Why is it that the most delicious-sounding meals are to be found in fantasy novels? Down-to-earth, no nonsense, succulent menus from a time and place where people are still connected to the earth, to the source of their sustenance, and well-versed in the simplest, yet most delectable ways to prepare all this natural, bountiful goodness. A fantasy, indeed, in the hard concrete hearts of the modern city, where with terrifying frequency little kids have no idea chickens are not shaped like mcnuggets. I remember being astonished myself, at a very early age, when I realized all those shiny chicken pieces neatly wrapped up in plastic at the supermarket had once been living, breathing creatures with feathers! Wow. Up until that moment, food had obviously come from the supermarket. Sure, I learned soon enough food grew on farms, but it was an abstract concept; the real source of food remained the grocery store. None of my teachers (even though I attended an elementary school which, at the time, was rated one of the best in the nation) ever bothered to describe the process to me—how the cans and boxes in the long, well-lit isles made it there, and all the land, all the labor, all the cost involved (as in natural resources) in the seemingly magical process. Fortunately, we’re now in the 21st century, where the reprehensible state of our planet—the oceans are running out of fish, for example—makes it impossible to continue living like ostriches with our heads in the convenient fast-food bag.
But I digress… back to the more palatable subject of mouth-watering meals as described by three excellent authors of high fantasy, and myself. The master of the fictional menu is, in my opinion, Jack Vance, who made me almost unbearably hungry while I was reading his Lyonesse trilogy. Patrick Rothfuss is new on the scene but already working his way toward fulfilling the hunger left behind by Vance. Patricia McKillip also has her gourmet, and characteristically luminous, moments. And in a shameless effort to wet appetites for my paranormal romance, Eternal Blood, I include the savory meals enjoyed by the living characters, not the unfortunate undead.
Cut and pasted directly from my Kindle My Clippings File:
Lyonesse: The Green Pearl: Suldrun’s Garden Bk.1 (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 870-76
The banquet proceeded. The first course, a mince of olives, shrimp and onions baked in oyster shells with cheese and parsley was followed by a soup of tunny, cockles and winkles simmered in white wine with leeks and dill. Then, in order, came a service of broiled quail stuffed with morels, served on slices of good white bread, with side dishes of green peas; artichokes cooked in wine and butter, with a salad of garden greens; then tripes and sausages with pickled cabbage; then a noble saddle of venison glazed with cherry sauce and served with barley first simmered in broth, then fried with garlic and sage; then honey-cakes, nuts and oranges; and all the while the goblets flowed full with noble Voluspa and San Sue from Watershade, along with the tart green muscat wine of Dascinet.
Lyonesse: The Green Pearl: Suldrun’s Garden Bk.1 (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 1591-92
fine cutlets… properly cooked… broiled over vine cuttings, with garlic and lemon and a whiff of thyme…
Lyonesse: The Green Pearl: Suldrun’s Garden Bk.1 (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 1641-42
…a pair of plump fowl. These I like to cut small and fry in olive oil with much garlic, and turn out the whole dish, oil and all, over bread.
Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 4727
The three dined on chickens stuffed with barley and onions and roasted to a turn, hearth-cake set to catch the drippings, a pot of field-greens simmered with bacon, a salad of cress.
Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 6137
Dinner was served on two sets of trays: a simple meal of mussels simmered in white wine, bread, olives and nuts.
Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 4434
He took them to a table in the corner of the kitchen and served them first a soup of leeks and lentils, then slices of pork roasted with apples, bread and gravy and a fresh peach apiece for dessert.
Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 5563
…the troop was provided a great supper of pork grilled over vine cuttings, broad beans and onions, oat-bread and wine.
Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 5885
The portly woman brought their supper: quail, pigeons and partridge on slabs of bread soaked in the grease of the frying; cuts of roasted lamb which exhaled a fragrance of garlic and rosemary, in the Galician style, with a salad of cress and young greens: a meal far better than any they had expected.
Lyonesse: Suldrun’s Garden (Fantasy Masterworks) (Jack Vance) – Highlight Loc. 7134
Weare served them trout from the lake and duck from the marsh, with salad from the kitchen garden.
