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The Son Also Rises

January 23, 2011

My favorite thing about when AJ is at a sleepover, is waking up in the morning and not having to do anything in particular like make breakfast or build things out of Legos or answer questions about the square root of square roots or slavery or what is horsepower.

This morning, I lay in bed drinking coffee, looking out at the cold and sunny day and listening to Mr. Spy read me his favorite passages from The Sun Also Rises (which I persist in typing “The Son Also Rises,” probably because my other favorite thing about sleepovers is not getting awakened by AJ in the middle of the night ). One section included the line:

The girl came in with the coffee and buttered toast. Or, rather, it was bread, toasted and buttered.

“Ask her if she’s got any jam,” Bill said. “Be ironical with her.”

“Have you got any jam?”

“That’s not ironical. I wish I could talk Spanish.”

The coffee was good and we drank it out of big bowls. The girl brought in a glass dish of raspberry jam.

“Thank you.”

We were discussing how this made us desperately want toast and coffee in bowls.

“I have to admit,” said Mr. Spy, “that I think of this passage every time I make toast.”

I confessed that I also think of a passage in a book whenever I make eat toast, although mine is less literary. The passage in question comes from the chapter “Hot Buttered Toast” in Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmations (the novel, not the movie). Pongo and Missis are out looking for their puppies and have wandered in at a manor house, where Sir Charles’ spaniel has temporarily sheltered them from the winter night, hiding them from Sir Charles. The dogs are warming themselves in front of the fire; the dalmations are hidden behind a screen.

“Hungry, are you?” said Sir Charles. “Well, we’ve a good fire for our toast.”

Then he put a slice of brad on a toasting fork. It was an ordinary toasting fork, for it was made of iron and nearly four feet long. It was really meant for pushing logs into position. But it was just what Sir Charles needed, and he handled it with great skill, avoiding the flaming logs and toasting the bread where the wood glowed red hot. A slice of toast was ready in no time. Sir Charles buttered it thickly and offered a piece to the Spaniel, who ate it while Sir Charles watched.

Missis was a little surprised that the courteous Spaniel had not offered her the first piece. She was even more surprised when he received a second piece and ate that too, while Sir Charles watched. She began to feel very hungry – and very anxious. Surely the kind Spaniel had not invited them to tea just to watch him eat? Then a third piece of toast was offered and this time Sir Charles happened to turn away. Instantly the Spaniel dropped the toast behind the screen. Piece after piece travelled this way to Pongo and Missis, with the Spaniel only eating one now and then – when Sir Charles happened to be looking. Missis felt ashamed of her hungry suspicions.

“Never known you with such a good appetite, my boy,” said the old gentleman delightedly. And he made slice after slice of toast until all the bread was gone. Then cakes were handed on in the same way. And then Sir Charles offered the Spaniel a silver bowl of tea. This was put down so close to the edge of the screen that Pongo and Missis were able to drink some while Sir Charles was looking the other way. When he saw the bowl empty, he filled it again and again so everyone had enough. Pongo and Missis had always had splendid food, but they had never before had hot buttered toast and sweet milky tea. It was a meal they always remembered.

I read that book over and over again (along with its sequel, The Starlight Barking and I always had to make a plate of toast when I got to that section, just as I always had to eat an apple or two while reading this passage from Little Women:

”Jo! Jo! Where are you?” cried Meg at the foot of the garret stairs.

“Here!” answered a husky voice from above, and, running up, Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over the Heir of Redclyffe, wrapped up in a comforter on an old three-legged sofa by the sunny window. This was Jo’s favorite refuge, and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn’t mind her a particle.

I was thinking this morning about the passages about food I respond to in this way and it’s always passages where food is a comfort, in much the same way that curling up with a good book is a comfort. On a cold snowy morning, I’m curled up in bed with the newspaper, Hemingway, a cup of hot coffee and a plate of hot buttered toast. My creature comforts are buoyed by literature.

