RESEARCHING FOOD AND DRINK FOR MY CHARACTER TO CONSUME
By Cathy Ace
A topic that comes up a lot in Q&As with readers is how I research my books. I think it’s true to say that every Cait Morgan Mystery holds within it a fair amount of cultural background and historical context. This isn’t surprising since I have always been fascinated by such matters. But what I will admit to having done is making my protagonist a bit of an adventurous eater and drinker, because I also think that food and drink can tell us a great deal about a culture. And a person, of course!
In THE CORPSE WITH THE SILVER TONGUE Cait Morgan, my Welsh Canadian criminology professor, finds herself in the south of France. Being a woman after my own heart in terms of her attitudes toward eating and drinking (generally positive, with a side of guilt) I allowed Cait to indulge in some of the things I used to enjoy encountering when I lived in Nice. Escargots feature heavily in this book, as does champagne. At one point Cait even exclaims that she’s NOT looking forward to more servings of pâté de foie gras—something she thought she’d never feel nor admit to herself.
In THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE I dropped Cait into British Columbia’s delightful wine country, where she is a willing participant in a foodie feast. At one luncheon a “retro food” theme is employed, and Cait finds herself face to face with all sorts of “delicacies” she wishes she could forget. Of course, this is offset with servings of liberal quantities of local wines, and even some real foodie treats like snail caviar and chilled sweet and savory soups, so she struggles through the book somehow!
In her latest escapade she’s on the Pacific coast of Mexico, which could offer her tastebuds some real delights—the fish in the area is excellent, the local methods of preparation simple and delectable. But she’s disappointed by the “fake” food she seems to find. Cait also has to face up to the challenge of tequila, since she’s secreted at a tequila-producing agave plantation. It’s something she grapples with unhappily. As I had to myself. You see, I’ve promised myself and my readers that I will consume everything Cait does, and everything all my other characters do, too.
So—back to research. I promise that I do it for all the food and drink, and I also promise that it’s not always fun. Yes, to be fair it’s MOSTLY fun, but not all. My worst experience to date has to be tequila. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed discovering the very different flavors and sensations of the drink in all its forms. I also enjoyed the people who taught me about it—very genuine people who had worked hard, for generations, to perfect their method of making this now world-famous drink. But, although some tequila is very smooth and enticing, my body doesn’t seem to care for the after-effects. I found that even when taken in moderation, and accompanied by appropriate amounts of foods that are said to -allow the body to deal with the spirit produced by the awe-inspiring agave plants, I still found myself with a painful head the next morning, and an inability to face more than a couple of painkillers and a gallon of water! So, if you’re going to eat and drink your way through the Cait Morgan Mysteries, as I know some people, and especially some book clubs, like to do, let me be clear that I have warned you. Not everything is for everybody. Though the white chocolate bread pudding in her fourth mystery (THE CORPSE WITH THE PLATINUM HAIR, set in Las Vegas, and due out in September 2014) might be the closest thing to perfection I’ve ever tasted! Again, you have been warned!