourmet, I think, in the early days.

                                                                                        Also "The Wind in the Willows" has lots of food too, and it's a cracking good read for anyone, not just kiddies.

                                                                                        Gotta stop now, I could write for hours.

                                                                                        1. Some of my favorite food passages are from
                                                                                          Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks, I made my first loaf of bread after reading that book
                                                                                          The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
                                                                                          and though they are memoirs
                                                                                          Tastes Like Cuba by Eduardo Machado: I think about his description on dunking buttered toast in the morning coffee and watching the oil slick float at the top whenever I have coffee and toast

                                                                                          Comfort me with Apples by Ruth Reichl: the Thanksgiving that they put together out of the supermarket dumpsters has always stayed with me

                                                                                          I have put together pretty comrehensive lists of food fiction, mysteries, memoirs and histories on my blog http://literaryfoodie.blogspot.com/
                                                                                          Hopefully you will all let know any that I have missed
                                                                                          Happy Reading/eating