Best of British: Five iconic food moments in literature


Miranda Dobson
Wednesday 21 August 2013 16:39

Britons love food almost as much as we love books. So when the two things are combined, the result is mouthwatering.

British authors know how to pen culinary delights. And while some of Britain’s literary greats bring food to life on their pages to get our taste buds tingling, others have equally repulsed through their gruesome narratives.

From writers of canonical prestige, to the classics of our childhood, appetizing and iconic literary food moments are at the forefront of many of our best books. Here is a selection of some of the tastiest:

Butterbeer in Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling is adroit in the art of delectable description, and with Hogwarts feasts, magical treats from Honeydukes sweet shop and home cooked meals in the Weasley household, it is hard to choose the most tempting.

Despite the vast gastronomic choice Rowling offers across her seven hefty novels, butterbeer has to come top of the menu. The author has been known to describe the taste as “a less sickly butterscotch”, which sounds like the perfect, warming beverage for an evening spent snuggled in The Three Broomsticks.

Miss Havisham’s wedding cake in Great Expectations

Food is not always used to delight us in our literature. And Charles Dickens provides us with a prime example of this in his novel, Great Expectations.

Left untouched in the decades since Miss Havisham was jilted at the altar decades before, the wedding cake is described as seeming to grow like a “black fungus” in the centre of a rotting feast, with spiders and mice scuttling to it’s indistinguishable form.

As metaphors go, Dickens’ wedding cake is up there with the best as a symbol of the decay that lies within one of his most intriguing characters.

Turkish Delight in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

When Edmund, the black sheep of the Pevensie siblings from C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, finds himself lost in an unfamiliar snowy land he is comforted by the White Witch who feeds him Turkish Delight.

She conjures the sweet meats from the air and interrogates him, fearing her throne will be seized by the "two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve" that make up the Pevensie children.

Tucking in enthusiastically, and finishing the entire box, a sticky-faced Edmund casually betrays his brother and sisters as he chomps away.

Wonka’s chocolate room in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl is as masterful a practitioner when it comes to describing mouthwatering as he is when portraying the squirm-inducingly disgusting.

The most delectable moment in Dahl’s impressive portfolio is Willy Wonka’s chocolate room. Everything inside it is edible, and it is the only factory in the world where chocolate is mixed by waterfall. It’s the stuff of dreams for both children and grownups alike, and offers a piece of “pure imagination” for lovers of food and fiction.

Bilbo feeds the dwarves in The Hobbit

J.R.R. Tolkien's precursor to Lord of the Rings has plenty of food descriptions. The novel’s protagonist Bilbo is often preoccupied with the subject.

So when his hobbit house is overrun by a troop of unwelcome and uninvited dwarves, his consternation at the sight of an empty larder is pronounced.

Once he has fed them they set off in pursuit of slaying the dragon Smaug and fending off all sorts of danger in the process - so you'd better hope they enjoyed their last meal before the unexpected journey.

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