Radio Readers BookByte: Food to Five Quarters

Sep 7, 2017

Joanne Harris' Five Quarters of the Orange is the second book in the 2017 Fall Read - Food and Story.

In each of our Radio Reader series, we try to offer a variety of genre, and in keeping with that idea, we now move from a nonfiction book of essays about food in different regions of depression-era America, The Food of a Younger Land, to a novel about food in Nazi occupied France during World War II, Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris. 

Both these books present stressful historical eras in which people endured long lasting hardships:  The Food of a Younger Land recalls the Great Depression where people suffered deprivation of everyday necessities; Five Quarters of the Orange centers on World War II, where French citizens lived under oppressive Nazi occupation and coped with food shortages and loss of freedom. In both situations people struggled day to day to provide food for their families.  Both Joanne Harris’s characters and Mark Kurlansky’s essayists sought the comfort of food, steeped in the familiarity of their long-standing traditions.

The Food of a Younger Land includes the essay “Beans,” in which the writer describes Boston baked beans traditionally baked in molasses, a commodity resulting from the slave and cod trade with the more southern islands of the Caribbean. “Cooking for Threshers in Nebraska” romanticizes the arduous tasks women performed, year after year, feeding harvest crews.  As we move on to Five Quarters of the Orange, food preparation is much less romanticized and more mercenary.  Food provides a living for both Mirabelle Dartigen, and later for her daughter Framboise.

Harris’s discussion of food is embedded in a historical narrative where family recipes are passed from mother to daughter in the form of an inherited album.  Although the recipes are important, the cryptic album contains much more: a coded account that finally bares the truth of a tragic collusion in a small French village occupied by Nazis.

Farm to table enthusiasts will appreciate the sole use of local ingredients described in Harris’s novel as well as in The Food of a Younger Land, where each recipe calls for only the ingredients indigenous to its region:  clams in New England, beef in the Midwest, salmon in the Northeast, bourbon in the South, and peppers and corn in the Southwest.  In Five Quarters of the Orange, Mirabel Dartigen grows, prepares, and markets food to provide for her children.  She names and nurses the fruit trees in her orchard, lavishing more care on them than on her children.  She creates her recipes from only the food she cultivates in her garden and orchard,

Food pleases our palates; words engage our intellect.  In this series, both food and words appear in a multitude of forms—Kurlansky’s collection of essays and now, Harris’s novel, Five Quarters of the Orange, so let the feasting continue.  Happy reading!  This is Paula Ripple and Dana Waters for HPPR Radio Readers.