Story Research: What’s Cooking?

Lower prices in 1945 compliments of the U.S. Office of Price Control.

Lower prices in 1945 compliments of the U.S. Office of Price Control. Image from The National Archives.

Two stories — one set in the ’30s and the other in the early ’70s — have been the focus of my writing time this summer. In both stories, I use the kitchen as a beloved place where the meals and conversation reveal a lot for the reader. I also use it to simply celebrate the goodness of sharing daily bread with the most important people in life. It is with the kitchen scenes that I’m having the most fun bringing my childhood memories to life.

One slight problem with the story from the ’30s: I wasn’t alive then, so I have to find other ways to make it ring true. What items were in the pantry? What were the typical meals? I found the answers through internet blogs and sites dedicated to sharing about food. One of my favorites is The Food Timeline, “a food history research service,” and I just today discovered Clara Cannucciari, of Great Depression Cooking With Clara, who was 94 when she started her web series. I also intend to speak with people I know who lived through the Depression. “What’s your favorite kitchen memory?” I have a feeling that question will get sweet responses.

Writing food scenes for the other story is easier because I’m recalling from my childhood. When my father cooked, he would often serve up dishes from his Southern upbringing. Fried potatoes and onions. Chitlins. Ham hocks and black-eyed peas. Fried fish. Mustard and collard greens. My mother’s everyday meals were basic but memorable — for the way she stretched the little that we had and the way she seemed to enjoy doing it. Boiled pinto beans and cornbread. Fried chicken. Smothered chicken. Spaghetti. Mashed potatoes and green beans. The vanilla cake she’d have waiting for us to eat after school. I have my mother’s Joy of Cooking cookbook to read through for reminders of her favorites.

Pinterest boards are great for collecting advertisements, recipes, and photos of food from the eras and will help me remember what to stock in my fictional kitchens. One of my main characters hates to cook, but I wonder if she’ll have a better appreciation for her daily chore by the end of the novel. Maybe she’ll learn a thing or two about herself. Maybe the family will have a financial breakthrough and she can hire a maid. We shall see.

I’m having fun with this research project. Can you tell? 🙂


 

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

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  1. I’m so very glad you’re having fun with this research, Darla, because I am learning so very much. Keep up the good work! I’m going to check out the Great Depression Cooking With Clara; my mother and aunts didn’t have a lot of details as they lived on a big farm during the Depression and not a lot changed except that my grandmother did set out food on the table in the back yard. She shared their extras with those who “rode the rails” and hiked around looking for work.

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