Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Aggregating Stew

Over the coming months, as you read works of fantasy, fairy tale, science fiction, and travelogue, could you do me a favor and note if you happen to spy the word "stew" used to refer to food in the work? Name, author, year of publication, page number and, ideally, an exceedingly brief description of context, where context might be (reheated meal over fire while traveling; laboriously cooked in a kitchen; meal in tavern with bread)

I wouldn't mind knowing about stew-free books either. For example, based on recent reading, I can tell you that there is no stew anywhere in The Night Sessions or Flood, but that Hope's Folly and Moonstruck has characters eating it.

Astute readers may be able to immediately guess at context without me telling them, given how well known the definition in Diana Wynne Jones' Tough Guide to Fantasyland is. I'm doing a paper on the topic for July's DWJ conference, and would love to cast my net of references further afield than I'm able to do by myself, given how collectively vast these literatures are.



( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
what did you think of Flood?
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
It was like a really engaging guide book, with each chapter a different time period rather than territory. (Don't get me wrong - I like guide books.) It had wonderful vision and breadth, but I never wholly felt the plot was more than a way to be a tourist.
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
What a fun project! I will certainly look for stew on your behalf.
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)
I checked the ASOIAF concordance, which has (among other things) a record of every food mentioned in the Song of Ice and Fire series, and found:

Fish stew (II: 17)
Peppercrab stew (II: 124)
Cream stews (II: 195)
Beef-and-barley stew (II: 238)
Venison stewed with beef and barley (II: 255)
Barley stews with bits of carrot and turnip (II: 334)
Rabbit stewed with ale and onions (III: 149)
Stewed onions (III: 233)
Fish stew (III: 286)
A bowl of venison stewed with onions (III: 530)
Trenchers filled with chunks of chopped muton stewed in almond milk with carrots, raisins, and onions (III: 676)
Hot crab stew (IV: 136)

Those are page refs to the UK hardcover editions of each book, which I don't have, so it will take me a little while to check the context of each one :)
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
You're amazing! Thank you so much for doing this.
(no subject) - curtana - Mar. 27th, 2009 12:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Mar. 27th, 2009 10:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - curtana - Mar. 27th, 2009 04:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
I shall indeed keep an eye out for stew! :-)

Also...there's a DWJ conference...? *ears prick up at the sound*
Mar. 26th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)

I thought of you last night. Jon Courtenay Grimwood was one of the panelists at the BSFA meeting. (As I've already told you, I believe, he's one of the Guests of Honour at this year's Eastercon, which is coming up shortly.)
(no subject) - black_faery - Mar. 26th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - owlfish - Mar. 26th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 26th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
I will happily watch out for stew :) Sounds like a great topic!! Where do you want us to send them- or should we bookmark this post and just keep posting here? And does the stew-alert count for DWJ? Because I'm going to be re-reading or at least re-scanning some of her books for MY paper...
Mar. 26th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
Email me, post them here - it's all good. And yes, happy to have them from DWJ - don't need them from Dark Lord of Derkholm, The Year of the Griffin, or the Tough Guide, but anything else would be useful, yes!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 26th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 26th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
That's valuable, especially since - according to a quick Google search - it also says that stew is probably the world's oldest invention.
Mar. 26th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
I'll have to look it up for full details but:
Title: Stepsister Scheme
Author: Jim C. Hines
year: 2009
Page Number: ? (Will have to do a quick look later)

Arabic Sleeping Beauty character is sharing a her homeland cuisine on the road. Naive Cinderella character mentally compares it to a stew while stating that it isn't quite.
Mar. 26th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
Excellent! That's very useful, as I'm particularly interested in stew as a foreign food, and this is a good example of that.
(no subject) - darktouch - Mar. 27th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 26th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
S. M. Stirling
Steve Stirling's (advanced technology stops working - apocalypse) books, [i]Dies the Fire, The Protector's War, and A Meeting at Corvallis[/i].

Publisher - ROC, 2004, 2005, 2006, respectively

"He'd roll the meat, heart, kidneys and liver in the hide, and they'd stew everything when they made camp—he still had a few packets of dried vegetables, and the invaluable titanium pot." Dies the Fire, ch. 5

"The remains of the elk would last them for a while, and the luckless mule deer they'd run into on the way back here. He suspected they'd all get very sick of game stew by then." Dies the Fire, ch. 10

"It didn't stink here, though; it smelled of cooking and wood smoke, and the food looked to be more than the usual bread with stew from a pot kept eternally bubbling on the hearth. Not that he didn't like a good savory stew, but it wore if you were traveling a lot—especially when ‘savory' translated as ‘thick and brown'." The Protector's War, ch. 10

The series starts with scrabbling survivors, then gradually they get more stable and capable of agriculture. I haven't read the third book yet.
Mar. 26th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: S. M. Stirling
Iconic examples, beautifully in line with DWJ's mockery! Thank you!
Mar. 26th, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
I plead guilty, in original (hisorical) fiction, to chicken stew with garlic vs garlic stew with goat.
Mar. 27th, 2009 10:49 am (UTC)
And fine dishes they are; especially if your characters get to eat something else now and again for variety.
Mar. 27th, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)
The subject of stew is a hardy perennial on the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.composition, which is frequented by quite a few published fantasy and SF authors, along with a bunch of slightly published people like me and various writers in different stages of learning the craft.

