Updated: Oct 24, 2020
C.S. Lewis once wrote that, ‘eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably,’ and to be fair to the man, he’s not wrong. At home, my favourite weekly activity is going alone to the Pepperpot Café with a new book in hand and the exact same order rolling off my tongue: one Pear and Bacon sandwich, please. It’s less a sandwich and more a religious experience. Words couldn’t possibly do it justice, but the combination of freshly baked bread, lightly roasted pears, thick bacon, Mount Callan cheddar cheese and a sauce I can only assume came to the chef in a dream, would bring you to tears. I have once, in fact, gently wept in a quiet corner of the café as I savoured the last few bites, and turned the final few pages of a particularly emotive book. I could have been crying about either.
There isn’t nearly enough food in fiction. If I had my way, every novel would end with a big P.S., followed by a recipe for the protagonist’s favourite meal. To be specific, I want to know what their go-to comfort food is, the dish they yearn for when they’ve had a bad day. It’s an intimate and revealing thing to know about a character, and I am often hungry. In this sense, I’ve been spoiled by Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, an autobiographical novel that treats its readers to every craving felt by Rachel, a pregnant food writer who has just found out her husband is having an affair. Food, for Rachel, is expression. She spends hours perfecting the peach pie that will say ‘I love you’. She makes a key lime pie and then throws it at her cheating spouse. She feels ‘blue’ and dreams of eating mashed potatoes, loaded with butter, in bed. She makes bacon hash, and my only critique is that she doesn’t add any pears.
What I love so much about Rachel’s relationship with food, and Nora’s insistence on honouring it, is that, for me, it emulates real life. I have never thrown a pie at anyone (I take comfort in knowing that there is plenty of time and there are plenty of pies), but my food often echoes my feelings. What we eat, in all its seeming mundanity, can say a lot. Nora taught us that, and I was thrilled to see the lesson live on in non-fiction with Dolly Alderton’s wildly popular memoir Everything I Know About Love. I revelled in the recipes peppered throughout, the moments in her life they reflected. The ‘Seducer’s Sole Meuniere’ comes with a warning, ‘don’t serve with your big open heart’, the ‘Got Kicked Out of the Club Sandwich’ is drunkenly made and merrily eaten in the early mornings with a friend, and ‘Scrambled Eggs’ are there when it’s been a bad day. The reading will make you ravenous, the writing will leave you nourished.
Last night, eating and reading combined admirably in the Barefoot Bookshop, a designated stop on Soneva Fushi’s famous ‘Food Journey’ trail, which essentially turned the island into a luxury tasting menu. Lucky epicureans hopped from one gourmet stall to the next, guided by glowing jellyfish lights floating in the bushes, and the drifting smells from busy frying pans. Our station served sustainable foie gras (far from which I was reared) and sauternes wine (even further). I am unashamed to admit that, in advance of the evening, I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to correctly pronounce ‘sauternes’ for fear of committing a Grave (this is a pun, it’s where the wine is from! Thank you, thank you) mistake. A faux pas (foie gras?), if you will.
If food really is a form of expression, as I clearly believe, than the foie gras, lying on a bed of spiced bread, berry compote and balsamic vinegar, left me completely inarticulate. I have absolutely no idea how to write about, or indeed talk about, food that tastes like fiction. My taste buds were intimidated and so instead, I spoke to guests about the things I actually know a little about. Books. Reading. The pleasure of a Nora Ephron character roasting almonds, the sheer joy in Dolly Alderton making ice cream. And, because I apparently can’t help myself, the Pepperpot’s Pear and Bacon sandwich.