Foodies are at their best this time of year, when the Thanksgiving leftovers are still taking up too much space in the fridge and the figgy pudding lies just ahead. What better time for 5DP authors to ask themselves this question: What is the most unusual food you’ve eaten (or failed to eat) and did it wind up in any of your books?
Denise Allan Steele: As Scotland’s first vegetarian (not really, but I’m claiming it!) I have never ever and never will eat a haggis! A haggis is a traditional ancient Scottish delicacy: sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs minced with oatmeal, suet, and spices. It is the centerpiece of thousands of Burns Nights on January 25, when we celebrate our national poet, Robert Burns. During the Burns Supper, the haggis is presented to the kilted Master of Ceremonies who recites the Address to a Haggis, then stabs the haggis with a ceremonial knife which he whips out from his sock. Then everyone, except me, tucks into the haggis, which is served with potatoes and turnip. I’ll stick to the vegetarian version! (And no, haggis did not find its way into my novel, Rewind.)
The following is an excerpt from Address to a Haggis, by Robert Burns, 1786:
His knife see rustic labour dight,
An cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie Ditch
And then, O what a glorious sight!
Joan Schweighardt: When I was researching Before We Died, my river guide took me and my travel companions—husband, son, and daughter-in-law—to the home of a fellow who goes only by the name of Jungle Man and lives far off the grid on the Rio Negro in Brazil. He killed and cooked two capybaras in honor of our visit. My family members are all game for exotic experiences, and they ate the stew he made with relish (not the literal kind), but I was unable to get past the fact that I could see remnants of fur in the stew pot. Nevertheless, capybaras do appear in my novel.
Note: A colleague gave me this advice: “Don’t make an ethnocentric error by sounding too grossed out [about capybaras]. It's a standard protein in South American diets, but we fat, well-fed Americans make pets of its small cousin, the guinea pig. My Ecuadorian cleaning lady just had to bring her husband over to gawk at our Scooter, well-groomed with regular trips to an exotic animals vet to clip his nails. Her husband was so fascinated to see the creature they breed back home for food that he posted a photograph of himself cuddling with Scooter on his FB page to show his friends how weird Americans are. Cultural gross-outs go both ways.”
Gabrielle Mathieu: I’m a locavore and a proponent of organic farming. People who lovingly tend fussy heirloom varieties are my heroes. I crave the satisfaction of nurturing outcast fruits and vegetables, forced out of the mainstream by the public’s lack of appreciation. No soulless corporate tomatoes or cosmetically perfect but shallow apples for me.
I once grew a loquat tree, from seed smuggled back to Texas after a trip to Greece. I placed the large seeds, half the size of an avocado pit, into an aluminum pan full of earth to germinate and put the entire pan into my suitcase, wrapped in plastic, when I was ready to travel. I planned to claim I was bringing back a pan of brownies, should I be confronted by Customs.
The loquat tree thrived in the heat and drought and bore fruit. The loquat resembles a juicy apricot. A very tart one. My tree rewarded me with prolific harvests, bounty which was then forced on puzzled acquaintances after I had eaten all I could. Dear Loquat Tree, I am sorry for all the fruit that went to waste. You brought beauty and a taste of the exotic into my life. I haven’t used you yet in any of my books, but perhaps I will in the future. I owe you that much.
Image credits: Fictitious Wild Haggis (Haggis scoticus), next to a prepared specimen, as displayed at the Glasgow Kelvingrove Gallery © Emoscopes - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons; hunter and capybaras © Michael Dooley, reused with permission; loquat from Pixabay, no attribution required.