Savouring Taste Treats: Using the Senses in Writing

Senses evoke such different responses in everyone, so it was fantastic to get feedback from people about their experiences, from last week’s blog, ‘Music Evoking Memories’. Thank you.

When we try to describe a situation we might have encountered to someone else,  we often simply talk about what we saw, or maybe what was said. But for an author, all the senses need to be engaged, to really capture the moment. Much as I love photography, I’m always frustrated that only the visual is captured. Who was on the street? What did it sound like?  What did the air smell of, or taste like?

The sense of taste, like any other sense can evoke memory. But much as we might enjoy certain foods over another, at a basic level we also associate it with being hungry, or once we’ve eaten, being full.These are things most people reading this blog will take for granted. We get hungry we eat, we ‘re full. A few hours later the ritual is repeated. Sometimes we eat alone. Sometime times with others. Each time has a different connotation, a different emphasis, and through these experiences we build memory and associations.

Radio Echo is set during World War II and food rationing was a major part of life for all the countries involved. Ration books were issued in the UK at the beginning of 1940 and continued until 1953. It was not limited to food but included petrol, clothing, bicycles and most hard goods. The US brought in similar rationing in 1943.

Much of the effort to encourage people to participate fully and get behind the idea in the UK came from the Ministry of Food.

Here is a short flash film:


Many people had ‘Dig for Victory Gardens’ and grew their own food. And of course the lack of protein was made up for in creative ways – two of which were using whale meat and eating horses!


In the novel, as in the reality of wartime, the black market is used for those who had both the money and the contacts.

Italy, where Radio Echo is set,  is known for its fabulous food and  wonderfully simple, but flavorful ingredients.  But during the war, Italy was badly hit by poverty and food shortages, especially in cities like Bologna that had been heavily bombed.

Communal kitchens were set up, and neighbors for the most part helped each other. But the Black market was thriving there as well as in the UK and US. There was no waiting at the Bologna Market Hall for hours for a loaf of bread for the Benedetti family who is central to the novel.

But whether it was bought from the Black Market or doled out in the small rationed portions, food was savored, appreciated in a way that is foreign to many of us today. An onion or an orange is not a rare commodity.  We take them for granted. And by doing so, we miss the uniqueness of their taste. Their specialness.


The sense of taste evoking memory is different for different people. Perhaps the first time you ate a particular food or something you might have been forced to eat as a child sticks in your mind and is remembered by the same taste. Or avoided.

At my junior school, after the boiled meat and cabbage variation on lunch, we often had pink blancmange for dessert – basically jelly (Jell-O) with milk. God knows what the pink was from  – some gross strawberry flavoring. It’s the kind of thick pudding that lodges in your throat, making you feel sick with every spoonful. I have a clear humiliating memory of being made to stay in the canteen for the second sitting with the ‘big kids’ until I finished my pink blancmange. Maybe that’s why I’ve never liked the color pink.

Let me know what your taste buds long for or where they take you. Your comments are always the most interesting part of writing this blog.

To end on the note of one of the the most popular tastes – if you’re looking for a great chocolate shop somewhere near you, check out this blog

Doreen is writing a Chocolate Travel book.

Happy eating.








  1. Great post, A.K., and thanks for linking to my chocolate travel blog! I’m always pleased to have folks come over and share chocolate thoughts with me.

    Funny how we define our lives by the senses that are aroused by any given moment. I always remember how a plate of food looked and smelled just as much as how it tasted. It’s all about the presentation and the setting in which we enjoy it. That’s why chocolate companies and chocolatiers make a special effort to display and package their chocolates in a very special way. It adds to the experience, and in turn, enhances the memories of that particular moment or product.

    I would never want to eat in one of those dark restaurants where there are no lights/you are blindfolded. That would take half the pleasure away from my dining experience.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..blogging your way to smilesMy Profile

  2. AK Andrew says

    Thanks so much for your comments Doreen & you’re most welcome for the link.
    That’s so true about the presentation of food, but then I suppose it would heighten the other senses- taste being one of them. I guess that’s where the imagination would also have to take over for the visual side of things. I’ve never been to one myself either but I would have to look at it as just a different kind of experience.
    Presentation is really important for most visually pleasing things tho eg.paintings can be completely transformed by a frame into a completely ‘other’ piece if art. Same with photographs too.
    Somewhere in there ‘ less is more ‘ needs to come into play , so perhaps that’s where the sensory deprivation comes full circle.

  3. I’ve still got my grandmother’s ration book and a wartime cookery book with tips on how to use powdered egg and such-like. Glad I don’t have those things to worry about although having lived in the developing world I am well aware of how food is still unevenly distributed globally.

  4. akandrewcom says

    That’s amazing you still have those items Kate – especially the cookery book. Maybe we should organize a ‘wartime food ‘ week? Can’t see it going over too well though it might be an interesting fundraiser at some point.
    I was very aware also as I was writing this post, of how much we take food for granted and that it is absolutely not a given in parts of the developing world. (Or even the UK & US for that matter.) Thanks for the comments, and particularly for raising the last issue.

  5. Whenever I smell freshly baked bread, I get transported back to my Granny’s kitchen on her farm(now belongs to my aunt) My Gran would take a hot bread out of the coal stove and cut the crust off for me and spread butter on it. No bread will ever taste better. The roads were terrible and are still terrible so there is no popping of to the shop for a loaf of bread.

    I know my Dad was always excited to taste different cabbage stews. His Mom had made one that he remembered as divine, sadly none he ever tasted ever captured that elusive taste he sought.

    Personally I am always buying fruit rolls made by different sources in the hope of capturing the taste of the home made fruit rolls that my Gran used to make.

    My ex mother in law used to make the best fish cakes which is also a taste that nobody else ever seems capable of capturing.

  6. akandrewcom says

    Hey Vivian, Thanks for the comment. Def. homemade baking of any sort is way up of the list of evocative memories regarding food. As to cabbage stews – now you’re the first person I’ve come across who knew anyone excited about cabbage stews. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, and as you said he was trying to capture something from a different era. Particular recipes are almost impossible to replicate, so I now feel happy if I can even replicate something that was half way decent that I made myself.

    Hope to see you visiting soon. I really enjoy your site.
    For those who haven’t seen it here’s the link:

  7. Thank you AK for the compliment and link to my blog. Yip not many people that would claim a desire for cabbage stew. My Dad hated poached eggs because of “boarding school” he was in an orphanage but always referred to it as boarding school. I know you have a love of history

  8. akandrewcom says

    You’re welcome Vivian. Bad associations with food can stay with you for your whole life. Especially when it’s something as traumatic as being in an orphanage. Good to hear from you.

  9. Good post. My Mum kept her ration book and some other war time pictures. Hard to believe what people lived on. Good to be reminded how much we take for granted.