I don't know whether this thread is of any interest[*]. It was prompted by The Tough Guide.

There's another thread here with some discussion of the history of stew and it's association with EFP (Extruded Fantasy Product).

My own quibble with writers putting "stew" into fantasy novels is that it's lazy writing. They just couldn't be bothered to be more precise.

As I said somewhere in that last thread I linked to, I never had "stew" at home, it was always, "Irish stew", "hotpot", "potater 'ash", "braised steak with onions", "stewed neck of lamb" etc. Stewing was a cooking method, not a dish. It would be like saying, "Oh, let's have some bake with our cup of tea."

Having said that, some people most definitely did consider "stew" a valid name for a dish.

Of course the classic mention of stew in fantasy has to be in The Lord of the Rings. It's even the title of a chapter in The Two Towers namely, "Of herbs and stewed rabbit".

Anyway, I'll watch out for any other mentions of stew and pass them on. Mmmm... An excuse to re-read The Little White Horse. There's lots of food in that. :)

[*] Helen Kenyon was a penname I used for a while. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I wish I hadn't.

Edited to correct glitch in link. Sorry!

Edited at 2009-03-27 10:24 am (UTC)
Mar. 27th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC)
Thank you for the links, and the reminder that searching Usenet can be done in a focused way.

My own quibble with writers putting "stew" into fantasy novels is that it's lazy writing. They just couldn't be bothered to be more precise. (Edited because, with the current CSS on this page, the blockquotes were ineffective!)

One of my many hypotheses related to this project is that one way people deal with foreign food (whether or not it's fictional) is to retreat to core vocabulary words, as neutral as possible - bread, meat, stew. In fantasy and SF, it avoids using context- and culture-laden terms which don't exist in that universe. ("It reminded her of a cross between Spaghetti Bolognese and Philly cheesesteak.") My suspicion is that plenty of tourists and travel writers will also have a tendency to neutralized foreign food when describing it; but I have no proof of this currently, having, well, not done that work yet.

Edited at 2009-03-27 12:15 pm (UTC)
Mar. 28th, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)

Have you explored Google book search? For example, searching for "stew author:eddings" finds 43 hits, of which these are typical:

There were perhaps a dozen people there, a few locals drinking beer from copper-bound wooden tankards, and several travelers eating the unappetizing stew [Belgarath the Sorcerer‎, p. 461]

The twins hurried across to the dwarf Beldin, carrying a large plate of steaming stew and a huge tankard. [Magician's Gambit‎, p. 160]

The food which Silk brought was rough, a turnip stew with thick chunks of meat floating in it and crudely hacked off slabs of bread. [Pawn of Prophecy, p. 75]

A search for "stew author:terry author:brooks" finds 17 hits, including these:

Slanter ambled over from the fire with a plate of stew in one hand and squatted down [The Wishsong of Shannara‎, p. 60]

Freed of horses and equipment, the cousins walked to a tavern and enjoyed a hearty lunch of stew, bread, and ale. [Ilse Witch‎, p. 188]

I'm sure you can think of other authors whose works might prove rich hunting grounds for this trope.

But what does it mean? After all, even Diana Wynne Jones is not immune from the trope: a search for "stew author:diana author:wynne author:jones" finds 20 hits. Not all are examples of the trope, but there are a few, including these:

In a remarkably short time it had turned into a thick stew. ... Abdullah asked as the soldier snared half the stew onto a tin plate and passed it to him. [Castle in the Air, p. 126]

"Here," he said, and changed his plate of stew with Janet's mud. ... But, as soon as the plate of mud was in front of Cat, it was steaming stew again. [Charmed Life, p. 129]

Mar. 29th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you! This is a very helpful suggestion. I'd used Google for relevant secondary discussion, but I hadn't thought to use it for primary sources.
Mar. 30th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
A thought on "stew": it's a decent solution to a problem of narrative economy. There's a need to show that the characters are eating something, but to go into lots of details of what they are actually eating would be a distraction from the plot. ("Lembas" serves a similar function in The Lord of the Rings.)

