Hopefully the folks who frequent this passes-for-a-blog and my author Facebook page have read some of my work. (If not, you can visit my Amazon Author page and see what strikes your fancy. Strange Roads is hovering at that 19 reviews threshold…) And especially if you’ve checked out A Kiss and a Promise you might have noticed I like writing about food. If you saw me on Jeopardy! you can probably guess I like food with my wine, too. One of my collection of degrees is culinary school, after all, and while I don’t get fancy all the time, I definitely like writing about food and cooking.
Given how many of my characters are Slavic, that’s probably not surprising. I’ve been working on expanding my story “Storm-Spun” (Tales of the Siblings Not-So-Grim) and keep wanting to veer off into things like the Slavic love affair with berry picking.
When you find something edible in the woods and suddenly “I’m Katniss Everdeen, y’all!”
It IS berry season. I already have plans to torture characters with gooseberry picking (I have the scars to prove it), strawberry stands are open, and (see above) wild raspberries are ripening. I have “volunteer” sunflowers growing in my garden beds, and my gooseberry bushes produced almost nine pounds this year. The apricot, cherry, and pear trees are still too young, sadly. All of it had me thinking about what characters like Masha would be picking and preserving in a fantasy-Ukraine village, or what kind of fruit bushes and trees Eva would want from her real-world Crimean home to transplant to Denmark.
Of course, with Masha, I’ve run into a problem: when I’m writing a fantasy universe based on a Eurasia before the time of travel to the Americas . . . what would they really eat? Tonight for dinner I made a Moldavian fish casserole that involves a sauce of tomatoes (no), peppers (no), and is served over polenta (nope.) Sunflower seeds, the go-to snack of eastern Europe? Nope. North American native (though made into a commercial crop in Russia and re-imported.) All those fantasy Europes full of potatoes and pumpkins? They’re trading with the Americas somehow. No peanuts (South America.)
I ran into the opposite side of this working at the museum. I had to double-check native sources of sugar, to find that they didn’t in fact have honey. Honeybees are native to Eurasia and arrived, it’s thought, some time in the 1600s. They were alien enough some tribes referred to them as ‘white man’s flies.’ While there are maples native to Eurasia, sugar maple is a New World tree.
Maybe if I really want to make my characters do drudge work, they can try boiling birch sap. (I’ve done that research. Okay I ordered birch-sap drink from RussianFoodUSA. It’s not going on pancakes any time soon.)