Part of the fun in writing stories centered around a holiday is the research into specialty foods. For historical stories, this is a bit more difficult than going to my shelf of recipe books. In real life, I look upon foods that are served only at holiday times as culinary delights that help me cement those memories. My older sister has carried on our mom’s tradition of Christmas cookie platters and includes childhood favorites that are enjoyed by new generations.
While writing western historical, The Ring That Binds, I researched food connected with both the Irish and Basque heritages. Because Celina had been poor as a child before coming to America and was left with debts when her husband was killed seeking his fortune in the silver mines, she is thrifty. She’s hesitant to spend her seamstress wages on frivolous items, even for her beloved 4-year-old daughter, Keena. A holiday treat for the two of them might be gingerbread cookies or molasses cake (personal favorites of mine)—the only extravagance other than the normal baking ingredients regularly found in her kitchen might be the pinch of spices.
In this holiday story, the general store in 1886 Aspen is owned by Basque brothers, Mikel and Danel Toussaint. They receive packages from their family in the home country with the foods they cannot get in America, and the dishes they were raised on. Mikel embraces the melting pot that is America in the 1800s and insists on speaking English, even if his was a bit rough. He’s generous and outgoing and full of good cheer. My goal was to have Mikel woo Irish widow Celina with items from his store, luxuries that she couldn’t herself afford—gumdrops or licorice for her daughter, treats like Basque Cake (cookie-like crust and top with rum-soaked raisins or figs in center) or homemade cider for her. Because both were raised in countries by the sea, they share a special reminisce about eating eel in their homeland.
The sharing of food in a story makes the characters seem like they could be in your own kitchen. If you’re an author, I encourage you to be sure to include food items that expand on the characters’ heritage or give another glimpse into the characters’ personalities. If you’re a reader, pay attention to the details provided in a food scene. Close your eyes, take a sniff and get lost in the author’s creativity at making the story more real.
Learn more about Linda's other published works on her website www.lindacarroll-bradd.com
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