A writer can't avoid the cliché by picking a different foodstuff (just renames the cliché) or going into detail about how food is acquired and prepared (this distorts the story), or restructuring the story so that the question of "what on earth are the characters eating?" doesn't arise (this distorts the story even further). Neil Gaiman quotes an e-mail from a fan who sums up the problem quite well:
Re: your journal entry on 22 October about "the cliches of Fantasy" - my question (rhetorical in my case, I suppose) is, isn't that sort of thing the reason most people READ Fantasy? Isn't that what they want and expect to read, variations on the theme of The Heroic Journey with the protagonist growing and finding out more about herself along the way? Or is it just me? I almost feel like apologizing for my tastes now, but if I didn't ENJOY that sort of thing I wouldn't be READING Fantasy books.
In other words, you can't avoid narrative clichés and still appeal to the audience that these clichés have evolved to appeal to!
Mar. 31st, 2009 10:21 am (UTC)
I suspect that this is a problem generic to human beings encountering foreign food. I'll explore that hypothesis by looking at travel writing; casual observation says that "stew" and other Anglo-Saxon, basic food words get used disproportionately in encounters with unknown foods, regardless of whether or not it takes place in this reality. They're the core words with the least baggage.

Bread and meat are even more ubiquitous in fantasy lit in my experience; but those words are even less laden than stew, which is why stew gets all the attention, I believe.

Thank you for the further comments on the topic. I appreciate them.
Apr. 2nd, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
Theodore Sturgeon

Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human has the following stew references. Page numbers are from the SF Masterworks edition (Millennium, 2000).


The child's nostrils, then her eyes, found the stew pot.

The making of the stew here is described earlier on p60:

The skinned rabbit swung on the high hook by the smoke hole. He got it down, tore off the quarters, broke the back and dropped it all into the pot. From a niche he took potatoes and a few grains of rock salt. The salt went into the pot and so did the potatoes after he had split them in two on his ax-blade. He reached for his carrots. Somebody had been at his carrots.

Context: A meal prepared by a man living alone in a forest. He hunts small game and steals vegetables from nearby farms. This is his first encounter with some of the other central characters, three children who've wandered into his home after they ran out of food.


He picked up a cracked china plate and brought it over to me. It was full of stew with great big lumps of meat in it and thick gravy and dumplings and carrots.

Context: Another meal prepared by the same man after the aforesaid central characters have moved in with him. This is him feeding another newly-met central character who he's just rescued from freezing to death in a ditch.

Apr. 3rd, 2009 10:22 am (UTC)
Re: Theodore Sturgeon
Thank you! It never would have occurred to me to look in Sturgeon's work.
Apr. 2nd, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
Eleanor Arnason

Eleanor Arnason's A Woman of the Iron People has the following stew references. Page numbers are from the PDF version available from Fictionwise.


"Tonight we will eat well," said Eshtanabai. "Fish from the river and a fat bird. Tomorrow I will give you food for the trip." [...] We did eat well. The fish were stuffed with vegetables and roasted. The bird was made into a stew.

Context: A going-away feast for an Earth anthropologist and her native companion who'd come to this village to ask for help after the companion was injured, and stayed there while she healed.


After that we explored the grove. Nia found a patch of plants growing at the eastern edge. Their roots were edible. I gathered firewood. We baked the roots. They were crunchy and almost flavorless.

"They're good in a stew with meat," said Nia. "Alone–" She made the gesture that meant "the rest is obvious."

"Better than nothing."

She made the gesture of agreement.

Context: Discussion of root vegetables gathered while travelling through unfamiliar territory.


"[...] When the pot was empty, the people would sit down and wait. In a little while the pot was full again, all the way to the brim. It held porridge in the morning. At night it held a tasty meat stew."

Context: Retelling of a legend about the neverending cooking pot of "the Mother of Mothers".


I went on deck. Nia and the oracle sat on either side of an iron pot of stew. They were eating, pulling out hunks of meat with their fingers, and they wore new clothes.

Context: Meal eaten by the natives of the planet who the Earth party have been travelling with, after meeting back up with the rest of their shipmates and going out again to contact more natives. By this point it's been confirmed that the natives can't eat Earth food (the Earth people were infected with specific bacteria to let them eat native food) and so the two groups eat separately. The two natives here are described as eating things like "the forearm of a biped" (p550) and this stew, while the Earth people are consuming things like "iguana with red peppers and green onions" (p551), "beer" and "a sandwich" (p552), "a Chinese breakfast" (p554), and "bagels [...] toasted and buttered", "scrambled eggs", and "coffee" (p557).


In the evening she [Nia] went back to the house of Tanajin. The woman sat by her fire, cooking fish stew in a pot that hung from a tripod.

Context: A normal evening meal, cooked by a native woman who lives on her own by a river and ferries travellers across it. Nia (a smith) has returned after some travelling to pay Tanajin back for previous services by mending her pots.

Apr. 3rd, 2009 10:23 am (UTC)
Re: Eleanor Arnason
Thank you very much for this as well. I very much appreciate it, especially all the time you spent typing up context for it.
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )