Radio Readers BookByte: Five Quarters And A Recipe

Sep 18, 2017

Jason Harp of Hays, Kansas -- a self-proclaimed chef and cookbook author -- compares Harris' recipes to the art of telling a story and making a book.
Credit Open Source

Hello, Radio Readers – this is Jason Harper, a food and fiction connoisseur (as well as a solely self-proclaimed chef and author) coming to you from Hays, Kansas. Today, I’ll be talking about High Plains Public Radio's 2017 Fall Read – Food and Story, delivering part one of my four-part Book Byte about Five Quarters of the Orange, a novel by Joanne Harris.

As per her m/o in her previous work, Harris includes quite a few food references and even some recipes in Five Quarters of the Orange. One recipe from this novel in particular that caught my attention is for an Apple and Dried-Apricot dessert. It reads as follows:

Beat the eggs and flour together with the sugar and melted butter until the consistency is thick and creamy. Add the milk little by little, beating all the time. The final consistency should be a thin batter. Rub a dish generously with butter, and add the sliced fruit to the batter. Add cinnamon and allspice and put into the oven at a medium temperature. When the cake has begun to rise, add brown sugar to the top and dot with butter. Bake until the top is crisp and firm to the touch.

This recipe got me thinking … that creating a great book just might be a bit the same as baking a delicious dessert. Let’s look at Harris's recipe steps and then apply those steps to storytelling.

In storytelling, we gather the best ingredients that we can find – eggs, flour, sugar, and butter – characters, plots, subplots, and themes – then “beat” them together with exposition, characterization, and dramatic tension until they are all in a chaotic mess of a mixture.

Adding in milk -- the nourishment -- is to feed the mixture, to make the story grow.

On the sentence level, spices like rhyme, alliteration, and assonance add a unique taste. To sweeten it up, add a healthy dash of a love interest. To sustain the mixture, the story needs anticipation. Imagery and motifs make it look pleasing to the eye. 

Pour all these items into a dish, which perhaps could be thought of as the setting, and “When the cake has begun to rise, add brown sugar to the top and dot with butter.” This rise of the cake is the rise of the action in the story, and after the resolution, add some finishing touches, the “dust of brown sugar and a dot of butter.” Then, we readers finish eating up the reading experience, and feel satisfied that we just had our cake ... and ate it, too.