Madouc, Lyonesse Trilogy, Book 3 by Jack Vance– Highlight Loc. 1317-25
For days wagons had been arriving from all directions, loaded with sacks, crocks and crates, tubs of pickled fish; racks dangling with sausages, hams and bacon; barrels of oil, wine, cider and ale; baskets laden with onions, turnips, cabbages, leeks; also parcels of ramp, parsley, sweet herbs and cress. Day and night the kitchens were active, with the stoves never allowed to go cold. In the service yard four ovens, constructed for the occasion, produced crusty loaves, saffron buns, fruit tarts; also sweet-cakes flavored with currants, anise, honey and nuts, or even cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. One of the ovens produced only pies and pasties, stuffed with beef and leeks, or spiced hare seethed in wine, or pork and onions, or pike with fennel, or carp in a swelter of dill, butter and mushrooms, or mutton with barley and thyme. On the night previous to Cassander’s birthday, a pair of oxen were set to roast over the fire on heavy iron spits, along with two boars and four sheep. In the morning two hundred fowl would join the display, that they might be ready for the great banquet which would begin at noon and continue until the hunger of the company had been totally satiated.
Madouc, Lyonesse Trilogy, Book 3 by Jack Vance – Highlight Loc. 1964-66
Returning downstairs, he went out to the front of the inn and seated himself at a table, where he took his supper: first, a dozen sardines sizzling and crackling from the grill, next a platter of broad-beans and bacon with an onion for relish, along with a hunk of new bread and a quart of ale.
Madouc, Lyonesse Trilogy, Book 3 by Jack Vance – Highlight Loc. 2161-63
Entering the forecourt, he discovered the two gryphs sitting down to their morning meal, which included two great joints of beef, four roast fowl, a pair of suckling pigs, two trenchers of pickled salmon, a round of white cheese, and several loaves of new bread.
Madouc, Lyonesse Trilogy, Book 3 by Jack Vance – Highlight Loc. 2603-8
He commanded a joint of roast beef with horseradish and suet pudding, a suckling pig sizzling on the spit surrounded by roast cinnamon apples, a pot of pigeon stew and three gallons of good red wine. For his supper he took a more moderate repast of four roast fowl, a pork and onion pie, a salmon and a number of sausages, along with sufficient wine to assist in digestion. After a night’s sound sleep, he breakfasted on fried flounder, three dozen oysters, a raisin cake, a cassoulet of broad beans and ham for a savory, and a tankard or two of a particularly fine white wine. It was this return to a sound and wholesome diet, declared King Milo, which had renewed his strength; he now felt as good as new, if not better.
Madouc, Lyonesse Trilogy, Book 3 by Jack Vance – Highlight Loc. 4799-4804
“Thanks to my kind mother, we shall both rest and dine,” said Madouc. She laid out the pink and white kerchief and cried: “Aroisus!” and raised the pavilion. Entering, the travelers found the table laid as usual with a bounty of excellent comestibles: a roast of beef with suet pudding; fowl fresh from the spit and fish still sizzling from the pan; a ragoût of hare and another of pigeons; a great dish of mussels cooked with butter, garlic and herbs; a salad of cress; butter and bread, salt fish, pickled cucumbers, cheeses of three sorts, milk, wine, honey; fruit tarts, wild strawberries in clotted cream; and much else. The three refreshed themselves in basins of scented water, then dined to repletion.
Madouc, Lyonesse Trilogy, Book 3 by Jack Vance – Highlight Loc. 5326-29
Madouc walked along the buffet, and served herself … an omelet of morels and parsley, scones with butter and a bowl of strawberries and cream. “What? No fish?” cried King Audry aghast. “It is our fame and our pride! Steward! Bring the Princess some salmon in wine sauce with new peas, and also a good taste of the lobster in saffron cream; also—why not?—a dozen each of the cockles and winkles, and do not spare the garlic butter.”
The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One (Patrick Rothfuss) – Highlight on Page 104 | Loc. 2101-2
Several minutes later he emerged, bringing out cheese and a loaf of dark bread, cold chicken and sausage, butter and honey.
The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One (Patrick Rothfuss) – Highlight on Page 219 | Loc. 4054-56
Next was a real breakfast. A plateful of hot eggs and a slice of ham. Bread that was fresh and soft, plenty of honey and butter on the side, and a glass of milk not two days from the cow. It cost me five iron pennies. It may be the best meal I ever ate.
