Dinah Fried, Fictitious dishes (Review)

Dinah Fried, Fictitious dishes

Courtesy: HarperCollins Australia

Regular readers here know that I recently spent a few weeks in North America – mostly in Toronto, bookended by a few days in Southern California. We spent our last day with a friend I “met” many years ago through online reading groups. We actually met Trudy for the first time in 2008, so this was our second meeting. She is a fun, generous person, and upon our arrival at her pretty cottage, she proceeded to shower us with gifts targeting our interests and activities. One of these was Dinah Fried’s Fictitious dishes which she chose because of our “sophisticated palate and enthusiastic approach to dining” – as well as, of course, my love of reading. I’m not so sure about the sophisticated bit, but we do love our food!

Dinah Fried’s book, subtitled “an album of literature’s most memorable meals”, is one of those delightful little books for readers to get their teeth into. (Ha!) As you read it you think, of course, about your favourite meals and foods in books. (You know what I’ll be asking you at the end of this post, then, don’t you?). In her introduction, Fried mentions some of her favourites, starting with one of my own, Heidi (by Johanna Spyri). Fried mentions the golden cheesy toast that Heidi’s grandfather serves her in their home in the mountains, but I also remember the white bread rolls that so astonished Heidi when she lived in the town with Clara. Who doesn’t like cheese on toast and perfect bread rolls!

The book contains an eclectic and sometimes surprising collection of “fictitious dishes” in both adult and children’s books that range from European classics like Kafka’s Metamorphosis to modern American Pulitzer prize winners like Cormac McCarthy’s The road. This latter, involving a can of pears, reminded me of the cans of peaches* in Adam Johnson’s The orphan master’s son (my review). In other words, the book can send you off on little journeys of your own! There are 50 or so dishes, and each is presented as a two-page spread. On the left is the title of the book, the quote, and some tidbits of information inspired by the book and/or the food items chosen. On the right is Fried’s photo of the food, lovingly prepared and carefully laid out. In her introduction, she talks briefly about food preparation and the work involved in sourcing just the right props. It is good fun looking at the photos and thinking about her design choices. She is, after all, a designer, a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design. As with any book of this ilk, some designs worked better for me than others, but I enjoyed looking at them all.

Most intriguing to me, though, were the little pieces of information. They include:

  • the history of various food items, like freeze-dried potatoes, for Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona;
  • notes about the books, such as prizes won or an interesting point about their publication; and
  • comments on the authors, such as their inspiration for the work or their relationship to the food.

There’s no real pattern to these. Some books have four or five points, and others only two, but they are fun to read. She does provide a list of references at the back, along with a list of the books chosen and the editions she used for the quotes. I do have one bone to pick with her (oh dear!), and that’s regarding her comment on, you’ve probably guessed it, Jane Austen! Food appears quite frequently in Austen’s novels, and particularly in Emma, which features a hypochondriacal father keen to ensure everyone eats as plainly and boringly as he does. It also features a picnic, a strawberry gathering party (from which Fried takes her quote), and balls and dinners. My quibble relates to Fried’s comment that “Despite proposals, Austen never married, setting her apart from many of her novels’ characters, who are husband hunters”. To describe Austen’s heroines so baldly as “husband hunters” badly misses Austen’s point. Her heroines were prepared not to marry (as Austen didn’t) if they couldn’t marry for love. Austen knew the importance of money to women’s security, but her heroines also wanted to love and respect the man they married.

But now, to the fun bit. One of my favourite bookish references to food comes from Virginia Woolf’s A room of one’s own. I’m sure you know to what I refer! However, as Fried’s book is devoted to fiction, I’ll share one of my favourite fictitious dishes (one that wasn’t included by Fried). It comes from Gene Stratton Porter’s A girl of the Limberlost and refers to a brown leather lunchbox:

It did open, and inside was a space for sandwiches, a little porcelain box for cold meat or fried chicken, another for salad, a glass with a lid which screwed on, held by a ring in a corner, for custard or jelly, a flask for tea or milk, a beautiful little knife , fork and spoon fastened in holders, and a place for a napkin.

