Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mysteries and food--which came first?

Sometime in the last few months I was at my son’s new house and in the kitchen I searched for the wooden spoons my daughter-in-law has always had. Gone! “He threw them out during the move,” she said, “because he wants everything to match.” She was left with black plastic utensils. I was horrified and I think as said as much to the son involved. My other daughter-in-law routinely puts her wooden spoons in the dishwasher. I explained that would dry them out, but the next time I emptied her dishwasher, there they were. “Habit,” she shrugged.

To me, wooden spoons are special. Most of mine speak of years of cooking; a few are relatively new, some of most interesting woods. But I reach for them for almost anything I cook. I found today a blog titled “Pen, Spoon and Dagger” with a post that talks about the heritage and importance of wooden cooking spoons. I printed it out because—shhh!, don’t tell! I have a lovely engraved wooden spoon put away in my gift closet for the daughter who lost hers. I'll include a copy of the blog with it.

But the blog combines cooking and mystery, a frequent combination. I’ve often wondered why we have so many culinary mysteries. Is it because food is one of the biggest comforts of life? Maybe we combine it with murder—the ultimate disaster—to soften the horror? Maybe to humanize the protagonist? I love culinary mysteries, and with Murder at the Blue Plate Café have edged close to writing one.

Traditionally chefs were always men. Nero Wolfe was the first to make food a character in his books and you can still get the Nero Wolfe Cookbook. But today’s culinary mystery protagonists are almost uniformly women, while a man may be the antagonist, if not the villain. Does that have to do with women’s equality? Julia Child?

The relationship between food and mysteries is one I have long wanted to explore. The list of culinary mysteries is almost endless, but I haven’t untangled the thread yet. Anybody got any ideas? Maybe another time I’ll list some of the mysteries, and some of the cookbooks—by gosh, there’s even a Nancy Drew cookbook and I don’t remember a word about food in those books.

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