Good food writing

Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman) is one of my favorite books for a lot of reasons–for starters, Gaiman has created one of the most lovely places in the universe, the Hempstocks’ enchanted farm (the Hemstocks being the other-worldly neighbors of the narrator). In particular, the Hemstocks’ kitchen: this is the mythical iconic kitchen, the same one that Ma creates in the Little House on the Prairie books as she makes her corn meal cakes and pancake men, the safest and warmest space, where food = love, that I wish I could create for my kids (instead our kitchen sadly just always looks like a mess). Even though it’s a fantastical book, the Hemstocks’ food, through lavish detail, feels very real. Here are the best kitchen passages.

“She gave me a china bowl filled with warm porridge from the stovetop, with a lump of homemade blackberry jam, my favorite, in the middle of the porridge, then she poured cream on it. I swished it around with my spoon before I ate it, swirling it into a purple mess, and was as happy as I have ever been about anything. It tasted perfect.”

“The old lady gave me a cup of creamy milk from Bessie the cow, the fresh milk before it had gone through the cooler. Nothing I had drunk had ever tasted like that before: rich and warm and perfectly happy in my mouth. I remembered that milk after I had forgotten everything else.”

“Lettie cooked us pancakes on a big metal griddle, on the kitchen stove. They were paper-thin, and as each pancake was done Lettie would squeeze lemon onto it, and plop a blob of plum jam into the center, and roll it tightly, like a cigar. When there were enough we sat at the kitchen table and wolfed them down. There was a hearth in that kitchen, and there were ashes still smoldering in the hearth, from the night before. That kitchen was a friendly place, I thought.”  

 “She removed my empty plate, replaced it with a bowl containing a steaming slice of spotted dick with thick yellow custard drizzled all over it. I ate it with joy. I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock.” 

“The daffodils sat like patches of sunlight, making that dark wooden kitchen even more cheerful. The floor was made of  red and gray flagstones. The walls were whitewashed. The old woman gave me a lump of honeycomb, from the Hempstocks’ own beehive, on a chipped saucer, and poured a little cream over it from a jug. I ate it with a spoon, chewing the wax like gum, letting the honey flow into my mouth, sweet and sticky with an aftertaste of wildflowers.”

 “There was a bowl of porridge on the kitchen table and beside it, a saucer with a lump of golden honeycomb on it, and a jug of rich yellow cream. I spooned up a lump of the honeycomb and mixed it into the thick porridge, then I poured in the cream. There was toast, too, cooked beneath the grill as my father cooked it, with homemade blackberry jam. There was the best cup of tea I have ever.”

“Dinner was wonderful. There was a joint of beef, with roast potatoes, golden-crisp on the outside and soft and white inside, buttered greens I did not recognize, although I think now that they might have been nettles, roasted carrots all blackened and sweet (I did not think that I liked cooked carrots, so I nearly did not eat one, but I was brave, and I tried it, and I liked it, and was disappointed in boiled carrots for the rest of my childhood). For dessert there was the pie, stuffed with apples and with swollen raisins and crushed nuts, all topped with a thick yellow custard, creamier and richer than anything I had ever tasted at school or at home.”

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