Bibliotaste: Fictional Feasts


I was reading The Paris Review, chopstick-extended fingers trying to navigate a flailing noodle into my mouth while bypassing the space over my keyboard when I came across an article entitled Hemingway’s Hamburger. The author, Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan, describes kneading a mixture of meat, capers, and spices into a patty described by a recipe for Papa Hemingway’s favorite burger preparation. I looked down into my bowl of udon, feeling that it had suddenly arrived uninspired. My lunch could be much more literate. I could be having conversations like this:

“Are you going out for lunch, Amber?”

*sigh* “No, I just brought this old leftover Nobel Prize Winner Alice Monro’s Rosemary Bread Pudding.”

Even if I was actually going home to finish a half-eaten single serving of Amy’s Rice Crust Pizza, it would still be fun to say.

When Herman Melville penned his 750 page behemoth tale of a man chasing a whale, I wonder if he would have considered that this line about chowder would be dissected by food bloggers 150 years later.

“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 biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! The whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

Come on, Queequeg, said I, all right, probably not. But here we are, with a surprising amount of bloggers writing at that intersection between book covers and covered dishes. One such blog, Paper and Salt, focuses on providing real recipes from the authors themselves, whether it be from their letters, recipe books, or personal papers. Paper and Salt’s author Nicole Villenueve is like the Detroit Cobras of the literary food culture, but instead of digging through vinyl bins reinventing rare soul albums, she digs through archives of literary characters for those recipes most close to their hearts, and provides the recipes with every post. Here, she transcribes Katherine Mansfield’s dubious handwriting for a recipe for Orange Souffle with Sherry Syrup:

“Grate the rind of one orange, & one lemon, put into saucepan with the juice of each, the yolks of three eggs & half a breakfast cup of sugar, stir this until it becomes the thickness of honey, beat up the whites of eggs to a stiff froth, & add to juice base, not letting it boil furiously, just for a few minutes to become well mixed then turn into dish with or without spoon[,] cake at bottom, sopped in sherry wine & … jam, under these final conditions it would be called a party pudding!”

Party Pudding!

Villanueve does not leave them in this narrative form, thankfully, putting them into standard recipe forms and even includes a few pictures and tips on how to make them.


James Joyce will not eat his rigatoni

Some bloggers recreate the dishes whose recipes are only suggested at in a book, including the literary context that surrounds the particular work, such as Czech writer Hrabal in his book I Served the King of England in which assistants feed those feasting what is essentially a culturally diverse Turducken, but with hard boiled eggs stuffed in fish, inside a turkey, inside an antelope, inside a camel. A Camturkfilope? Although this specific example is not used in her blog Yummy-Books, Cara Nicoletti invents recipes based on the descriptions themselves as most fiction novels do not include the actual recipes in them to the food they describe in their narratives.

A short guide to blogs and lists that celebrate the literary/food Venn diagram overlap:

There are also some great books available on the subject including Literary Feasts: Recipes from the Classics of Literature by Barbara Scrafford, a collection of recipes and essays on food drawn from books, such as D.H. Lawrence’s jam tarts from Sons and Lovers. This book makes the claim that sampling from the recipes and reading the essays is sure entertainment for both bibliophiles and gourmets.

Oh, sweet friends! Hearken to me. If you have any stories about recipes you have found in books or any other literature and food story, please do share!

chicken soup

Bonus: Carol King sings Maurice Sendak’s poem Chicken Soup with Rice!