One might not think literature greats like Steinbeck, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or Jane Austen cared much for food. Between sweeping romances, dramatic ethical dilemmas and complex plots, details like what the main characters are eating can almost seem like an afterthought. It makes one wonder, who cares? I want to know if Elizabeth will accept a dance with Mr. Darcy at Netherfield Hall, not what punch was served behind her when she swept a haughty curtsy to the rich debonair Lord of Pemberley. After some thought, I have concluded that things like what the characters eat, what the heroine wore, and where the star-crossed lovers gave in to their passions do matter.
Details set the stage for a story and entice the reader to get pulled into the author’s imagination. Food writer Adam Gopnik said it well in a 2007 article of The New Yorker called “Cooked Books” that food is used to tell the reader something about the characters. Holden Caulfield is eating a Swiss cheese sandwich in Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye, while James Bond sips on a Vesper Martini and Proust dips a madeleine in linden-flower tea. Why are these details important? Gopnik writes that recipes in literature are not meant to be made because they have literary purposes, “and one of them is to represent the background of thought. Every age finds an activity that can take place while a character is meditating; the activity surrounds and halos the meditation. “
Check out the article, Here, to learn more. The following dishes comprise a literary-themed meal of recipes from popular literature.
“By the by, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield?—I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party,”
“I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”
“If you mean Darcy,” cried her brother, “he may go to bed, if he chooses, before it begins—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.”
“I should like balls infinitely better,” she replied, “if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”
“Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”
Velvety White Soup is made creamy with almonds and egg yolks. With celery, onions, herbs, cream and bread as ingredients, this soup is an example of the refined decadence found in Austen’s Regency England.
“Having invited Helen and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, she got up, unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a parcel wrapped in paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seedcake.’
‘I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you,’ said she, ‘but as there is so little toast, you must have it now,’ and she proceeded to cut slices with a generous hand. We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia; and not the least delight of the entertainment was the smile of gratification with which our hostess regarded us, as we satisfied our famished appetites on the delicate fare she liberally supplied.”
This Seed Cake recipe, adapted from Mrs. Beeton’s Cookbook of Household Management, benefits from such flavors as citrus peel, caraway seed, brandy and nutmeg. I’m sure Jane Eyre felt mightily uplifted from her dull existence in a dreary British girl’s academy by such aromatic flavors.
“A warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me,”
“It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition.”
Melville wrote an entire chapter about this delicious Clam Chowder in his book Moby Dick. The extensive description of this seafood stew shows that the author was clearly enamored with fish on more than one level. Bacon, onions, potatoes and cream make this hefty soup that would be perfect on really cold, winter nights.
“While he ate his sandwich and sipped his beer, a bit of conversation came back to him. Blaisedell, the poet, had said to him, “You love beer so much. I’ll bet some day you’ll go in and order a beer milkshake. He wondered what a beer milk shake would taste like. The idea gagged him but he couldn’t let it alone. It cropped up every time he had a glass of beer. Would it curdle the milk? Would you add sugar? It was like shrimp ice cream. Once the thing got into your head you couldn’t forget it.”
This playful take on Steinbeck’s whimsically named Beer Milkshake uses dark Guinness Stout beer, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Creme de Menthe and vanilla ice cream. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds awesome?
“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight.”
Turkish Delight is a candy flavored with rosewater, orange and pistachios that is then dredged in confectioner’s sugar. This 15th century gummy candy is aromatic and sweet.
Have you read a mouth-watering food description in any books recently, or perhaps in a favorite novel? Let me know your experiences of food in books! To try the recipes from the pictures above, simply click a picture to be directed to the corresponding website, and feel free to have your own literary-themed dinner party or date night. Until next time!