It’s often true, that in novels, we have to stick to the story. Especially these days, when publishers are demanding that books be short and fast-paced. I’ve never been a fan of this trend – I like depth with my stories, and I like those little bits included in the narrative that bring realism to the world.
This is one thing I really like about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books. While she’s telling us the story, she’s also including delightful tidbits about life in the 18th century. I never feel that this detracts from the story, or slows it down. But then, Diana Gabaldon is an excellent writer.
I will humbly state that I’m not at her level, but I damn well plan on trying to be. And that means I need to jump in and try swimming around a bit. I may be at the dog-paddle stage, but I tried to include pieces of Real Life in my novel.
In The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Casey and Sam find themselves unexpectedly living their lives in the early 20th century. What does this mean in terms of food? What would any of us, transplanted from 2011 to 1911, expect to eat?
The Edwardian era was a golden age, provided one had money. French cooking was popular, wine was cherished. Restaurants did a brisk business, and the rich competed to hire the best chefs for their manors. Even the ocean liners that Thomas Andrews built had top-notch chefs and first-class dining.
So what did Casey and Sam eat? First, imagine the loneliness and homesickness they must have felt. Food is integral to our sense of place, to love and family. Casey and Sam would have used food as comfort, trying to eat things that reminded them of home, and of the 21st century.
A few scenes in the book show how they dealt with it. In their poorest days, while they are still learning how to survive, Sam builds a hotplate and makes a bean soup for them. Later, as their situation improves, they share cooking duties, one watching the chicken and the other chopping cabbage. In another scene, we see how Casey serves “raw greens” (the American salad) with most dinners. After her marriage to Tom, she gives her servants every Sunday off, and makes pancakes for her family, just like her own parents used to do.
No, these details don’t further the plot. They aren’t essential to the story. But they don’t take up that much space, or add very many words, and I think they help make the world real, with depth and complexity.