Food as Writerly Inspiration (or not)

What foods inspire the literary muse? Below, find six writers' favorite alimentary stimuli:

In an article for the New York Times called "O Muse! You Do Make Things Difficult!" (November 12, 1989) Diane Ackerman wrote that the poet Schiller . . .
. . . used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk and inhale their pungent bouquet when he needed to find the right word. Then he would close the drawer, but the fragrance remained in his head. In 1985 researchers at Yale University found that the smell of spiced apple has a powerful elevating effect on people and can even stave off a panic attack. Schiller sensed this all along. Something in the sweet, rancid mustiness of those apples jolted his brain into activity.
(Full article here.)

Luciana Rondolini, Rotting Fruit (from the Tiffany Project),

Agatha Christie, according to Nicole Villeneuve at The Daily Beast. . .
. . . was so partial to cream that she regularly kept some by her typewriter, to sip while she wrote. As her grandson Matthew remembered, “She used to drink cream from a huge cup with ‘Don’t be greedy’ written on the side.” 
 (Full article here.)

Will Cotton, Persistence of Desire, 3, 2014

Elizabeth Bishop, in an interview with Elizabeth Spires in the Paris Review (The Art of Poetry no.27), talks about her years at Vassar and tells the story of her youthful habit of eating cheese in hopes of inspiring the poetic impulse:
I had a theory at that time that one should write down all one’s dreams. That that was the way to write poetry. So I kept a notebook of my dreams and thought if you ate a lot of awful cheese at bedtime you’d have interesting dreams. I went to Vassar with a pot about this big—it did have a cover!—of Roquefort cheese that I kept in the bottom of my bookcase . . .
(Full interview here.)

Roy Lichtenstein, Untitled (Swiss Cheese Elevator Doors), c1985

Joan Didion, in an interview with Linda Kuel in the Paris Review (The Art of Fiction No. 71), spoke of her habit of reviewing her daily output while having a drink, right before dinner:
I need an hour alone before dinner, with a drink, to go over what I've done that day. I can't do it late in the afternoon because I'm too close to it. Also, the drink helps. It removes me from the pages. So I spend this hour taking things out and putting other things in. Then I start the next day by redoing all of what I did the day before, following these evening notes.
(Full interview here.)

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Hangover, 1889

As Jared Young describes in this story, Michael Crichton did an interview with 60 Minutes in the mid-1990's during which led the camera crew into his kitchen "where he opened the refrigerator door to reveal, neatly organized, a dozen cans of Coke and a shelf of pre-made ham and cheese sandwiches." Crichton then confessed that while working on a book, ham and cheese sandwiches were what he ate for lunch, every day. 

Luis Melendenz, Still Life with Bread, Ham, Cheese, and Vegetables, about 1772

On the other hand, Don Delillo, in an interview with Adam Begley in the Paris Review (The Art of Fiction No. 135), claims to take inspiration not from food but from the lack of it (and all sensory input):
. . . book time . . . is transparent—you don’t know it’s passing. No snack food or coffee. No cigarettes—I stopped smoking a long time ago. The space is clear, the house is quiet.
(Full interview here.)

Wayne Thiebaud, pen drawing

Three Silent Food Scenes

Charlie Chaplin in the "eating machine" scene of Modern Times, 1936. Is it just my darkness, or is this a kind of comedic inversion of the "rice pap" scene in Kafka's "In the Penal Colony"?

The bewitched food scene from the short film La maison Ensorcelée (The Haunted House). Made in 1907 by Segundo de Chomón, featuring stop-action magic utilizing some seriously sturdy bread and salami:

And finally, Fun in a Bakery Shop, created by Edison Manufacturing Co. in 1902, in which a baker nails a scurrying rat with a blob of dough, then has some fun sculpting faces with the same dough. According to the Library of Congress' notes on the video, this can be seen as a "proto-animation film, incorporating what might be called a 'lightning sketch' version of claymation."

I'm still worried about the rat.

The Little Fellow Is Appetizing
Surreal Salami
Beautiful Animation with Flour

Pig Snouts & Peppermint

Portrait of Penelope Fitzgerald
by Jane Brown, via The Guardian
Penelope Fitzgerald's hauntingly spare and reserved novel The Blue Flower, a fictional account of Novalis' love affair with a very young girl named Sophie von Kuhn, doesn't contain a lot of food description, but the foodie bits it does trot out are pretty phenomenal.

For example, this meal from the opening pages of Chapter 30 "Sophie's Likeness":
The servants had already brought in the soups, one made of beer, sugar and eggs, one of rose-hips and onions, one of bread and cabbage water, one of cows' udders flavoured with nutmeg. There was dough mixed with beech-nut-oil, pickled herrings and goose with treacle sauce, hard-boiled eggs, numerous dumplings. It is dangerous—on this, at least, all Germany's physicians were agreed—not to keep the stomach full at all times.
Good appetite!
A towering Alp of boiled potatoes, trailing long drifts of steam, was placed in the exact centre of the table, so that all might spear away at it with outstretched silver forks. Rapidly, as though in an avalanche, it subsided into ruin.
"I don't want you to look at me now, Herr Maler," Sophie called across the table [Maler is an artist commissioned by Novalis to paint Sophie]. "Don't study me now, I am about to fill my mouth."
And here is the start of Chapter 38 "Karoline at Gruningen":
There are still Kesselfleisch festivals to this day in Germany
Even Tennstedt had its fair, specialising in Kesselfleisch—the ears, snout and strips of fat from the pig's neck boiled with peppermint schnaps. Great iron kettles dispersed the odours of pig sties and peppermint. There was a music of sorts, and the stall-keepers, who had come in from the country, danced with each other to keep warm. Karoline had been accustomed to go to the fair at first with her uncle, then with her uncle and step-aunt, and she did so again this year. — A fine young woman still, what a pity she has no affianced to treat her to a pig's nostril!
E.T.A. Hoffmann's Description of a Berlin Marketplace
Vintage French Sausage Ad

Miniature Chinese Altar

Below is a miniature model (13 5/8 inches wide) of a Ming Dynasty altar (1368-1644) complete with offerings of food and incense and possibly vases to hold flowers. Judging from what looks to be sugar cane on the left-hand side of the table, this is perhaps a Hokkien altar. In the Hokkien tradition, the Chinese New Year has its high point on the Jade Emperor's birthday (the ninth day of that fifteen-day long celebration) and sugar cane is always included in the altar offerings in remembrance of how the "king of the heavens" answered the prayers of the Hokkien people and protected them from their persecutors by hiding them in a field of sugar cane. Other foods include what look like a calf's head and a whole carp, cakes, and dumplings. More information about the role of sugar cane in the Hokkien New Year tradition can be found here and here.

image from Christie's website

The model above, although six or seven hundred years old, looks strikingly similar to this modern-day altar, arranged for Chinese New Year in Bangkok (sans sugar cane). For anyone interested in food customs and preparations during the Ming Dynasty in general, this is a fascinating page, providing such recipes as "Stir Fried Chicken Legs with Mushrooms" as prepared by a monk in the Wuhu Buddhist Temple, who "cleaned the chicken legs and mushrooms in water . . . then added oil and wine to a wok and stir–fried . . . until they were well done."

From the webpage "Ancestor Worship in Toaism"

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