It’s hard to imagine Italian food without tomatoes. Or German food without potatoes. Or a summer in Indiana without sweet corn, salt, and butter (and by butter, I mean real butter–you know, that stuff that comes from a cow).
What these examples all have in common is a blending of the Old World and the New, the ultimate in fusion cooking.
Food is a challenge and an opportunity for the historical novelist, especially as she guzzles coffee in front of her computer and realizes her medieval characters had neither of these. Food is a part of culture and a great way to show time and place.
The challenge is not to introduce an anachronism and jar the reader. I was jarred when I saw a character in Return of the King eating cherry tomatoes. Even though J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is fantasy, not historical fiction, the feel of the story is medieval, yet tomatoes are a New World food.
The Food Timeline with its many links about items that make it to the dinner plate is a wonderful site about food history. One hazard: The info is so interesting, the author gets distracted from writing and then gets hungry.