AWW Feature: Charlotte Wood on Love & Hunger

Please welcome Charlotte Wood.

Charlotte Wood is the acclaimed Australian author of four novels – Animal People, The Children,  The Submerged Cathedral and Pieces of a Girl,  and editor of the short fiction collection Brothers & Sisters. She also writes the popular cookery blog, How To Shuck an Oyster, and her features about food and cooking have appeared in Good Weekend, SBS Feast, MasterChef, Gourmet Traveller and other magazines. This month, Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food, Charlotte’s first book of non-fiction, has been released by Allen & Unwin.  This collection of essays range from the practical to the contemplative, to the consoling, to the celebratory but essentially Charlotte shares how food and cooking can nourish the soul–and the mind–as well as the body . Love & Hunger will make you long to get into the kitchen to try the surprising tips and delicious recipes, and leave you freshly inspired to cook with joy for the people you love.

My review of Love & Hunger will appear later today, but this is your first opportunity to learn more about Charlotte Wood’s approach to food and cooking with this wonderful guest post..

Love & Hunger has been out for a bit over a week, and as a newcomer to book length non-fiction I’ve been rather stunned by the level of interest in it. Much of the media interest has been in the section called Consolations – or as ABC Classic FM interviewer Joe Gelonesi elegantly put it, “cooking for the hard times”.

Funnily enough, my initial idea for the book was that it would be entirely about that kind of cooking – the sort of simple, warming nourishment to make for people when they’re ailing, or grieving, or broken-hearted. Wisely, though, the publisher asked for something more wide-ranging, and that is what Love & Hunger has become, I hope: a kind of celebration of the richness of life.

I refuse to ignore life’s sadnesses and losses, because I think that is when some of the most profound moments of human existence take place. But I hope Love & Hunger is, most of all, a joyful book.

Once I found the voice for the book I discovered that this kind of writing has given me a freedom to be extremely personal, yet outward-looking, to the people and times and places that have made my life what it is. There are none of the constraints of fiction, which depends so crucially on matters of craft and a sort of tightrope walk in the imagination – and also on a deep and often lonely solitude for the duration of its creation. It’s quite important for me in writing fiction not to think about readers as I work, at least not until the second and third and further drafts, because the imagined gaze of a reader too soon in the process can be confronting at best, paralysing at worst.

By contrast, the whole time I was writing Love & Hunger I felt a great ease and warmth, as if I were writing a series of letters to my friends and my family.

One of my favourite parts to write was a celebration of beach holiday cooking. My husband and I have been incredibly lucky in both being born into sprawling families who have enjoyed many a chaotic holiday by the beach together. We are similarly fortunate to have lots of funny, generous friends with whom we have spent many long weekends in beach houses rented, borrowed or begged. It seems to me there is something very Australian about this kind of holiday, and I wanted to explore that in the book. And maybe it’s the sudden cold snap of winter well and truly arriving that has made me think about it again this week. In the book I wrote:

“The word holiday comes, of course, from ‘holy day’; it has its origins in pilgrimage and worship. This seems perfectly apt—for Australians, that’s just what the beach holiday is, a secular pilgrimage to the edge of the land, the worship of the wave. It is my absolute favourite kind of holiday: flopping down for a week in a house near the ocean with a group of easy-going, funny people who are happy to let the days slide in and out, like the tide, in a lazy, sandy drift. A tangled wetsuit on the clothesline, prawns in the fridge, sand in the hallway.

The other thing I love about summer holidays with other people is the mutability of one’s cooking. We always holiday with good cooks – I only realised as I was writing the book how very central cooking is to so many of my friendships – and there seems to be a particular way of making food in these times and places:

There is something especially good about the grazing, shifting, tidal nature of this way of being, of the way meals waft and move and transform. Dishes are always shared and leftovers seem to last forever, shape-shifting between one meal and another and another until they’re gone. The braised Iranian eggplant my friend Caro made during our lighthouse week, for example, morphed from the main dish at dinner to a side salad at next day’s lunch to a spoonful of condiment on that evening’s barbecued fish.

The communality of cooking on this kind of holiday is essential to the pleasure of the whole experience. For no matter what plans may have been made for divisions of labour, or responsibility for this or that meal, there is an inevitable overlap and convergence, which grows as the days pass and everyone relaxes. Unlike cooking at home, the creation of food on this type of holiday is serendipitous, adaptive, impromptu. There is a natural, cyclic rhythm of coming together and separating, and seeing, in a sense, what the tide brings in. Someone might walk in the door with an unexpected fish (invariably provided by the local seafood shop rather than the fishing rods we bring with us), or someone draws out from the back of the fridge a forgotten rockmelon that must be eaten now or wasted. Or you’d planned on pesto but left behind the pine nuts, or the local shop doesn’t have basil, or there’s no stick blender / mortar and pestle / lemon juicer in the house. So you substitute, abandon one plan and come up with another, combine ideas, and generally make do. It’s liberating, this freedom from expectation, and there’s a kind of lazy amusement in the challenge to one’s resourcefulness. No colander? A tea towel will do. Out of couscous? Use rice instead. Nobody cares that the serving dishes are cracked plastic mixing bowls or the salad servers are a spatula and a wooden spoon. Someone returns from an op shop with a Time Life Spanish Food book, hauls an ancient electric frypan from the darkness of the cupboard beneath the sink, and suddenly tonight’s seafood barbecue is replaced by a pot-luck paella.”

One interviewer said to me that this book was like “a love letter” to food and cooking, but I would like to think it’s a love letter to my friends and family. And to the beach.

 Charlotte, Friends and Food

Love & Hunger is available to purchase

@Allen & Unwin I @Boomerang Books I @Booktopia I @Dymocks

Independent book stores

@Amazon (Kindle) I @Google Play (ebook)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    May 09, 2012 @ 21:00:07

    Given the way that people commune over food, I can easily see this one as a love letter to both food and loved ones! Thanks for the great feature.



  2. Trackback: Review: Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food by Charlotte Wood « book'd out

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