Lists and series, part 1 (food words)

I have long been attracted to lists. This includes the kinds of lists you make before going grocery shopping, the to-do lists for home projects, as well as the lists or series you read in books. There is something compelling about items grouped together, either to be checked off as they are gathered or completed or as they are combined into a cohesive whole.

The first time I recall falling in love with a series of items was when I was reading Anne of Green Gables. I would have been 10 or 12 years old, and in the book Marilla had made an array of food for the minister and his wife who were coming to tea.

You should just see our pantry. It’s a sight to behold. We’re going to have jellied chicken and cold tongue. We’re to have two kinds of jelly, red and yellow, and whipped cream and lemon pie, and cherry pie, and three kinds of cookies, and fruit cake, and Marilla’s famous plum preserves that she keeps especially for ministers, and a pound cake and layer cake and biscuits as aforesaid; and new bread and old both, in case the minister is dyspeptic…

I read that section several times, and although cold tongue and jellied chicken didn’t sound especially appetizing, the colors invoked and the sheer variety was a temptation for the senses.

Food and words together proved a powerful combination for the imagination. Even now, when I host dinner parties I think of the list of foods and, inevitably, have to cut back to avoid overwhelming my guests and overworking myself. I think of the colors (beige food is delicious, but greens and reds and oranges are needed for the eye as well as for health), the textures (creamy, crunchy, chewy, crumbly), and the flavors (salty, sweet, savory). And everything gets a full, descriptive name. Not just “cheese and cracker tray” but rather white cheddar, herbed chevre, water crackers, with cranberry-pepper preserves. Food described with care tastes just slightly better, I think.


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