Proust’s Madeleines And More: How Food Has Been Described In Literature
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Cookbooks offer us the pleasure of being able to cook dishes that might otherwise seem too elaborate or difficult, but food mentioned in literature is elusive. Besides non-fiction books that have an obvious focus on food, different writers have taken to describing food in interesting ways over the years. Novels seem incomplete unless they mention the food characters eat, and rightly so. It seems impossible to understand a character’s mind and lifestyle without understanding what they eat. Here are four books where authors have paid special attention to food: 

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

Proust popularised not just the madeleine but also the idea that food can evoke memory. In Swann’s Way, the narrator is offered tea and madeleines by his mother. As he dips a chunk of the madeleine into tea and tastes it, he is reminded of a time that has gone by. “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,” wrote Proust. 

A Kitchen Allegory by MFK Fisher

MFK Fisher’s short story A Kitchen Allegory is the ideal example of how food can evoke empathy. “As she chopped herbs and sliced asparagus and poured boiling water and added the magic dash of brandy to the mixed soft meat, she kept thinking, but not in a frantic way at all, about never seeing two more people again … All she wanted to do was make them full of her love, her food, but they could not swallow it,” wrote Fisher.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Focused on the narrator’s travels, The Sun Also Rises has interesting descriptions of fishing, mainly for brook trout. It also talks about other food and French wine. “We ate the sandwiches and drank the Chablis and watched the country out of the window. The grain was just beginning to ripen and the fields were full of poppies. The pastureland was green, and there were fine trees, and sometimes big rivers and chateaux off in the trees,” wrote Hemingway. 

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Heartburn’s narrator is a cookbook writer, who looks at a failed marriage with humour, through the lens of food. “If I had it to do over again, I would have made a different kind of pie. The pie I threw at Mark made a terrific mess, but a blueberry pie would have been even better, since it would have permanently ruined his new blazer, the one he bought with Thelma. But Betty said bring a key lime pie, so I did,” wrote Ephron.