Look who’s been cooking the books

Mma Ramotswe's CookbookWHEN I discovered, while researching the virtues of olive oil the other day, that the endearing Mma Ramotswe, of  No I Ladies’ Detective Agency fame, had put all her prize recipes into a cookbook, I knew it was one to avoid. I feared I’d enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s fictional character’s culinary creations far too much.

The book’s sub-title was the giveaway – Nourishment for the Traditionally Built.

I could ignore the mopane worms, that’s for sure, but not all the puddings, stews and other tasty treats.  It certainly wouldn’t take much persuasion for me to try out her Persuasive Fruit Cake or Lemon and Condensed Milk Biscuits.

Food in fiction adds another dimension to an imagined character but it’s nothing new, of course. The first time I was aware of it was years ago when family friend – and ex-US state senator, broadcaster, journalist  and fellow food addict – Jack Robinson was reading and eating his way through crime writer Lawrence Sanders Deadly Sin books (all seven of them).

Well, he couldn’t really help himself.

The books’ hero, Detective Ed Delaney, apart from being an ace at getting psychotic killers off the streets, never met a New York deli-style sandwich he didn’t like, and he described them all in sublime detail. As a result, whenever Jack read one of the novels, he’d salivate so much he always had to break off and whip a couple of sarnies up; monster masterpieces dripping with mayonnaise, cheese, salami, dill pickles, tomatoes and anything else he could cram into them. If I was around, he’d have to make me one too, which is probably why I remember them so vividly.

My own foodie fiction experience started with Nora Ephron’s novel, Heartburn. Revenge, it’s said, is a dish best served cold: Nora Ephron dished it up cold, hot and every other which-way. “Loosely” based on the breakup of her marriage to cheating All the President’s Men/Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, it’s all about a cookbook writer who’s married to a cheating reporter. It not only launched a load of novel recipes – everything from perfect pasta to peach pie – it topped bestseller lists and became a movie, too, starring Meryl Streep.

Another of my foodie fiction favourites is Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (be warned, though – it features a most nauseating food episode, too).

I tried cooking Ms Flagg’s fried green tomatoes. They’re delish. She later published Fannie Flagg’s Original Whistle Stop Café Cookbook. Chock-a-block with Southern recipes like black-eyed peas, fried chicken, and pecan nut pie, it reads like a novel even though it’s not.

I won’t, however, be trying any of the recipes concocted by crime writer Patricia Cornwell’s fictional medical examiner, Kay Scarpetta. How people who work in gruesome environments can ever eat, let alone cook, is beyond me. The spin-off cookbook’s title, Food to Die For, is enough to persuade me never to glance at the pages within its covers.

I’ve been off my food for the last 24 hours, as it is – ever since I inadvertently washed (and spun dry) a small frog. Shame. Thank goodness it was in the washing machine and not the dishwasher. – Stevie Godson

(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch)

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 at 3:42 pm and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. chris godfrey says:

    I shoulda had a copy of Mrs Flagg’s book when I tried to fry up green tomatoes with the batter I bought whilst I was in USA….the batter ALL remained in the pan and the tomatoes were tasteless and gross!!!

    • stevieg says:

      Sounds gross. Next time you want to try them let me know and I’ll send you Fannie Flagg’s recipe. Easy-peasy and very good.

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