Jan 15 2013

Bringing Fiction to Life (in the kitchen)

Melissa Crytzer Fry

It’s no secret that I focus on the natural world here at What I Saw, bringing to life the outdoors through photography, and relating my nature observances to writing and reading. My photos of the Sonoran desert obviously rely on the sense of sight:

But today I focus on a different sense: taste. As it relates to fiction, of course. Maybe this will whet your appetite (or simply confound you):

What are these Pac Man-looking discs? Read to find out.

Every good novel employs the senses, does it not? And while my WIP (work in progress) isn’t food-themed, a few “culinary” scenes have emerged that will hopefully tickle readers’ taste buds.

In one, a character waits for a burger concoction that came straight from my head: the Poco-burger, made at a fictional mom n’ pop burger joint in the Poconos.

… Today was no different as he waited for his Poco-burger, a mouth-watering combination of a quarter-pound patty, cheese, onions, a fried egg, and two slices of infamous New Jersey pork roll, Taylor Ham, sandwiched between a Kaiser roll.

So – you guessed it. I took to the kitchen last weekend, working to bring this made-up dish to life.

The ingredients for the Poco-burger, right on my countertop.

Wait. That’s a lie; I wasn’t the one in the kitchen. My husband spearheaded this endeavor. Why him? Well, it’s a New Jersey-inspired meal. And he’s a Jersey boy. (I admit to being fascinated – and a little scared – by the main ingredient).

Meet Taylor Ham, found exclusively in New Jersey and some areas of Philly and Eastern PA.

So back to the Pac-Man discs. Yep, that’s Jersey Pork Roll, known to locals as Taylor Ham. The slits in the side help this mystery meat cook evenly. It’s a roll of ‘breakfast meat’ that many compare in taste and texture to SPAM, mild salami, or US-style Canadian bacon. I disagree. It tastes like none of those things, boasting its own unique flavor, with a very unique history, including battlefields and lawsuits. Most importantly, it’s yummy (I’d never heard of it until my first trip to New Jersey after meeting my husband).

In true Jersey fashion, my husband decided the Poco-burger should be a “smash burger,” like the ones made in New Jersey’s White Manna diner.

Then he fried some eggs and threw American cheese on them (Jersey style, of course). And finally, the finished product emerged – from my head, to the page, to a plate:

I think I’m on to something here: the recreation/reenactment of fictional elements in my work (because, let me tell you … the Poco-burger was phenomenal). And there just so happens to be another fictional dish in my WIP, a dessert called the Gob Sundae, that I’d love to tackle, myself … Stay tuned.

For Readers & Writers: As writers, our job is to bring the imaginary worlds of our novels to life, allowing readers to touch, taste, smell, see and hear. What senses do you most savor in your fiction? How do you bring them to life?

The Poco-burger was inspired by regional food preferences. How important is it to ground readers in geographic tastes, sounds, experiences? Which are hardest to write?

P.S. You, too, can have Taylor Ham delivered to your doorstep by The Taylor Ham Man.


22 Responses to “Bringing Fiction to Life (in the kitchen)”

  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Oh my gosh, Melissa – between the Poco-burger and the Gob Sundae, I’d have to run for miles (sans jeep) in the wilderness to burn off the calories!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Heh… You caught on to the very “not-so-low-in-calories” theme, huh? 😉 Running is, indeed, a necessity if one consumes too many Poco-burgers or Gob Sundaes.

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Looks tasty, but heart attack worthy! Can’t imagine what the Gob Sundae holds. Okay, maybe – a gob of this and a gob of that?

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh… the gob sundae… Just you wait, Linda.You are close in your assumptions.

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    This was very cool! I love fiction that includes cooking and recipes, regional ones especially. I agree that fiction needs to challenge the senses — and I’m not sure I can pick a favorite, but I do know that since I often write about the coast, I like to figure out ways to describe the scents of the ocean. I don’t know if it’s the most important but it can definitely be challenging! p.s. let me know when you make the Gob sundae… that might make it absolutely necessary to expedite a trip to AZ!!

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    Melissa Reply:

    So interesting that you pick scents as your favorite. I think that’s the one I struggle with the most. My sensory descriptions seem to be more visual. Need to work on scent and, ironically, taste. Yes, an expedited trip IS necessary. Pronto. We can craft the gob sundae together.

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    I LOVE this, Melissa–no, I mean, I REALLY love this, as in: How much would it cost for you and hubs to mail me one this minute!!??

