Eating Authors: Stephanie Saulter

1 Comment » Written on May 4th, 2015 by
Categories: Plugs
Stephanie Saulter

And lo, it is May. The trees around my home are in full flower, the air full of pollen. I’m still feeling a bit worn out from the events of a convention that’s now more than a week in the past, and trying to prepare for a cross-country trip that’s coming up all too fast. In writing news, the ARCs of Barsk have landed, so in due course I’ll begin making myself anxious about reviews, but in the meantime I’ve gone through the MS line by line and sent in my corrections. For the next day or so I get to feel virtuous.

Meanwhile, it’s another Monday, and visiting EATING AUTHORS this week is Stephanie Saulter. Stephanie was born in Jamaica, completed her schooling in the US, and currently resides in the UK. Probably through no coincidence, her ®Evolution trilogy is set in a near-future London. Book two is entitled Binary, and comes out tomorrow in the US. The third book, Regeneration will be available in the UK this summer.

LMS: Welcome, Stephanie. So, what most memorable meal will you share with us?

SS: Trying to pick a ‘most memorable meal’ should be well-nigh impossible. My life has been one of movement, both within and between cultures; I’ve travelled for work and for pleasure, and had the good fortune to know and spend time with people of all backgrounds, tastes and temperaments. The food I’ve shared with them has been as interesting, varied and educational as the rest of the journey. I’ve dined at the tables of the wealthy in London and Los Angeles, Paris and New York; and eaten roast yam and plantain, fish soup and pepper shrimp at roadside truckstops in my native Jamaica. I’m the person who, travelling in a country new to me, will bypass the glossy eateries filled with tourists and choose the rough-and-ready café crowded with locals. Once there I will order something I’ve never heard of, because if you don’t try it then, when will you ever?


But when you first put the question to me, despite all the reasons I should have for struggling to choose any one occasion, there was a dining experience that came to mind immediately. Maybe because we were then in the depths of winter, and the London days were grey and chill and far too short, and I spent them bundled within layer upon layer of clothing which nevertheless never seemed to be quite enough. Maybe that was why my memory flew back to a day of heat and salt and bare-skinned sunlight.

I guess it was around fifteen years ago, not long before I moved to England. I was spending the weekend in the Florida Keys with a group of friends, one of whom had encouraged me to learn to scuba dive and then become my dive buddy whenever we could both steal some time away from our very busy work lives. We weren’t diving that day, though. Instead we were all snorkelling and looking for seashells – another member of the group was an enthusiastic shell-collector – along a shallow reef in the channel between two islands. The water was crystal clear and sparkling, the sand white and fine enough to be comfortable underfoot, granular enough to quickly resettle when disturbed. Against this backdrop, every detail of the seabed was stunningly vivid. Growing up on a Caribbean coastline I was used to coral reefs, but the ones I knew were twenty or more feet deep and difficult to explore properly without dive gear. This one was within arm’s length of the surface.

My friend stood up, knee deep in the shallowest part of the channel, holding a white sea urchin on his palm. Everyone who lives in that part of the world knows to avoid the black ones, with long brittle spines that pierce unwary feet and hands before breaking off and leaving the swimmer in considerable pain; but the white ones have short, sturdy spines and are safe if you’re careful. I knew that much about them, but little else.

‘Should be good eating,’ my friend said, after we had admired it for a while. He pulled his dive knife out of its sheath on his calf.

‘Eating!’ I said, amazed. ‘You can eat them?’

‘Of course. You’ve never had sea urchin?’

‘No. I didn’t know you could. How do you prepare them?’


‘Like this,’ he said, and cracked it open with the hilt of his knife. He did some scraping and separating with the point, tasted to make sure it was okay, and then showed me how to slurp the rest of it up. It was sweet and salty and utterly delicious. I remember feeling slightly giddy as I swallowed it, as though the day itself, with its heat and clarity and carefree happiness, our delight in each other’s company and the simple pleasures of the weekend, had somehow become concentrated, reflected, internalised in this perfect morsel. I have rarely, before or since, tasted anything so wonderful.

I am afraid that the population of white sea urchins in that channel became, for the next half hour or so, seriously endangered. We dove for them and let them tickle our palms before we cracked them open and ate them standing up in the water. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Somebody sloshed to shore and brought back a few bottles of ice-cold beer from the cooler. We stood around in a circle, sunburnt and joyous, and washed down the memory of the freshest sea urchin sashimi any of us will ever have while the tide slowly rose up our thighs and hips and chests.

We probably ate well that evening too, at some ramshackle, sun-scorched seaside restaurant smelling of salt and limes and French fries and fresh fish. I don’t remember. What will live with me always is the midday light on the water, the searing heat on my skin and the cool, smooth sea urchin sliding down.

Thanks, Stephanie. Wow, I’d never imagined tickling your food before eating it. Just… wow.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!



One Response to “Eating Authors: Stephanie Saulter”

Leave a Reply