The Bards of Bone Plain (Patricia McKillip) – Highlight Loc. 3315
That morning’s breakfast was thin herb omelets rolled around asparagus, strawberries in cream, biscuits studded with onion and chives.
The Bards of Bone Plain (Patricia McKillip) – Highlight Loc. 1685-87
A platter of tiny glazed tarts shaped like scallop shells carrying an oyster beside a black pearl of roe presented itself and was ignored, except by Beatrice, who nibbled when she was unnerved by undercurrents…
In her heart (and with her tongue and her stomach) she would always be loyal to Consuelo, whose ability to whip up healthy comfort food was surely unequaled in all of Britain. Nevertheless, there was much to be said for the castle’s resident chef. Instead of chunks of chicken, her Caesar salad—composed of baby greens and herbs in addition to the requisite Romaine lettuce—was garnished by a whole de-boned and succulently grilled Cornish Hen. She also definitely tasted raw egg yolks in the dressing, thank God. A fabulous so-called Peasant Soup accompanied the salad, a traditional pairing that might have been trite if it hadn’t been so delicious. The flavorful, undoubtedly home-made stock was thickened by a lavish amount of Gruyere cheese and the bread at the bottom of the bowl was saturated with all this goodness. She really didn’t need the slice of blueberry tart which constituted the dessert but she ate it, of course. The Greek yogurt it was topped with was the creamiest she had ever tasted and blended splendidly with the pecan-crusted berries and whole-wheat crust.
Finally, she was done, and her glass of red wine drunk. After wiping her fingertips clean on the white cloth napkin, she opened the dark-green bottle of Perrier. “Did you know water crystals respond to words and the tone in which they’re spoken?” she remarked, reluctant to leave the stimulating zone of the lunch tray and return her full attention to the oddly sterile room.
* * *
Jonathan took her home, and stayed for lunch. Consuelo served them in the kitchen, her sober expression lightening hopefully every time she looked at him. You protect my girl her eyes commanded as she rewarded him in advance with a sandwich made from succulent left over roast turkey, shot on the grounds, garnished with home-made mayonnaise, homegrown lettuce and served on freshly baked multigrain bread.
Audrey was so ravenous conversation was out of the question. She wolfed down her sandwich, relishing every bite as though she had never tasted food before in her life. Each individual flavor was so divinely distinct she could see everything it contained as images flashed through her mind—dark woodland paths opening onto golden fields of wheat dotted with grazing cows and dairy barns—she merged them all on her tongue and magically digested the world. The smoothie Consuelo blended up loudly for dessert sent her on a rapturous trip to sunny Florida and lush orange groves giving way to bright red strawberry fields and seemingly endless hot expanses of sugar cane, whereas the plastic straw she was sucking all this goodness up with sobered her with the thought of terminally expanding landfills. How much trash she alone produced was staggering, it drove home how large and powerful the planet she lived on was that it could continue to endure so much abuse even as all its intricately woven systems inevitably began unraveling. Yet the delicious lunch she was blessed with told her there was hope, there was always hope provided she took full conscious responsibility for herself, for all her thoughts and actions, for all her desires…
* * *
He set the tray on the rug in front of her and then dealt with the business of adding more wood to the fire while she poured them some wine and removed the silver lids from the dishes Consuelo had prepared for them. Her stomach groaned as she inhaled the aroma of jumbo shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic mixed with a little cumin and paprika and garnished with chopped fresh parsley. There was warm bread to soak up the shrimp’s delicious juices, a fresh curly Spinach salad topped with paper thin slices of Manchego cheese, and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to wash it all down with.
* * *
At first no one talked much. They had all run a gauntlet of extreme emotions that day. Relief it was apparently all over made them hungry as athletes who had burned an excess of emotional calories, and exercised conceptual muscles most people never even knew existed. The cannellini bean and chorizo soup garnished with fresh chopped chives, one of her favorites, tasted so unbelievably good she felt like crying… Consuelo returned with the second course—a seafood paella replete with prawns and baby octopus. The third course was a spinach, walnut, dried cranberry, Serrano ham and Stilton salad dressed with a delicate sherry vinaigrette. The fourth course was a creamy Taleggio cheese served on crackers almost as thin and delicate as communion wafers. The fifth and final course were rich dark-chocolate Biscotti dipped in decaffeinated coffee.