How to Engage in Food-Focused Historical Research

A Weird Circular Guest Post by Beth Cato

Hello my fellow weirdos!

I am beyond stoked to share a Weird Circular guest post from author Beth Cato. Cato is a supreme book marketer, imho, with a fantastic social media presence that manages to combine hobbies (cooking and baking!) with writing (fantastic fantasy books). This is a new feature of the Weird Circular newsletter, where I’ll be sharing guest posts from authors I love. If you want to participate, I am looking for guest bloggers, so feel free to reach out.

Enjoy! This one is *chef’s kiss!

—Your Corporeal Host, Holly Lyn Walrath 

How to Engage in Food-Focused Historical Research

Research can be a daunting process for authors, one that can feel overwhelming, never-ending, and is potentially expensive. I've now worked on several book series that required extensive research, the most recent being my Chefs of the Five Gods duology. The first book, A Thousand Recipes for Revenge, came out last summer, and the sequel, A Feast for Starving Stone, came out in January. They are classified as historical fantasy. I based my world on 16th- and 17th-century France, an era of musketeers and deadly political intrigues, but the setting isn't Earth but a land where magic is derived from five gods of cuisine.

I studied history to accurately portray fashion, ship warfare, and sword-fighting, but most of my research centered on period-accurate food. I primarily relied on two techniques to create a factual basis for my novels.

1) Experiencing the food

I had grand plans for a research trip to France prior to writing A Thousand Recipes for Revenge. Unfortunately, my trip was to occur in May 2020. Alas. Therefore, instead of eating my way across the continent and taking extensive notes, I settled for more book research and trying what I could within the US.

Many highly-regarded French cheeses can't be imported to America because of a requirement that unpasteurized cheeses must be aged at least 60 days, and those that are imported tend to be bland (because of that arbitrary pasteurization issue), hard to find, and/or pricey. There are, however, some domestic cheeses available that are done in classical French styles that worked well for my descriptive needs, such as Montchevre Crottin and Redhead Creamery's Little Lucy Brie.

I found some relevant varieties of alcohol at Total Wine. When I wanted to try a natural muscadet to accurately describe it for A Feast for Starving Stone, Tracy Dempsey of TDO ODV in Tempe, Arizona, actually got bottles back in stock after I asked after one particular vintage, for which I remain incredibly grateful. (If you live near Phoenix, check out her wine shop and bakery!) As a baker, I also made an effort to try making more French-style breads at home, a task that was made easier by the fact that many more complex breads such as croissants are more recent inventions and not relevant to my historical period.

(An important note: some people think everything related to book research is a tax write-off in the US, but that's not the case. As an author, you can't buy gobs of Calvados and claim it for taxes. Read the rules carefully so that you don't invite an audit!)

2) Utilizing Books for Research

I love libraries, but when it comes to book research, I often need to refer to information repeatedly across months. That means I need to own the books. If titles are more recently published, I try to get them through Better World Books, a sale site that benefits thrift stores and Friends of the Library organizations. They also offer great prices. To search for older books and magazines, I turn to That site features many scanned books that are decades and centuries old, and are free and legal to download in multiple file formats. That's where I found handy obscure cookbooks such as Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus and The Court and Country Cook. I refer to quite a few real recipes in both of my books, though many feature magical twists.

Apparently, the effort I put into my research shows. The most frequent feedback I get from readers is that the world-building is immersive and that they regret reading the books while hungry! So, I suggest having a nice snack of soft-ripened cheese, sliced French bread, and a beverage of choice as one settles in to read or listen to audiobooks of A Thousand Recipes for Revenge and A Feast for Starving Stone. Feed the body and the mind!

About the Author

Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in Red Wing, Minnesota. She’s the Nebula Award-nominated author of A THOUSAND RECIPES FOR REVENGE and A FEAST FOR STARVING STONE from 47North, plus the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her short stories can be found in publications ranging from Beneath Ceaseless Skies to Uncanny Magazine. In 2019 and 2022, she won the Rhysling Award for short speculative poetry. Her website includes not only a vast bibliography, but a treasure trove of recipes for delectable goodies.




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