a Trixie Belden for every occasion: food

If I’m really going to start blogging about food and stuff, I can do no better than to begin with looking at the role of food in Trixie Belden books. There’s nothing like a good description of a meal in a novel; it gives the reader not so much a window as a door into the story, the easily imagined and universal multisensory experience of eating makes the reader part of the story. This works best if the food is in fact part of the story: if it’s simply an irrelevant detail (though “multiplication of irrelevant details” seems in my opinion to be the dominant literary style currently), it distracts, but if used properly it can establish an atmosphere for the story, and tells you a lot about the characters involved: do they cook for themselves, or does someone else serve them? Do they like eating or is some known or unknown plot point taking away their appetite? Is the food home-grown, ordinary, or gourmet?

Andy’s mom recently got me “The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook”–who even knew there was such a thing? But now that I think about it, there is a heck of a lot of food in those books, and there can be no better example of food used as an integral part of the story than in Strong Poison. But I digress.
Pretty much any Trixie Belden could be recommended for food content. The Bob-Whites eat all the time; in many of the books it seems every meal and snack are lovingly detailed. The very first book in the series, The Secret of the Mansion, dates from what must have been a very delightful time in our nation’s past when the health of children and teenagers was considered dependent upon the practically continuous consumption of delicious and incredibly heavy food. The sickly and food-averse Honey is nursed back to health mainly by eating a lot: the produce of her family’s cook, the Beldens’ home-cooked meals, and the meat Jim hunted himself and cooked outdoors on a spit.
Unlike today’s kids, who I guess are fed preprocessed and prepackaged stuff even though we all know it’s unhealthy; most of the Belden’s food was produced as well as prepared at home. They kept chickens and had an enormous garden which was often the bane of Trixie’s life, although the number of times Mrs. Belden is described as stuck in the kitchen canning tomatoes, I’d say she did the lion’s share of the work. She also does most of the cooking, though most characters, male as well as female (and sometimes Trixie herself, much to her dismay) get in on the food prep at some point or another.
While most Trixie Belden food consists of generic American items, when the Bob-Whites travel they eat more exotic dishes (well, for exotic for the 40s-60s), such as the delicious Mexican meals they eat in Mystery in Arizona.
Regardless of where or what they’re eating, there’s a lot of food in the Trixie Belden books, and it serves to help establish the overall themes of the novels: hard work (as in the garden and kitchen), celebration of American and its diversity (from New England baked beans to American Indian and Mexican foods in Arizona), an ideal life of abundance yet simplicity (in love and respect for one’s family and friends, as in food), and above all, wholesomeness.
To get to specific recommendations. Any of the above would be great choices, but when thinking about Trixie Belden and food, these two stood out in my mind:
First, The Mystery of the Blinking Eye, for what must be the oddest meal in the series, and, perhaps not coincidentally, one produced by the combined efforts of most of the Bob-Whites. Jim and Brian wash lettuce, peel tomatoes, and cut up green onions for a salad. Dan begs off, remarking that “the only thing I could cook would have so much garlic in it that we’d be run out of the apartment,” so he and Ned go out for “colas” and popcorn for after dinner. Diana “know[s] how to make Chinese fried rice,” while Mart makes mashed potatoes “avec fines herbes.” Trixie makes beef stroganoff, incorporating “crisped beef with…half a dozen herbs and spices,” which is, by her own declaration, “perfect.” She also makes the recipe that’s supposed to be for 16 people, but the 11 people present manage to polish it all off.
Beef stroganoff, fried rice, and mashed potatoes–yikes! Not that I’m not all for it, but still. Sour cream, I might add, makes an appearance in not one but two of the recipes: the stroganoff and the mashed potatoes, and I don’t know why the Bob-Whites don’t weigh 600 pounds apiece. Also in the potatoes, if anyone is interested, are grated cheese, nutmeg, mace, thyme, chives, and lemon juice, with just a taste of sesame seed, dill, and rosemary; whereas the stroganoff incorporates a more generic “spices,” onions, and tomatoes.
And the kids did indeed enjoy some colas, and not just popcorn but cheese popcorn later in the evening. Wow.
Second, I’d recommend Mystery at Mead’s Mountain, which I’ve already recommended once as a good summer read. All sorts of delicious foods are served, in “pottery bowls” in the ski lodge dining room (in keeping with the 70s flavor), packed as snacks for the kids while they’re out skiiing, and at a very 70s vegetarian restaurant called the Purple Onion.
But the food event that really stands out in my mind from this book is the time Trixie hung around in the dining room after dessert, in order to have a second piece of lemon meringue pie. That’s my girl.

One Response to “a Trixie Belden for every occasion: food”

  1. KDC says:

    They aren’t fat because they are spending all that time working in a garden, silly! And they probably have one car, used only for getting Father to work, not for trips to the Walgreen’s for the latest issue of Elle. Do they sell Elle at Walgreen’s?

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