Do you like to read about food? Do you have any favorite passages that send you running to the kitchen for reinforcements or that accompany you as you cook?

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2011 11:02 am

    Huh…. no, not me. I’m very interested, though, to see what your other readers will say!

  2. January 23, 2011 11:46 am

    I’m sure I do, although I can’t think of any right now. Food in combination with cozy imagery gets me, though. Like your Little Women passage and what you say about comfort. Have you ever ready Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life? It’s a book of recipes sprinkled throughout an autobiography. It’s not a challenging read, but it feels good.

  3. January 23, 2011 4:43 pm

    Oh, I loved 101 Dalmations so much I kept our classroom copy in my desk (a big no-no) when I was in elementary school. I remember that scene well.

  4. freshhell permalink
    January 23, 2011 5:28 pm

    Rarely do away-sleepovers happen for both kids at once so there’s usually somebody here.

    I’ll admit that I’ve never actually read 101 Dalmations though I do love Dodie Smith. I think it’s so caught up in the Disney film for me that I haven’t been interested in reading it.

    I can’t really think of anything food-related, though. I don’t usually like to read long descriptions of food being prepared because a) it’s something I’d want and can’t have for one reason or another or b) it’s something I’d hate and just can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to eat it.

  5. January 23, 2011 6:09 pm

    Julia, I’ve never heard of that one, but I’ll see if I can track it down. It sounds like my kind of book. Freshhell, you should give it a try. Both 101 Dalmations and The Starlight Barking are great — far, far superior to the movie. I bet Dusty would like them.

  6. January 23, 2011 7:33 pm

    Harriet, you’re welcome to borrow my copy. As long as it makes its way home eventually. That would mean getting together, though. No, I know what you’re thinking, but the postal service won’t work. It’s really unfortunate, but I hear there’s a good coffee shop halfway between us.

  7. January 23, 2011 7:56 pm

    Julia, I was actually going to email you later to see if you wanted to meet for coffee/dinner one of these days. My schedule’s pretty flexible these days except for the nights I teach (M, Tu and Wed), so let me know what works for you. It would be great to see you!

  8. January 23, 2011 8:09 pm

    I am so suggestible about food in literature. It was a high point of my life when I got to Newport, RI and saw an “egg cream”–what Harriet the spy always orders–on a menu. I’d still like to try a “gin fizz” like the hero of Love in the Ruins. Every once in a while I make “buttered eggs” like Susan does in Swallows and Amazons. Once a winter we make the beavers’ dinner from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And pretty much anytime I read about France I have to have some of the food–Hemingway! Peter Mayle! M.F.K. Fisher!

  9. Ron permalink
    January 23, 2011 9:28 pm

    I learned to make seed-cake because of this passage:

    “Miss Lavinia and Miss Clarissa partook, in their way, of my joy. It was the pleasantest tea-table in the world. Miss Clarissa presided. I cut and handed the sweet seed-cake — the little sisters had a bird-like fondness for picking up seeds and pecking at sugar…” (David Copperfield)

    and I’m also reminded of the Dwarves tea party at the beginning of The Hobbit. Bilbo has baked “two beautiful round seed-cakes” and as the dwarves arrive they call for buttered scones, raspberry jam and apple tart, mince-pies and cheese, pork-pie and salad, boiled eggs, cold chicken, and pickles. (They also seem to drink–rather indiscriminately–tea, beer, ale, coffee, porter, and wine at the same meal.)

    So I learned to make and appreciate seed-cake.

  10. January 23, 2011 11:17 pm

    Of course I can’t think of anything right now, but yes of course. But for a russet! They’re so hard to find.

  11. January 25, 2011 1:11 am

    Nothing literary — but I can’t make toast for Himself without thinking of his first complaint to me when we were married but a few months:

    ‘You are the best thing that ever happened to me — but you don’t put enough butter on my toast’.

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