Your latest challenge was to provide a passage about food written in the style of a well-known author.
One of my favourite literary meals is in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Here is the novel’s protagonist, the Falstaffian Ignatius J. Reilly, sizing up a mid-afternoon snack: ‘In the boiling water the hot dogs swished and lashed like artificially coloured and magnified paramecia. Ignatius filled his lungs with the pungent, sour aroma. “I shall pretend that I am in a smart restaurant and that this is the lobster pond.”’
In a large and wide-ranging entry, Douglas G. Brown’s ‘Observation on a Vegetable That Was Probably Unknown to Ogden Nash’ struck a chord: ‘Kale consumed raw/ Gets stuck in one’s craw;/ But kale, marinated,/ Is still overrated’. Nick Syrett and Martyn Hurst also stood out, as did Nick MacKinnon’s Shelley on molecular gastronomy — ‘My name is Heston Blumenthal, chef of chefs./ Look on my pud, ye hungry, and despair!’ — and Katie Mallett’s updating of Betjeman’s ‘Vers de Sociéte’. They were only narrowly outflanked by the winners, printed below, who each snaffle £25.
W.J. Webster/Henry James
‘A peach just beautifully is
!’ she cried, with startling vehemence.
‘Ah, that.’ Maunder’s spoon hovered over his île flottante. He was now sharply aware that far too much of his conversation had concerned the series of dishes that had been set before them. He had grandly taken her, in a phrase as banal as it was unavoidable, ‘under his wing’. He had promoted the bisque – beyond its merits as it turned out; had expatiated on the constituents and processes required for a true Béarnaise sauce, and had then acclaimed the chef-patron’s version in a manner that on reflection might have seemed overweening. Not until the choice of dessert had he stood accommodatingly back. If only, he thought wryly, she had broken out earlier! He had mistaken a kindly tolerance for shyness. The question now was whether the error was irrecoverable. No matter what was to follow.
George Simmers/Jonathan Swift
The most eminent natural philosophers of Laputa (including a remarkably fierce-looking girl of 16) having prophesied irrefutably that the world would end in fire and horror if citizens continued to consume meat and vegetables and such, Laputans of any decency all desired fervently to be seen avoiding such wickedness. I was invited to a large party at the house of an eminent actress, with the assurance of dietary righteousness. Guests were handed large bowls. To my untutored eye these appeared merely unfilled, but our kind hostess assured us that the air within them was nutritious as well as righteous. Through several courses, she expatiated fluently and indeed poetically upon the subtle differences between her gaseous offerings, while my fellow-guests and I reverently spooned air into our mouths as though savouring the most delicate consommés. Yet I think I was not alone in promising myself more solid nourishment on returning home.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A Melton Mowbray pie;
So was it when I was a boy
And will be till I die.
What art is in that crafted crust,
A phantom of delight;
’Twas very heaven filled my soul
When first I took a bite.
Earth has not anything to match
Its tasty, meaty core
And when I eat the final crumb
My heart calls out for more.
And oft when I am wandering
Beside the streams of Dove
They flash upon my inward eye,
The luscious treats I love.
Paul A. Freeman/Chaucer
We Pilgrims came upon the Bulldog Inn,
an oak-beamed English tavern, and within
the landlord, Nigel, ventured to suggest:
‘Our British fare’s the finest to ingest,
and hungriness is written in your eyes.
I’ve sausage rolls, Welsh rarebit and pork pies,
roast beef and Yorkshire puds to fill your face,
or Cornish pasties, chips with cod or plaice.
For afters, rhubarb crumble, spotted dick,
enough to make a gormandiser sick.
I’ll serve your grub on plates from Stoke-on-Trent,
with knives and forks and spoons that never dent,
forged in the North, from sturdy Sheffield steel;
so let me take the order for your meal.’
‘Alas!’ quod we. ‘The hour is early still —
a continental breakfast, if you will.’
Basil Ransome-Davies/Raymond Chandler
She walked in sashaying like an eel and wearing the ruby earrings that were our agreed recognition signal. I stood up while the maitre d’ offered her a chair, managing to keep his hands to himself. The temperature had zoomed up. Mist rose from the ice buckets.
Before I could pour on the charm she grabbed a menu, saying, ‘Let’s see what we got here, Phil honey’.
That was all she said till she’d committed mayhem on a dozen oysters Rockefeller, an Alaskan King Crab Cocktail, a Cotoletta alla Milanese with a side of rosemary potatoes, a bombe surprise and a half-bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée while I nursed a burger truffé the size of a dime. Then she belched.
It couldn’t last. I excused myself and slipped away before the check arrived. That made me a rat but face it, Marlowe. You’re too old for blind dates.
David Silverman/Charles Dickens
It was the best of pies, it was the worst of pies. It was the sage of Pierogi with butternut squash à l’italienne, it was the sage and onion stuffing with cold leftover turkey. It was the epoch of beef and suet pudding, it was the epoch of crudités. It was the seasoning of fines herbes de Provence, it was the seasoning of tomato ketchup. It was the spring guinea fowl with quinoa salad, pomegranate seeds, avocado and feta of hope, it was the Brown Windsor soup of despair. We had lobster Thermidor before us, we had bubble and squeak before us. We were all going direct to the Ritz, we were all going direct to Wetherspoons. In short we had taken back control of our orders, we had got breakfast done, we had had our chips and they were oven-ready. It was a tale of two sittings.
Your next challenge is to submit a lonely hearts ad guaranteed to send those looking for love running in the opposite direction. Please email entries of up to 150 words to email@example.com by midday on 12 February.