From Proust’s Madeleines to William Faulkner’s Mint Juleps, great literature has always influenced readers’ experiences of food. What literary geek doesn’t drink a Papa Doble and think about Hemingway’s famed thirst, or eat a Madeleine and associate the crumbling edges with Proust’s delicate Parisian nostalgia? But you don’t have to turn to the usual literary ‘extracts’ to savor holiday reading time. This Thanksgiving, Literary Traveler lists five ways to re-think the relationship between readers, writers and food.
1. The Cookbook as Literary Classic
Just recently, I discovered that Alexander Dumas wrote a cookbook, the enormous Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine. As you might expect, instructions for cooking and devouring large and exotic beasts are the meat of this manly aristocratic tome. But for any wannabe Heston Blumenthals out there, Dumas has some advice for you: don’t bother with eagle—it’s stringy and tough. Of course, the more attentive and energetic of cooks will probably read that as a challenge to ‘man up’.
2. The Drink Named After an Author
Literary Traveler recently went in search of the Papa Doble, Hemingway’s take on the Daiquiri. The manliest of writers created his own drink, a double frozen Daiquiri that he likened to “downhill glacier skiing” (recommendation and a warning in one).
3. The Writer’s Secret Recipe
Despite her wild and reclusive image, Emily Dickinson had a domestic side. Nelly Lambert writes about Emily Dickinson’s delicate coconut cake recipe, and how she used to hand out baskets of cakes to local children. Dickinson was famous in the neighborhood for her baking, her bread recipe even won a prize. If you visit the Emily Dickinson house in Amherst, Massachusetts, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Jean Mudge’s Emily Dickinson: Profile of the Poet as a Cook with Selected Recipes.
4. The Cookbook for Readers
Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen’s The Book Lover’s Cookbook is a homely compendium of literary passages accompanied by the authors’ own recipes. The book is assembled like homecooking out of a hodge podge of what’s in the cupboard—from Louisa May Alcott’s to Stephen King to Anais Nin to Shakespeare (and a liberal sprinkling of Maya Angelou). Check out my recent interview with Linda Olle, author of The Upper East Side Cookbook, who told Literary Traveler her cooking was inspired by literary idols like George Orwell.
5. The Recipe as Literary Parody
Mark Crick’s Household Tips of the Great Writers is a joy. Two of the funniest parodies in it are the Trainspotting style chocolate cake cook-up, gatecrashed by the main characters cake addict friends, and Kafka mixing up Miso soup in a kitchenette, watched over by some intimidating bureaucrats.
Rich Chocolate Cake à la Irvine Welsh:
“Ah drop a packet of butter intae the pan and light the flame beneath it. As it melts, ah pour on the sugar, watching the white grains dissolve intae the golden brown liquid. They’re dissolving cleanly; it’s good f****** s*****.”
Quick Miso Soup à la Franz Kafka:
“When the soup was simmering, K. cut the tofu into one-centimetre cubes and dropped it into the steaming pan with the mushrooms and some wakame. Looking out of the window into the darkness he noticed that a girl was watching from the neighbouring house. The girl’s severe expression was not unattractive to K., but the thought that she was deriving some pleasure from his situation sent him into a fury and he struck the worktop with his fist. It occurred to him that she might in some way be attached to the interrogation commission or could influence his case…”
So, as our favorite literary chef chimed again and again, “Bon appetit!”