One of the things I enjoy most about writing fiction is that I can use my stories to honor the lives of people I love.
Like my mother. Mom has been in heaven since 1999, but I keep her close by through my stories. She is near in the names I create, in the personalities of characters, and even in the meals that my characters eat.
When I was a child, our family would always sit together for meals: Father, mother, and six children. Each night one of us would thank God for the food before we ate. We talked about the happenings of the day or what made us laugh on a TV show. Dad might sing a popular song and the rest of us would join in.
My father was the one who always insisted on a certain formality to our meal time. I suspect it was because of his own upbringing and his military experience. Dad knew that a meal was not to be taken for granted.
He was also a good cook, though we didn’t appreciate his Southern cooking as much as we did Mom’s basic, Midwest recipes. Dad would boil the “chitlins” (pig intestines) and stink up the house, and we would suffer through the eating because we loved him.
So far I’ve written about Mom’s Chicken, both fried and smothered. Soon to be included in stories are Mom’s biscuits and cornbread. Mom’s chili beans. Mom’s cupcakes and sugar frosting. Mom’s fried fish. Mom’s meatloaf and her famous mashed potatoes. Mom’s spaghetti. Mom’s potato salad.
I have her Joy of Cooking cookbook which she used throughout my childhood. Its pages are stained with food drippings and highlighted with her personal notes. I treasure that book and still use it.
For one of my stories, I created a kitchen with my mother in mind. She never owned a house. I lived with my mother in at least 10 houses before I turned 18 years old. No, she never had a place to call her own as long as she lived.
So, through my stories, my mother finally does. I add the details that I know she would have enjoyed. In one story, her kitchen has accents of blue and yellow (her favorite colors) with a large window above the sink and a view of the backyard garden. You can read a story excerpt that takes place in this kitchen. I also have a scene in that story where the girl learns to fry chicken, which gives me a chance to dig into and use the sensual memories I have of helping my mother cook up batches of that tasty dish.
In another story, I share Mom’s way of involving us in biscuit making when we were kids. An older sister wants to help her younger brother regain joy in his life after a bad experience. She thinks time in the kitchen will do him good and teaches him to cut the biscuit rounds by using inverted drinking glasses. “Flour the edges, push down into the dough, twist and lift.”
Mom lives on in the kitchens of my fictional worlds.
What books have you read that have great food scenes and descriptions?
Extra: Take a look at this blog I just discovered — Yummy Books: Recipes for Literature. Cara creates food inspired by the scenes in the books she reads. Her photographs are gorgeous. She even found a recipe for Lane Cake from To Kill A Mockingbird. What a great idea for a blog!