What makes historical romance un-put-down-able? Lots of things. Great characters, believable circumstances, realistic setting, and so much more. One thing that draws me into a historical more than anything else is the way food is described.
Is the meal typical of what a person of that class and wealth would eat? Is the dish authentic to the period? Is the table set appropriately?
Okay, honesty time. I’m not a huge history buff. There, I said it. The truth is I wouldn’t know the answers to these questions most of the time, but I’ve got a pretty reliable BS meter that can usually tell when an author is mailing it in. One sign is when meals are completely absent from a piece or glossed over in a short paragraph. To really draw me into the story, an author has to make an effort to create smells and textures and tastes and meal-time settings that thrill me.
One author who does an absolutely fabulous job of describing food and using mealtimes to further plot and reveal character is Diana Gabaldon http://www.dianagabaldon.com/. Outlander was the first historical romance I ever read, and may I just say, what a way to kick off a love affair with history! I learned more about the Jacobite rebellion from Diana than in all my high school and college history classes combined. And it was never boring! In fact, I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole time.
As an amateur writer of historical romance who can only hope to one day paint a scene with Gabaldon’s skill, one resource that has been super valuable for me is Melitta Weiss Adamson’s Food in Medieval Times http://www.amazon.com/Food-Medieval-Times-through-History/dp/0313361762/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1334263554&sr=8-1
It’s not super long. It’s easy to read. It’s interesting. It blends an academic view of history and culture with recipes you can attempt and fun facts to make you giggle or cringe (the things they would do with eels!). I don’t read much non fiction because my attention wanders. That is why I will rarely recommend non fiction here.
I recommend Food in Medieval Times.
If you want to give your ability to describe food in your fiction a boost, check this book out. You can download a sample of Adamson’s book for free on your kindle and decide for yourself if you like it. That’s what I did, and now I own the book and refer to it all the time.
I just have one line to whet your apetite. If you’re anything like me, you will not be able to resist reading on:
The following list of foodstuffs, representative of medieval food culture, is divided into 12 different food groups. Information on each item’s origin and history, preparation, social significance, and medicinal use is provided, compiled from both primary and secondary sources.2–Kindle Edition. Location 184