Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Top 10 memorable meals in literature

Ten classic tales served by literary masters ranging from Dickens, Chekhov and Zola to Shirley Jackson and Jim Crace

Hot stuff … Babette in her Kitchen from the 1987 film.
Hot stuff … Babette in her Kitchen from the 1987 film. Photograph: Alamy
Alexandre Dumas, in his Grand Dictionary of Cuisine, defined dinner as “a major daily activity, which can be accomplished in worthy fashion only by intelligent people. It is not enough to eat. To dine, there must be diversified, calm conversation. It should sparkle with the rubies of the wine between the courses, be deliciously suave with the sweetness of dessert, and acquire true profundity with the coffee.”

Dumas may have set the bar rather high for ordinary mortals at their daily bread but, in literature, meals are often an occasion for transcendence. While researching my anthology, Stories from the Kitchen, I sampled scores of literary works in which food plays a starring role. Immersing myself in so many tantalising fictional feasts was hungry work. 
But in narrowing it down, I found that the most memorable meals are those in which much more than food is at stake. Taste, according to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, is “that one of our senses which gives us the greatest joy … because it can mingle with all other pleasures, and even console us for their absence.” When exceptional culinary and literary artistry combine, the results are satisfying in more ways than one.

Below is a tasting menu of 10 delectable literary meals, a balanced mix of savoury and of sweet, of the humorous, the poignant, and the profound.

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