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Munchings and crunchings: food in books

turkish delightI’ve been thinking a lot about food in books since reading Jess Zimmerman’s fabulous article “C.S. Lewis’ Greatest Fiction: Convincing American Kids That They Would Like Turkish Delight”: “It was like looking into Harry Potter’s Mirror of Erised, but for desserts: when you thought of a treat worth betraying your family for, what did you see? Turkish Delight was our collective candy id.”

I admit, I’ve never had Turkish Delight, but it would be difficult for the real thing to live up to my expectations. To be fair, though, that’s probably true of most foods I’ve read about!

I frequently find scenes involving food to be some of the most vivid and memorable parts of a book. I was horrified by Brian’s meal of raw turtle eggs in Hatchet, but I’ve never forgotten it. Imagine peeling open those leathery eggshells… *shudder* On the flip side: I was fascinated by Harriet M. Welsch’s tomato sandwich, and by the vending-machine food at the Automat where Claudia and Jamie Kincaid get most of their meals. I wanted to have tea with Mr. Tumnus. More recently, I commiserated with Lucy Knisley’s (real-life) fruitless search for the perfect croissant.

The fact that the real thing might not measure up doesn’t keep fans from taste-testing or even trying to make the fare they’ve read (and dreamed) about. There are myriad cookbooks based on literary meals — whether they’re consumed in the Wizarding World, Narnia, Laura’s little house, Westeros, or 18th-century Scotland.

Since I’ve had food and books on the brain, I asked my colleagues: Are there any foods that you read about (especially in childhood) and wanted to try, or fantasy foods you wished were real? Any you tried and didn’t like? Here’s what they had to say.

Kitty

Turkish delight was a disappointment to me. Why was Edward so obsessed with it?

Frances’s post-bread and jam school lunch fascinated me. The salt shaker, the stalk of celery, the vase with flowers. The whole set-up was so dollhouse-like. I don’t think I wanted to try anything, but I wanted to live in a world where one could have the time to stage one’s lunch like that.

Shoshana

I’ve always been glad that no one’s ever served me subtraction stew from The Phantom Tollbooth — getting hungrier and hungrier just sounds frustrating. But if I ever did eat some by accident, I’d want to make up for it by eating pretty much anything from the Harry Potter universe. Except, of course, the less-desirable Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (alas, earwax!).

Siân

This past fall a friend and I decided to make November Cakes from Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. Stiefvater even has a recipe posted. We somehow forgot the orange extract and, instead of making the dough by hand, used cinnamon rolls as a base. They weren’t November Cakes. But they were delicious.

Elissa

Fried worms (not!).

Roger

I want Heidi’s grandfather to make me a grilled cheese over an open fire.

See The Guardian‘s “10 Great Meals in Literature” with accompanying mouth-watering photographs. (Roger’s choice of grilled cheese from Heidi makes the list!)

Now I’m hungry! Tell us about your favorite literary meals. Have you tried to recreate them?

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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Comments

  1. Jenn Still-Schiff says:

    Yes, toasted goat cheese! My husband adds: the feast at the end of “The Fabulous Mr. Fox.”
    Here’s a stumper: anyone remember any food from the diner in Sunshine (not for children) by Robin McKinley?

  2. Growing up in New Zealand and Australia, the food in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books seemed wonderfully exotic, compared to our boring pavlova. I finally got to taste oyster crackers (in Boston) last year. Still to taste maple sugar straight from the snow from Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Betsy.

  3. Kathy Wolf says:

    The breakfast that Mr. and Mrs. Beaver prepared for Peter, Susan, and Lucy with the fresh caught fish always excited me.

  4. Here’s where this idea of combining literature and cooking goes very, very wrong: http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-With-Pooh-Cutters-Adventures/dp/1570822611

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