When I was a child one of my favourite authors was Roald Dahl. His fantastical, wacky stories often had fascinating descriptions of food in them that caught my imagination (as well as many other children I'm sure), from utterly revolting snozzcumbers in The BFG, to nonsensical square sweets that look round in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The book that really got my mouth watering though was James and the Giant Peach. I can remember being mesmerised by the scene where James, starving and frightened, crawls inside the enormous great peach for the first time, hungrily consuming bits of it on his way:
The tunnel was damp and murky, and all around him there was the curious bittersweet smell of fresh peach. The floor was soggy under his knees, the walls were wet and sticky, and peach juice was dripping from the ceiling. James opened his mouth and caught some of it on his tongue. It tasted delicious. He was crawling uphill now, as though the tunnel were leading straight towards the very centre of the gigantic fruit. Every few seconds he paused and took a bite out of the wall. The peach flesh was sweet and juicy, and marvellously refreshing. (31).
This scrumptious, delectable, lip-smacking fruit got me far more excited than any of the fantastic, sweet, goodies in Charlie in the Chocolate factory. Fizzy lifting drinks, eatable marshmallow pillows, chocolate waterfalls, lickable wallpaper: none of these even came close to James's giant peach as far as I was concerned. Looking back at this scene as an adult, it's easy to see why it had such an effect on me as a child. The idea that a hungry child could suddenly find himself inside a peach, completely surrounded, floor, ceiling and walls, by sweet, nourishing food, taps into the reader's instincts for survival. Food, particularly natural food like fruit, is a life giver. We all need food to live, and, just as he needs it most, James finds himself utterly encased in it. Sweets like those in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are of course attractive to children but they are considered a luxury, not a life-giving necessity.
The only problem with James and the Giant Peach is that real peaches just didn't live up to my expectations! I remember pestering my mother to buy some peaches, only to discover that as nice as they were, they weren't nearly as scrumptious as Roald Dahl had me think. I was disappointed. The Ladybird describes the "great chunks of juicy, golden-coloured peach flesh" (64) as " 'a heavenly taste!' " (64) and the Centipede exclaims: " 'It's terrific! There's nothing like it! There never has been!' " (65). This made me even more disappointed in my unripe, slightly bitter, supermarket bought peach and I decided to add delicious peaches to the list of other foods that only really existed in the world of fantasy, such as candy floss clouds and big, red, poisoned apples!
Dahl, Roald. James and the Giant Peach. London: Penguin, 2013.