Books That Cook! My First Food Fiction Course

One of my favorite blogs, Bitch, Ph.D., posts recipes once in a while, and the most recent recipe posting included one for what looks to be a delicious pumpkin cookie: I can’t wait to try making them, though my baking/cooking skills are, not to be too humble, uneven.  Ms. Sybil noted in her posting that she should just start a food blog, and the cheers of support keep pouring in (for the most part).  That idea (a food blog, for those who cook, for those who eat, for those who like to read about food) got me reflecting (finally, in that time I allow for myself each morning when I go running–so that I can eat lots of pumpkin cookies) on the food fiction course I’m teaching this term for the first time.

Last spring I read an article in College English (70.4) titled “Books That Cook: Teaching Food and Food Literature in the English Classroom” by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite (the entire March 2008 issue is on food, fyi).   Since I was teaching a generically titled Introduction to Women Writers course this fall, I decided to try out some of their ideas by focusing on “food fiction” by women writers.  I ended up (after much anguish—I struggle with this choice whenever I teach a literature course) with the following reading list:

·         Isak Dinesen’s “Babette’s Feast”

·         Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate

·         Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

·         Diana Abu Jaber’s Crescent

Other books I considered but couldn’t “fit in” to our quarter system include:

·         Joanne Harris’ Chocolat (much better than the film version)

·         Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes At the Whistle Stop Café

·         Chitra Divakaruni’s Mistress of Spices

·         Diane Hammond’s Going to Bend

Several students chose one of the latter books as the focus of their final project, so I’m curious to read and hear about their responses to these selections. 

As it turns out, the novels worked well together, sharing many of the same themes (including elements of magical realism; fairy tale allusions; and, naturally, the use of food as a central metaphor).   And because we focused on contemporary women’s fiction–fiction that is not “canonical”–there were some engaging discussions of some of the issues (high vs. “middlebrow” literature and approaches to reading literature, for example) that I’m thinking/writing about for my Oprah’s Book Club talk next week.

I decided to focus on fiction, but I know there are many, many food memoirs out there, too.  And, of course, I limited the selection to women writers, but someday I can see a separate food memoir course where I could include one of my favorites, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.   

Please share any other ideas you have:  the course (now almost finished) was a joy to prepare and teach, and I’ll be asking students for feedback, too.  I’ll post more on the course after the term is over.

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4 responses to “Books That Cook! My First Food Fiction Course

  1. That sounds like an awesome class! 🙂
    For an undergrad class that focused on contemporary coming of age novels by black women writers, we had the option of making food from one of the books and giving a presentation on it for our final. It was great! Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo was my favorite book assigned in that class, and is full of food and recipes– maybe you could use it?

  2. First, Laurel, thank you for being the first to post a comment on my new blog! I’m honored and thankful.

    And yes, thank you also for reminding me about Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo! I had noted that title down this summer but never did get to reading it: I’m ordering it today! What did you make?

  3. You’re very gracious. I couldn’t help but comment on a post about two of my favorite things: books and food! I really like your blog and will be lurking around. I should probably get my own blog but I am a bit lazy and bad at sticking with things.

    I made codfish cakes (“My Mama & Her Mama ‘Fore Her: Codfish Cakes”). They were pretty good, especially considering I had never made anything like that before. I was so excited to use chives that I had grown in my own garden; I even used the flowers for a garnish!

    I am so glad that you will read Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo! Aside from simply enjoying the characters and the story, I liked that the novel presented serious women artists, a ‘type’ that one doesn’t run across too often. Reading that book informed my own sense of who I am as a woman who is a serious student of dance, poetry, and visual art. Sassafrass is one of my “essential texts,” so I will go on about it all night to anyone who will listen…

  4. Hi Laurel,

    Lurk away! I currently lurk at a dozen or so blogs–I’m trying to get myself to comment on at least one a week, though: the comments make even the best of blogs more engaging.

    Codfish with your own chives: sounds delish! My students are very excited about bringing food to the final presentations next week. Several students are planning on chocolate/salsa/mole related dishes to go with their work on “Like Water for Chocolate”; others are trying to think of something “homey” to go with “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” (one student claimed she could make gizzard soup–Ezra’s signature dish–but fears no one will eat it). Another student is going to try to tackle fried green tomatoes (my mouth is already watering). And we’ll also have plenty of pita and hummus from a local restaurant to go with our last novel, “Crescent”. Should be a fun (and filling) final, with yummy food, interesting presentations, and discussions about the course overall.

    I love your phrase, “essential text”! That’s beautiful (almost akin to “true north” but more precise). I’ll read Sassafrass over break and definitely get back to you to “listen” some more.

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