    Scents can be such a hard one, because I find myself often straining to find a description that is unique or less-used and often can’t–gah! I do love the challenge of it, though–the same with trying to find new words to describe tastes/flavors…

    This was great fun–and yes, sign me up for a Gob Sundae tasting too:)

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    Melissa Reply:

    If it would keep, I’d have hubby serve one right up for you! “Erika – Poco’s up!”

    I actually thought of you while writing this post: your food descriptions are SO heavenly. You have totally nailed the savory, scent-laced description of food in your novels!

    Yes – a Gob Sundae tasting party is a great idea :-).

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    I love that you went to such lengths for one detail in your WIP. =) That’s a sign of a passionate writer, I think. I can’t tell you how many odd things I’ve done in the name of research. I remember the time my husband came into the room to find me on my hands and knees against the kitchen cabinets (I needed to measure how tall a person was crawling, lol!). I still chuckle when I think about that!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well, I guess I kind of reverse-researched this one: came up with it in my head, then thought: Hmm. I should make that IRL! 😉 I LOVE your research story. And how tall WAS a person crawling? Reminds me of Natalia Sylvester, who put a pillowcase of her head in the name of research.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Oh! That’s so clever to make it and get in the MIND of your story. Love that your husband was the leader here. Seriously, that burger looks oddly DELISH!!!!

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    Sounds like an interesting sandwich. And what a perfect way to make your fictional world more real… by recreating some of the details in your own kitchen. I can not wait for the Gob Sundae. Please share!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hmm… Seems there’s some interest in the Gob Sundae. Guess I’m going to need to get crackin’ on that one. Yum.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    The Poco Burger sounds ( and looks!) delicious.
    I love to read stories filled with sensory detail. There’s no better way to immediately transport a reader, is there? Writing historical fiction has been a challenge – they ate a lot of wild game, and that’s easy, as we sometimes do too. But what about sweets? They didn’t use sugar, so honey? The smells have been easier to imagine; the stench of an over-crowded city, or the horse and hay aroma of a stable, the smoke and sweat of a crowded great hall. The scent of beeswax candles. Damp castles with musty rushes on the floor.
    The top two photos are gorgeous, Melissa 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    “There’s no better way to immediately transport a reader, is there?” — SO right. And since I’ve had a peek at some of YOUR sensory writing, this is precisely why I can’t wait to read THE WHOLE THING. You are a gifted sensory writer, Cynthia! I can’t wait to hold your book in my hands. (And your smell examples are perfect — transported me right away).

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) Says:

    This is great, Melissa! For the sake of research, you most certainly should make crazy hamburgers and gooey sundaes. You are a true artiste! 🙂

    I am a smells kinda gal, like Cynthia. The food of the past is less than appetizing therefore I rely on such things as the sweetness of a spring meadow, mustiness of a quilt just pulled from long-forgotten chest, or the “ripeness” of a crowded saloon to help my story “get in the mood.”

    Fun post and now you’ve got me thinking hamburgers for dinner! 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m feeling a bit guilty about MY post, when YOURS was all about HEALTHY alternatives. Um… gee … nothing healthy about a Poco-burger. As I mentioned to Cynthia, above, I LOVE your sensory smell descriptions as well. I need to really work on adding those to my writing.

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  • avatar Lisa Ahn Says:

    I love that you invented the recipe and then cooked it up! I’m not sure I have a favorite sense in writing. I try to mix them up. My husband is definitely the foodie, so if I need meal advice, I go to him. Hmmm, maybe I should write about my favorite foods and then convince him to do research . . . .

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    Melissa Reply:

    I support your idea entirely. Put the foodie husband to work!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What a fun creative exercise, Melissa, and great idea! And the sandwich looks yummy. I adore when food is mentioned, too. I remember reading the Boxcar Children as a kid and wanting a pizza because I had read it in the story. The senses are powerful.

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    Melissa Reply:

    And you, like Cynthia and Hallie, are such wonderful sensory writers. Does The Outcast have any sensory food details? Can’t wait to read it! It’ll be here before you know it.

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  • avatar Julie G. Says:

    I find myself drawn to books that are rich in sensory detail. Sight, smell and taste seem to appeal to me most. My mouth started watering when perusing this wonderful post. Mmm, mmm! I am looking forward to reading about your Gob Sundae, as I have a major sweet tooth. Delicious post, Melissa!

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