A Loose Collection of Thoughts on Food and Writing.
In cold northern Fryhel for almost every meal they serve bread and ‘fairy butter’.
To start it’s called fairy butter because it’s made in Southern Cyok by fairies.
It’s made from a coconut like fruit, reddish according to the locals. When prepared it produces a thick yellowish red oil. The oil is cooked at a low temperature with orange peels and other citruses for about six hours, then shipped in casks. Served on heated bread they say eating the butter will stave off illness and diseases of the mouth.
The people of Fryhel got no clue what scurvy actually is, or vitamin C, but we do and good chance your reader does. (And a people that live off meat and fish alone are a little boring).
Yeah, the butter has a backstory and while I’ve never even mentioned the butter in something I’ve shared publicly it’s part of the world and at some point it will come up. Maybe not in such a clear way, but at least you’ll know trade routes exist in my world and you’ll know people need things. By dropping in a line about the cost of the shipped products, or about the use of something from somewhere other than the current location you reveal to the reader just how much more goes on than they see.
More Than The Essentials
Remember, people can’t survive off bread and beer alone. Well maybe they can (practical experiment for another day) but typically they choose not to. Remember to include trade and variety when planning your worlds diet.
Vegetables are important and common in most diets. From minor’s lettuce to arugula to simple peascods, people always find something green(ish) to snack on. Fruit is a good addition, and can be dried or preserved in a variety of ways and often is, another thing to keep in mind.
Besides the initial generalization of ingredients, you might want some recipes. Maybe not super detailed (or maybe a side-along cookbook?), or maybe just taken from history, whatever you prefer. You could find a lot of great recipes and inspiration online too. I found a great one here about two thousand year old bread that led me to a lot of thinking.
A few notable things, if you watched the video:
One – the branded bread: Does your character live in a city? Whether in Middle Earth or on Coruscant, there’s a good chance that if more than producer of something exists, they’ll be branding and advertisements. Remember the song about the Green Dragon in LotR? To me that infers that there’s more than one pub or source of beer in the Shire and that our heroes prefer the dragon enough to memorize and sing songs about said verdant lizard. Oldest known branding comes from Ancient Egypt (beer, of course).
Two -The production: Anyone who makes bread themselves will notice two bits in that video. No yeast and it’s essentially a bread recipe. There’s the messy bit, the arm workout bit, and the waiting bit. Remember that for when your character is acquiring his or her daily loaves (Or making it themselves, yes it’s that easy). Especially if they live in a rural or undeveloped fantasy world. Or dystopian, the bread was one of my favorite details in The Hunger Games. (Still deciding if that’s ironic, or if I’m just weird.)
Three – The Split: The bread was sliced to be split evenly and easily. Likely to be shared among employees, as a type of payment. The board part of “room an board” perhaps. Maybe your character didn’t get served loaves or rolls but a sixth. Or the guards received a piece and beer? Just more little details to think about.
On a different note, do they eat flatbread and tortillas? Even if it’s a steampunk world, maybe it’s steampunk built on a Indian or Spanish basis. I’ve never seen that, so let me know if you write one.
Ever googled fast food in the middle ages? Meat pies and flanlike (Not a word, but that’s never stopped me) custards made with cheese and eggs were big in ye olden days. Sold like hotdogs are at modern American sporting events these were often available daily in larger cities, as growing and cooking your own food in crowded spaces was rather hard. Many cookshops on the cockrowe (yes, a real word) would also cook food provided by the customer.
Remember not just roasts and soups, frying was done in Egyptian times, and through the middle ages in a variety of ways. Fruit cake (one of my favorite foods) was given to Roman soldiers and Egyptians took deserts to never before seen levels. Ever have a date roll by the way? (How’s Friday?) Besides those little bits of heaven, they served a type of Fig Newton (like them too) and a plethora of honey cakes and pies. They had a type of fried dumpling remarkably similar to modern doughnuts, risen dough, fried and topped with cinnamon or honey.
Whatever humans or your creations have, they mix to perfection. People will, no one eats bad on purpose. If they’ve got berries and chicken, someones going to makes some off-kilter coq au vin. If they’ve got old Nuka cola and mutfruit, they’ll make a dirty wastelander. People never just survive, given the chance they mix and vary and thrive.
The Last Slice
Food is a massive part of daily life. Besides needing it to keep doing that living thing people are so keen on, social activities take place around meals naturally and they can provide something for your character to do, or not do, as the case may be:
Caldur picked apart the lasagna, the strange offer taking up more space in her head than the food.
This scene takes place at a restaurant, and the context is pretty clear. Any of you who’ve read a Caldur tale know doubly so how odd her lack of appetite is. I don’t go far enough to say she’s uneasy, I just used her focal point, and lack of focus on food to indicate her feelings.
Most of her tales take place on Earth, so there’s not as much creativity involved in feeding her. I do try to remember her different biology and hoopla like that (save that for another blog post). Also likes, dislikes, availability (broke people have less options. And a longing look at some dried cherries can say more than a hundred words about a lack of coins). People get hungry, make sure your character does too.
That’s all I had to say. Thanks for stopping by, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo good luck, and have a great one. Here’s some pictures of desserts because as the Egyptians discovered, it’s nice to end on something sweet.