Of Soup and Tea and Light-tan Beans — Mary Quattlebaum

The season is darkening ever closer to solstice and the dog tucked up, tail over nose, in his bed. The tomato-ish smell of slow-cooked soup lingers in the air. What better time to mull over food and the way our characters (and ourselves!) are revealed through what they eat and how?

Do you have any favorite food scenes from novels? Any particular phrases or sentences that have allowed you to enter the dining experience and the character’s feelings?

Here are two of my favorite literary food moments:

1. In “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, destitute orphan Sara Crewe is starving in the attic of the boarding school where she once reigned as star pupil.  She “feeds” herself as she drifts to sleep by imagining a “little hot supper” and awakens suddenly in the night to find “savory soup” and toast and muffins and tea “so delicious that it was not necessary to pretend that it was anything but tea.” She and her best friend, the scullery maid, sit in their rickety chairs and feast. (I loved those passages as a kid and read them over and over.)

2. In her memoir “The Gastronomical Me,” MFK Fisher writes of feeling “in flight” for months after her beloved had died from a long illness that deprived him, first of each leg and then of his arms. Unable to settle, unable to rest, she finds herself at a hotel in another country picking through a series of tasteless, “pretentious” meals. One evening, her concerned waiter presents her with a “brown clay bowl and plate.” It is a simple dish, prepared not for the tourists but for the waiters, and MFK Fisher eats the “light-tan beans” with a “big spoon.” She realizes that this dish is the “first thing” she has really tasted since her lover’s death, the first thing that has truly fed her. She thanks the waiter and that night sleeps deeply in her “sea-filled room.”

What telling details! I love the “big spoon” that affirms life for the grief-wracked writer, and the bereft child sharing with her friend a cup of tea so amazingly real that she no longer has to pretend. MFK Fisher writes: “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” Might the awareness of this power help us to craft more resonant “food moments” for our own characters?

~Mary Quattlebaum



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6 responses to “Of Soup and Tea and Light-tan Beans — Mary Quattlebaum

  1. A delicious post, Mary! I don’t think enough writers respect the ironic imperative of eating — neither grief, nor sorrow, nor predicament can keep us humans from eventually being hungry…

  2. *swoon* My kind of post! I LOVE that scene from A Little Princess too. And yes, that big spoon, sigh. Thanks, Mary :).

  3. Martine

    Beautiful. My characters are bighorn sheep who eat grass… but what kind of grass? I shall have to find out! Thanks, Mary.

  4. Sandra Nickel

    Beautiful post, Mary. With two luscious scenes. Hmm, such great food for thought.

  5. Pingback: eight notable noshes on a wednesday « Jama's Alphabet Soup

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