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. How many mysteries have begun with a family or friends or business dinner that ended in murder for one of the diners? So many family holiday traditions include preparing and sharing food, making sustenance more than a basic human need.
Even in a fast-paced romantic suspense or thriller, the characters 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 new release Hidden Obsession, Justin and Sheri cook a meal together. He cooks the mashed potatoes, and she the coq au vin.
This sharing both brings them together sensually and drives Sheri’s internal conflict about the secret in her past. 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.
Food scenes provide an opportunity to add sensory levels of smells and tastes. Applying the five senses in any 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, especially when the hero feeds the heroine. A meal also provides a resting moment in the plot. In my book Never Surrender, while they’re hiding out from the bad guys, Rick prepares his Cuban family’s Arroz con Pollo, or rice with chicken, for Juliana. 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 Once Burned, Jake brings Lani a blueberry pie, which evokes shared childhood memories and pries open a chink in her distrust of him. Lani’s near orgasmic enjoyment of her slice leads to something more than pie.
In my Cleopatra’s Necklace, as they’re fleeing the bad guys on a Greek island, Thomas buys cheese and bread for Cleo to eat in the car. She is touched by his concern and it warms her that he always seems to be feeding her.
If anyone is interested in my recipes, you can download them at susanvaughan.com. Rick’s Arroz con Pollo is at the bottom of the Never Surrender page, and the coq au vin recipe is at the bottom of the Hidden Obsession page. My version of coq au vin is a bit simpler than the original, but delicious.. 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.