Cathy’s Hidden Gems features favorites & lesser known selections from the fiction shelves of the Portsmouth Public Library. By Cathy Okhuysen.
In her debut 2013 novel, Recipe Box, Sandra Lee , host of shows on the Food Network and HGTV and author of many cookbooks, tells the story of a grandmother’s recipe box, which holds family history in the form of favorite recipes and a devastating secret. The recipes in the book punctuate events and turning points for the characters, including the protagonist Grace, and “the secret” continues to play out in her relationship with both her mother and daughter. Set in both Los Angeles and Wisconsin, the novel explores how the death of Grace’s best friend back home acts as a wake up call. Enticing original recipes include Firehouse Chili, from the new man in Grace’s life, and Independence Cupcakes for a great community project.
As one thing leads to another, in this season of feasting there are many hidden gems of fiction with delicious recipes as well as reading. All of these novels have the actual recipes written out!
Some hidden gems are Pomegranate Soup and Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran. The Iranian Aminpour sisters find refuge in the village of Ballinacroagh, in lovely County Mayo, Ireland. Not only are the recipes mouthwatering – from Colcannon (potatoes and kale) and Torshi (eggplant), to Irish Soda Bread and chickpea cookies – but Mehran weaves these with tales of assimilation into Irish village life, and a little romance and suspense as well. Sadly, the author died in Ireland in 2014, at age 36. There are indications that other novels may be published posthumously. We hope so!
In the church community of Hope Springs, North Carolina, the trials and tribulations of young pastor Charlotte Stewart include the Women’s Guild Cookbook. Friendship Cake (2000) is by Lynne Hinton, and each recipe has the personal touch of a story from a member of the church, as well as some well-meaning gossip. A recipe introduces each character, like Jessie’s Pecan Pie, Ernestine’s Corn Relish and Peggy’s Fried Okra. My favorite is Beatrice’s Prune Cake: “Lord knows, there’s nothing like a good prune cake to smooth out the kinks!”
The themes in Hinton’s novel are akin to those in Jan Karon‘s Mitford Series – and it wouldn’t be the holidays in Mitford without Esther Bolick’s Orange Marmalade Cakes. There is even a sweet little book, Esther’s Gift, with a special dilemma and the recipe.
Give the gift that keeps on giving any time of year with one of these titles, or a Cupcake Club Romance like Sugar Rush by Donna Kauffman, or the many cozy cooking mysteries by Joanne Fluke, Diane Mott Davidson, or J.B. Stanley!
There are many works of fiction without recipes that can still inspire you to try new foods, but those are for another post…