Claire King



Posted on: August 12th, 2013 by admin - 6 Comments

Summer Food

Food has been on my mind lately. (This is not unusual).

I love food. I love the colour and smell and taste of it. I love how tactile its preparation is and I like eating with my hands too. Food is one of the simplest human necessities that is also one of the finest pleasures, and you can do it three times a day. Sitting around a table to a meal can bring us together and it can nourish us. Of course food can also divide us, make us miserable and destroy us.

There’s little wonder, then, that food slips into fiction a lot. It certainly features heavily in my own writing

In The Night Rainbow, food is central to Pea because she’s having to source a lot of it for herself. She picks ripe peaches straight off the trees, waits for the morning baguettes to be delivered by the breadlady, and is very happy to take the biscuits that Claude offers. Her mouth waters at the pans of paella at the market and she tries to improve her mother’s mood by preparing food for her.

Food is also prominent in my next novel, although in a very different way, and I often use food as a metaphor in my flash fiction. Here are a couple of examples up at Fictionaut:

Anything Again

Flesh & Blood

Here is tonight’s supper, cooked and photographed by Mr King:

Since we moved here to France, our relationship with food has changed, and I was recently asked to write a magazine feature about our experience – the way we shop, prepare and eat French food. This week a photographer was sent over to shoot pictures of me with the family, as we took our weekly trip to the market, made meals and ate together. It’s was quite a surreal experience, and a very tiring day, but at the end of it, seeing how we eat through the eyes of someone else made me appreciate more than ever just how fortunate we are.

Here is a picture my husband snapped of me in the kitchen between shoots, wondering what to make for lunch:

Claire in the kitchen

And here is the photographer, Tom Parker, in our very shabby kitchen, taking photos of our pickles and preserves! You can bet when his photos turn up in the magazine feature it will all look very French and glamorous. (UPDATE: And here they are!)


But food isn’t really glamorous at all, is it? Certainly around here, the people who produce it work extremely hard for very little pay. If anything, the attitude we tend to have in our family towards food is one of gratitude and respect. Gratitude because we have such good and plentiful food, and respect in terms of our understanding of how it is produced and limiting waste.

This summer we crossed the Pyrenees over into Spanish Catalunya. We stayed at a lovely gîte there, owned by a family who have a few arable fields nearby, plus a farm with fruit, vegetables, chickens and pigs. They also have a Michelin starred restaurant. The farm is called Tancant cercles, which means closing circles, and their philosophy is that they produce the food they serve in their restaurant from start to finish, including growing the grain for their livestock. The owners were happy for us to take our children to have a look around the farm. There they showed us the harvested grain in the hoppers, which they feed to their pigs, they showed us the vegetables they grow and the free range chickens, and let the children go in and collect eggs. They showed us the pigs out and about, and the pregnant sows and those suckling the new litters. Then the owner took us and showed us the fridges, where they hang the pigs which have come back from the abattoir, the sausage and ham making processes and the cuts of meat, ready to be sold, or to be used in their restaurant. Later, we ate in the restaurant, and our children could point out pretty much everything on their plates and how they had seen it at the farm.

I know that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I do feel strongly that when many children and adults don’t have a clear understanding of how the food gets to their plates, seeing the end to end process is an important part of having respect for the food you eat. My children are still young, but they can now make the link between the piglets they petted and the ham they ate. As they grow up, I hope that they can keep that in mind, and never justify eating food produced in a way that they would not be happy to witness for themselves.

If you are ever in the area, the hotel/restaurant is Els Casals and the gîte (which sleeps 14) is La Rovira. They are all within a few minutes of each other, not far from Berga in Northern Spain (Catalunya, about an hour North of Barcelona).

Also, I’m thinking that maybe next year I might run a little writers retreat there, so let me know if you’re interested.

Old farmhouse in Spain

6 Responses

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Great post, Claire, and lovely that you’re showing your children where their food comes from. I grow a lot of my own veg, so I’m always matching what we’ve got in the garden (currently a glut of courgettes) with what we can eat. I’m not averse to buying out of season peppers and tomatoes etc, but I think it’s sad when people – not just children – think cabbages grow wrapped in cling film on a supermarket shelf.

  2. Claire says:

    It’s lovely to have to be creative with gluts! We don’t have a garden, but we benefit from neighbours and end up with lots of courgette salads, courgettes on the BBQ, pickled courgettes and courgette cakes. Yet another way to stretch our creativity!

  3. The restaurant sounds amazing. I love that ethos… and I think you’re right that it’s important that children with families fortunate enough to be able to show them learn how and where food is produced – and indeed what real food is. I work in a primary school and it never ceases to amaze me how often children don’t understand exactly what their food is or where it comes from. I’ll never forget a (really quite lengthy) conversation with a little girl who was truly astounded that tuna was a fish…

    • Claire says:

      Sometimes I think as parents we can feel a bit squeamish about telling children that they’re eating the same animals that they see in picture books, and we’re often not prepared to answer their probing questions about how the animals live and die and ultimately get to our plates. But we do owe it to them (and ourselves) to talk about it. You can only make choices if you’re informed, after all.

  4. Annecdotist says:

    Now I’ve read The Night Rainbow, this post is even more resonant.
    Regarding kids in school, in Spain, where my friend works, they all sit down to a three course meal at lunchtime. Great way for learning about food and healthy eating.

    • Claire says:

      Thank you, Anne. Yes, we used to bring our children home for lunches, until we realised they get a great and varied three course meal at school and an opportunity to interact over food with children their own age and in French, so now they do that instead.

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