I was fiddling around with the idea of a regular weekly feature for the “readies” who come here. I decided that Tuesday mornings will bring “Great Literary Eats” – spotlighting passages about food in novels. The challenge for me is that I cannot quote the obvious; no reaching for books like Year in Provence or Like Water for Chocolate. Too easy. The idea is to find incidental feasts in literature, to find great food where you might least expect it.
And what better way to start than with a girl who swore she would never be hungry again?
From Chapter XXV, Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, Macmillan & Co, New York, 1936:
Beyond Tara was the war and the world. But on the plantation the war and the world did not exist except as memories which must be fought back when they rushed to mind in moments of exhaustion. The world outside receded before the demands of empty and half-empty stomachs and life resolved itself into two related thoughts, food and how to get it.
Food! Food! Why did the stomach have a longer memory than the mind? Scarlett could banish heartbreak but not hunger and each morning as she lay half asleep, before memory brought back to her mind war and hunger, she curled drowsily expecting the sweet smells of bacon frying and rolls baking. And each morning she sniffed so hard to really smell the food she woke herself up.
There were apples, yams, peanuts and milk on the table at Tara but never enough of even this primitive fare. At the sight of them, three times a day, her memory would rush back to the old days, the meals of the old days, the candle-lit table and the food perfuming the air.
How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuit and waffles, dripping butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts, so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do, had the power to turn her ever-gnawing stomach from rumbling emptiness to nausea. For the appetite Mammy had always deplored, the healthy appetite of a nineteen-year-old-girl, now was increased fourfold by the hard and unremitting labor she had never known before.