You may think you’re too wrapped up in your current book to stop to eat, but today I’ve pulled together five recipes from five different literary classics or from favourite authors, which you could make this weekend. After all, as George Bernard Shaw once said “There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
ONE- Turkish Delight from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S.Lewis.
“He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn’t really enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish Delight—and there’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”
There’s a mysterious history behind Turkish Delight, in that we can’t be sure about all of the details. What we do know is that it was invented in 1776 by a Turkish confectioner, who unveiled his creation in his sweet shop in Istanbul, and made a small fortune. The facts are tricky to get to, but apparently an English person travelling through the city came upon Bekir Effendi’s shop and, possessing a great sweet tooth, refused to travel home without stocks more of it. He shipped cases of it back to Britain, calling it Turkish Delight, and it has been a sugary hit ever since.
It was very popular and seemed quite exotic at the time (that’s the British imperialist mindset for you), so socialites began a ritualised way of giving each other pieces wrapped up in delicate silky handkerchiefs. Of course in C.S.Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe the Witch uses confection as a bribe, and Edmund has the temerity to ask for more.
There’s a great recipe for Turkish Delight on the Guardian website, where journalist Felicity Cloake explores the different ingredients and methods.
TWO- Brazilian Chocolate Brownies from Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop, short-story writer and poet who was a consultant to the Library of Congress, claimed to have ‘introduced the brownie to Brazil.’ I’ve got a loose memory that chocolate and cocoa may have existed in Brazil for some time before she got around to it, but it’s a good recipe nonetheless.
Bishop famously wrote the anthology North & South, published in 1946, for which she won the Houghton Mifflin Prize for Poetry. Influenced by her travels in South America, she published Questions of Travel in 1965; some poems in this volume deal explicitly with everyday life in Brazil, but other also refer to her trips home to Canada. She taught at the University of Washington, Harvard, MIT and New York University across her life, and late in her life began a relationship with Alice Methfessel.
Her recipe is as follows:
4 squares bitter chocolate (or about a cup of cocoa); 4 eggs; 1/2 cup butter; 2 1/2 cups white sugar; 1 cup flour; 2 teaspoons vanilla; 2 cups chopped nuts.
- Melt the chocolate and butter together – or, if you use cocoa, melt along with half the sugar and a little water. Cool slightly and beat in eggs and rest of sugar.
- Sift in flour, add vanilla and nuts and beat. The batter is fairly stiff – doesn’t run much. Spread about this thick in square pan.
- Bake in a slow oven – about 45 minutes to an hr., depending on pan, thickness, etc. They should be dry on top, just pulling away from edges, but still rather damp in the middle. Cut in squares in pan and remove with spatula.
- This makes chewy brownies – for a harder kind, use brown sugar and an extra egg – or half brown sugar – Can be made thicker and used hot with whipped cream on top for a desert [sic].”
THREE- Crab-Stuffed Avocados from The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
“I had a vision of the celestially white kitchens of Ladies’ Day stretching into infinity. I saw avocado pear after avocado pear being stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise under brilliant lights. I saw the delicate, pink-mottled claw meat poking seductively through its blanket of mayonnaise and the bland yellow pear cup with its rim of alligator-green cradling the whole mess.
The Bell Jar is possibly my favourite book of all time, or at least certainly one that I’ve been reading a lot recently (cough-PhD funding please-cough). This is Sylvia Plath’s only work of fiction, which accompanies her reams of poetry and personal documents. It’s inspired by her own life, charting the story of Esther Greenwood, who takes up a similar internship as the one Plath won, from a similar competition, for a similarly prominent magazine. It goes over the struggle Esther has to find her identity during the internship, and the stark and viciously honest depiction of the onset of Depression at a young age has made this a must-read for generations of young women. It deals with gender politics, with mental illness as an identity rather than necessarily a problem, and there are pages and pages about the superficial glossiness of New York socialite life.
If you’re up to dealing with an actual crab, then there’s a glorious recipe over on The Little Library Cafe, full of beautiful pictures.
FOUR- Coconut Cake from Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson is sort of an idol for me. Not a conventional choice, or one that is particularly healthy, but there’s something in me that is consumed with jealousy at the life of solitude and peace she lived in her house. She was an American poet who wrote nearly eight hundred poems in her lifetime, but was known locally more for being an ‘eccentric.’ She usually wore only white, and before becoming quite severely agoraphobic, she enjoyed walking around the local fields in the fog like a ghost. Interestingly another agoraphobic, misanthropic pioneer of gothic imagery and feminine literature featured on this blog Jackson, who wrote We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Emily Dickinson also combined two traits that I sympathise with hugely- she was scatter-brained, writing things on whatever scraps of paper she could lay her hands on, and she was an enthusiastic baker. Indeed this recipe for Coconut Cake was found on the back of one of her poems; NPR have done some work expanding on the recipe and tracking down Emily Dickinson’s original papers- for a more complete recipe try their website.
Her recipe is as follows:
1 cup coconut; 2 cups flour; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup butter; 1/2 cup milk; 2 eggs; 1/2 teaspoon soda; 1 teaspoon cream of tartar.
[There are no accompanying instructions; the NPR link above has done a kind of modern reconstruction which could be useful].
There’s also a ‘Crash Course Literature’ episode on Emily Dickinson on YouTube here, which I think is interesting, entertaining, and definitely worth a look.
FIVE- Lane Cake from To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
“Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another thing coming.”
Harper Lee is very popular again, because of the recent release of Go Set a Watchman, in 2015, which was an earlier draft of her famous novel. Lee loosely based the novel on observations of her family and friends, and her life more widely growing up in the American South. Mockingbird is famous for being both incorrigibly funny but also for the careful depth with which it considers issues of racial inequality and sexual assault. It’s set during the Great Depression, and focuses on three children, their family, and neighbours, in a small Southern town. It’s the literary origins of Atticus Finch- the famous figure that serves as a moral arbiter to many a teenager struggling through their school reading list- and Boo Radley, who is utterly heart-breaking in every kind of way.
To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize and has since been included on pretty much every list or collection of recommended books you might come across. In it, Lee carefully weaves mentions of traditional American South recipes, adding to the mood and identity of the book. In particular, Lane Cake is an Alabama specialty, which incorporates innocent, light white sponge cake with whiskey, heavy egg-white frosting and sugary pecans. It looks awfully decadent, but could make an amazing celebration cake?
There’s a great recipe at Leafs and Leaves, with very detailed instructions.
Do you have ideas for recipes from your favourite novels? Or is your favourite author also a prolific chef? Comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and suggestions- there’s a whole wide world of books out there to make up article part two!