No matter where one comes from, all that is required is a slightly open mind with regards to food and you can just travel the world without leaving home. The world becomes your plate. Love and Saffron by Kim Fay is one those books which bring to the fore the importance of food in relationships and in opening up the mind and perceptions. This is a kindly, gentle book which makes the reader feel warm hearted and hopeful in a world full of disenchantment.
The concept of food helping people to integrate, rediscover lost selves or form new personalities, is not new but in this epistolary novel, set in the early 1960s all these ideas are dealt with through letters between the fan of a weekly food column and its writer. Imogen Fortier lives on Camano Island, Washington State and writes a column involving mainly food for a local magazine. Her articles are read by Joan Bergstrom in Los Angeles since her mother subscribes to the magazine. A congratulatory letter enclosing Saffron and a recipe from Joan starts off a close friendship through correspondence between the two women despite a more than twenty year age gap. Through letters they are able to share a lot more with each other than they have with anyone else in their lives.
The letters which start off formally soon become warmer, move to a first name and then nickname basis. Their discussions of food leads each woman to set out and discover newer flavours, tastes and ingredients. For the reader it is fascinating to think that in the 1960s saffron was considered to be rare and exotic. For Imogen, who lives in a small town, the discovery of Mexican food presents considerable challenges for sourcing ingredients and Joan sets out to expand her own knowledge by visiting specialised markets. The women recount their culinary experiences to each other as well as commenting on the news of the time and their own loves and lives. This exchange of correspondence brings changes and new friends into both women’s lives and has a positive impact on their immediate families, not to mention discovery of new skills.
For the reader the book touches the heart, not just the stomach, and leaves a contented feeling which any discussion of food is wont to. An epistolary book always makes us either want to write a letter or better still receive one. It truly is a dying art and WhatsApp just does not tug the heartstrings in the same way. It is certainly a book for this season even though it’s not inherently christmasy.