Dinner in the Mansion of Memory

Kage Baker was a great cook. Really. She never appeared to listen when Momma demonstrated her own native Southern cooking; but once we were out on our own, it appeared she had absorbed everything unconsciously. Maybe supra-consciously. Or meta-consciously.

Or maybe it was racial memory. Kage always claimed that most of her memories belonged to other people: that somewhere in her mind a back window was open, and uncounted other people had climbed in. Her mansion of memory (Kids, check out St. Thomas Aquinas and Francis A. Yates.) had been colonized by squatters. She had come to terms with this as a method of accessing the hoard of information in her mind – she assigned personae to the topics, and “remembered” what they knew when she needed to know it too.

I think. Maybe she was only telling the simple truth. Over the years, I got used to Kage discussing plot and character points as if she were reporting a story she already knew. We talked about the characters in her stories the same way we discussed friends and relatives, and much more often. So for all I know, she really was eavesdropping on secret, hidden and alternative universes; she said that if her brain had to be full of this static, she might as well write it all down and make some money.

Just as she assigned music to each novel, she assigned specific cuisines to each character. While she wrote In The Garden of Iden, we ate a lot of medieval dishes. Most were good, some weird, all were interesting: though I do not recommend the roasted pork with butter-cream frosting … the introduction of Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax necessitated more Victorian cuisine, which was mostly either appalling or addictively delicious. Lots of these foods interbred with what we served at the Dickens Fair, too, and some of the food tried out in our Parlour set was research for stories. Boiled puddings. Ice cream bombes. Absinthe with all the ritual trimmings.

And of course we tried every kind of chocolate we could find. Milk chocolate with lavender and sea salt is, astonishingly, superb.  I thought the dark chocolate with chile was vile, but Kage loved it.

Not all the cuisines were for human beings. The Children of the Sun eat a lot of fried foods – not all the oils can be safely consumed by non-Children, though; Kage longed all her life to be able to swig lemon-scented lamp oil, so she gave that ability to them  … a lot of Chinese food evokes them, too. And hominy grits with maple syrup. (Don’t knock it until you try it.)

Yendri can subsist on plain water if they need too, or if they are  philosophically arrogant. They like smoothies and milk shakes and fruit juices. They rarely eat meat, but like omelettes and  meringues and souffles when they do eat. They can drink just about anyone else under the table, too, and have a fondness for retsina and whiskey. Man, that was entertaining research.

Kage herself being a psychotically picky eater, she sought experimental subjects on which to try some of this mood food. Mostly they were me. (In Mendoza In Hollywood, Edward eats sardine tacos – my work, that.) Demons – who are also psychotically picky eaters – often indulge in livers. Luckily, I like liver, so Kage could experiment with recipes. Eventually she discovered foie gras, though, and had to make enormous moral decisions every time we found it on a menu.

With her passion for veracity, Kage had to make and serve and eat as much of the book foods as possible. Which is why and maybe even how she was a great cook. It has certainly contributed to my having the ageless figure of the Venus of Wittenburg.

Now, though, I must go write. And eat. And drink. I think the afternoon calls for a Pimm’s cup and some water ices … and maybe fried wontons for dinner. With a peach souffle. Yes …

Tomorrow: more on the Mansion of Memory

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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2 Responses to Dinner in the Mansion of Memory

  1. Medrith Nuttle says:

    Kate, I just discovered this blog. I loved Kage’s work, and am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for carrying on. I hope it is helping you- I can see where it would. I lost my dear mother-in-law of 42 years in May, and it is helping her son and me to go through her pictures and papers. Reading your memories of Kage, I see a lot of writing talent in you as well. I am greatly looking forward to the Nell Gwynne’s sequel and everything else you give us.


    • Kate says:

      Medrith – what a lovely name! Thank you for your kind comments. This blog does indeed help me quite a lot, and I am glad it pleases other folks as well. We shall all see where this takes us, eh?


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