“Soon a stream of servants entered, all women. The first two covered the dining table with an elegant white cloth. A third trailed behind with a basket of silverware and red cloth napkins. A half dozen servants then brought in large silver trays filled with the most beautiful, colorful food Jane had ever seen. This was nothing like the simple fare of her life in Alva. Juicy beef, cooked rare, steaming hot, and smelling of cooked onions filled one large tray. There was a lamb shoulder roast and next to it, salmon that looked freshly caught. There were vegetables of the richest reds, greens, oranges, and purples piled high. Another tray was filled with fresh fruit: blue-red plums bursting with juice, along with an assortment of large, juicy berries. And the sweets! Oh, my. One servant, a young woman about Jane’s age, stepped forward. Pointing to each item, she named them: apple butterscotch pie, chocolate fudge, honey and whisky cake, and, oh, yes, a pumpkin cake. At the sight of it all, Jane’s stomach started to growl.” — from The Factory Girl and the Fey, Chapter 15
Food, and its abundance or scarcity, is a bit of a minor character in Factory Girl. The paragraph above is set in the palace of the Fey when Jane Thorburn visits. It’s a stark contrast to the routine, bland food of the mill workers, which revolves around porridge and bread to fill the stomach but not the soul. She grows up with an aunt who keeps a garden, so there’s some fresh produce in season, at least, but money is tight, and the closer our characters get to payday, the thinner the soup, the lighter the offerings.
Rabbie Stein’s father, Hugh, is the mill superintendent, so they can afford an occasional roast, though it’s seen as a major splurge…which Jane, initially, is not welcome to.
For fun, I gave Skye a love of making sweets. This might be a bit of a stretch since factory girls made little money, but sweets such as tablet are used in scenes with Jane, Skye, Maisie, and Wynda, to show the sweetness and richness of their friendships. And for weddings and handfasts, the mill workers pitch in to celebrate with plenty to eat! It’s a rare thing because money is always tight, but demonstrates that then as now, food is a way for those in community to gather together. Also note that during the setting of the tale, a sweet bridal cake has become a fairly recent fashion, replacing traditional savory bride’s pie.
The Factory Girl and the Fey will be released October 14, 2021! Pre-order the book here.