Not only did I adore the idea of this gorgeous little box, but the love and generosity behind it in the story speaks to the most important thing about food in our lives – the making of and sharing it with those we love. Now, over to you … what are your favourite fictitious dishes?

Dinah Fried
Fictitious dishes: An album of literature’s most memorable meals
New York: Harper Design, 2014

* They play an important role in the lives of the main characters, but to explain it would be to spoil!

26 thoughts on “Dinah Fried, Fictitious dishes (Review)

  1. Well they weren’t cook by the sheriff but the scene of them being cooked is etched in my memory.

  2. Like Water for Chocolate is another book that comes to mind on this subject—though this is probably too obvious a connection between food and emotions to include in the book??? Anyhow, I definitely want to get a hold of Fictitious Dishes.

    • Oh yes, that’s a great one Carolyn. How could I have forgotten that one when I was thinking about the subject – and how could she not have included it in her selection (because she hasn’t). I don’t think it’s too obvious at all. You’ll enjoy the book, I think. The girls might like it too.

  3. Please miss, please miss !!!
    Mine is from C.S. Forester’s “The Hunting of the Bismarck”, wherein the captain of the chasing ship doesn’t want to leave his station at the bridge and calls for a sandwich. This never left me, nor Stringer, once he was introduced to it …
    It was on fresh brown bread, and comprised thick corned beef, finely-sliced onion and mayonnaise …
    The number of times we had that sandwich cannot be computed; and we never failed to find it absolutely YUMMY !

  4. I included A Girl of the Limberlost in a list of books I reread/adored in childhood (and still love) that I was sharing with colleagues at work (we were emailing each other our favourites). I have never forgotten those exquisite little lunch packages either – nor how happy it made me when you read that book to me for the first time. xoxo

    I also think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s evocative and lush descriptions of food, the Harry Potter series, Wombat Stew…. 😉

  5. My thoughts automatically roamed to ‘The Boys from Bondi’ by Alan Collins. When starved of both love and nourishment, the two become entwined in the minds of young boys and I know there are many examples throughout the book but I remembered one in the first few pages and looked it up:
    “I sucked clumsily from the hot ladle … it was rich and brown with the tiniest globules of fat dancing on it like gold dust. No words were necessary …”

  6. The most effective dish in fiction has to be the wet crumbs that Proust’s narrator sucked off the spoon, “the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of wild flowers,” thence to thousands of pages, and just think how long the book would have been if he’d eaten the whole thing. There’re some lunch hosts in the middle of Stead’s House of All Nations who bully two other characters with an outstanding fish. The guests submit to being bullied because the hosts have a certain financial position. In fact most of the fictional meals I can think of are the bad ones, Oliver Twist’s gruel, and so on, the use of food as a medium of control and covert violence; and the dishes I most recall from The Road are the ones with severed heads on them.

    • Yes, DKS, I agree food is often not benign in fiction. Thanks for your great contributions. She does include Proust’s Madeleines, and Oliver’s “please sir, may I have some more” gruel. Meal times are, as you say, perfect times for exerting control, for showing off as much as they are for warmth and togetherness. And authors use the whole gamut … But Fried doesn’t look at foods from the angle of how authors use it. Her book, really, comes from a design exercise.

      • I always mention Proust and Stead though. I want to try to think of something else. The coprophilia in 120 Days of Sodom springs to mind. That was the hardest part of the book to read, funnily enough. Mutilation seemed more normal and bearable. Mouths are so vulnerable, and eating is so voluntary. Mouths are like eyes. You eat and you can’t uneat, and you see and you can’t unsee.

        • And I always mention Austen! There’s something nice in both the familiarity and the depth of knowledge n’est-ce pas? Yes, you are right about eating and seeing – hearing too. Sometimes you wish you hadn’t heard what another had said! How many plots hang on that!!

  7. Oh dear, I don’t have a favorite food scene though the strawberry hunting in Emma did come to mind probably because I am really looking forward to fresh strawberries from my garden in a few weeks. I don’t pay much attention to food in books mostly because, even if deliciously described, it isn’t food that I could eat as a vegan. Hard to get excited about cheese or ribs or fish or steak, or, you get the picture 🙂

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