Yes, I know Shakespeare didn’t write it that way in Twelfth Night. But I’m definitely not the first to make the connection between food and love. In crime fiction as well as in romance fiction, people’s relationships are at the core of the story. Many mystery novels contain love stories, and even cozy mysteries employ the heroine sleuth’s bakery or restaurant or cupcake business as the set-up for the mystery. The Maine Clambake series by our own Barbara Ross (Iced Under) is a prime example. And in a previous post this month, Lea Wait (Thread the Halls) announced her new series will be a food mystery series, the Maine Cafe. Both authors include recipes. I can’t wait! (No pun intended)

Eating is one of the most intimate activities people can share. Many family traditions (holidays, weddings, funerals, family reunions, etc.) include gathering for meals and sharing food. Even in a romantic suspense, the hero and heroine have to eat sometime. Preparing food can bring the hero and heroine closer, creating a vital connection between them. Sharing food brings people together and can build a relationship, but it also provides the opportunity for conflict and/or insight into character in any kind of fiction.

Sharing a meal can break down barriers. In my book Twice a Target, Holt tries to avoid Maddy, who’s serving as nanny for his orphaned nephew, but when she cooks Turkish Summer Vegetable Stew and offers him a taste, she penetrates his wall. Judi Phillips (Through All Time) stresses that food scenes provide an opportunity to add sensory levels of smells and tastes. Food feeds the mind and soul—and heart—with comfort, texture, flavor, and smell. Experiencing the cooking of a savory pot roast or an apple pie (my husband’s favorite) can associate that aroma in the man’s psyche as part of the woman who cooked it for him. Applying the five senses in a story scene creates context, building reality for the reader.

A woman preparing food for a man is the most primitive form of nurturing. Even more powerful emotionally is when the hero cooks for the heroine or feeds her by taking her to a restaurant or bringing her food. As a basic mating ritual, it’s part of providing for the mate, the male as provider, and not just with food. It demonstrates he pays attention to her needs and likes and will meet them. It’s a primordial yet binding aspect of the courting dance. Virginia Kantra (Home Before Midnight) tells me that in her books, the hero always feeds the heroine, partly because of what I’ve just said. She adds, “Sharing a meal provides a resting moment in the plot.”

Arroz Con Pollo

In my book Never Surrender, Rick prepares his Cuban family’s Arroz con Pollo, or rice with chicken, for Juliana, when they’re hiding out from the bad guys. Preparing the meal provides that resting moment, gives them a chance to share their lives and is, yes, seductive, especially with a bottle of wine.  In Cleo’s Necklace, a book in my just released Devlin Security Force boxed set, Thomas buys cheese and bread for Cleo to eat in the car as they’re fleeing the bad guys on a Greek island. She is totally touched by his concern and it warms her that he always seems to be feeding her.

In Once Burned, Jake brings Lani a blueberry pie from a local baker, which evokes shared childhood memories. Lani’s near orgasmic enjoyment of her slice leads to something more than pie.

If anyone is interested in my recipes, you can download them at http://www.susanvaughan.com. Rick’s Arroz con Pollo is at the bottom of the Never Surrender page, and Maddy’s Turkish Summer Vegetable Stew is at the bottom of Twice a Target. Sorry, you’re on your own for blueberry pie. I’d love to have people share ideas about food in novels, or, hey, why not your real-life examples.

About susanvaughan

Susan Vaughan loves writing romantic suspense because it throws the hero and heroine together under extraordinary circumstances and pits them against a clever villain. Her books have won the Golden Leaf, More Than Magic, and Write Touch Readers’ Award and been a finalist for the Booksellers’ Best and Daphne du Maurier awards. A former teacher, she’s a West Virginia native, but she and her husband have lived in the Mid-Coast area of Maine for many years. Her latest release is GENUINE FAKE, a stand-alone book in the Devlin Security Force series. Find her at www.susanvaughan.com or on Facebook as Susan H. Vaughan or on Twitter @SHVaughan.
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  1. Hey, Susan. Love this post. In my early writing experiences, my critique partners were always on me about how often my characters ate. Well, they were sort of correct, but still for me, as you say, meals are a way of bonding with others. When we lived in Puerto Rico, I remember eating arroz con pollo, and my mouth watered in Never Surrender. Keep writing those great eating scenes. I’ve sharred. 🙂

    • susanvaughan says:

      Thanks, Marsha. Good that you didn’t listen to your critique partners. I tend to forget my characters need to eat, so writing this has reminded me the people in my WIP must be starving!

  2. Very well said. Beth and I love the ability to eat most meals on our deck this time of year. In addition to reveling in all the fresh (think less than 30 minutes from garden to table) veggies and fruits. we can watch the setting sun gleam off jets high overhead, listen to children playing, birds singing and lately simulate a fancy restaurant after the sun sets by adding scented candles to the experience.

  3. Barbara Ross says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Susan!

    When our extended family gathers at the beach or over long holiday weekends, we always joke about how we sit at one meal while planning and talking about the next one. But that’s when we’re all together, young and old, and when we talk and where the magic happens.

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