My ambition is for The Journeymen to singlehandedly make French onion soup a thing again. At least to all 27 people who buy my books.
Shadow of the Portico, my debut novel, begins with two lovers who meet each other over a bowl of French onion soup covered in a comforting layer of melted cheese. The soup is covered with cheese, not the lovers. I don’t write those kinds of books, even if the idea is intriguing.
I love incorporating the multi-sensory experience of food into stories. Food tells us so much about characters and society. When I taught World Geography, I loved telling my students about some of the more interesting gastronomical experiences enjoyed by cultures around the world. Andrew Zimmern was always a favorite on slow days.
So while Italian cuisine may not surprise us much, sixteenth-century Italian cuisine does surprise our intrepid time travelers. Especially when Tina and Giovanni unsuccessfully go hunting for pizza and people make faces when they ask for tomatoes. Or when Giovanni more or less has to invent the grilled panini.
I am a reenactor with the Society for Creative Anachronism, and one of my favorite things to do is to have a go at cooking Medieval recipes. Our Medieval Europeans definitely had a different palate than I do, at least as far as their choice of spices. Ginger was a thing. I kind of hate ginger. Rosewater was a thing, too. Roses don’t taste as good as they smell, let me assure you.
The challenge in creating authentic food from the past is redacting the recipes. They didn’t measure quite like we do. It was much more instinctive. I kind of like that, as I’m not much of a measurer myself in the kitchen. Still, it would be good to know how it’s supposed to taste before I go and muck it up.
One of my ambitions is to get my hands on The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, a thorough compendium of Italian cooking written in 1570, the same decade as The Journeymen stories are set. With something like a thousand recipes and detailed instructions on all manner of culinary exercises, this volume is invaluable at giving us a glimpse into the kitchens of the palazzos where my novels are set.
Perhaps the best part of writing is being able to research and write about things that are fascinating, to experience worlds I would otherwise not experience, to venture outside my little world. Then I can season my story with these details and create something delicious.