Brain Pickings

The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook and Lewis Carroll’s Guide to Dining Etiquette

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“As a general rule, do not kick the shins of the opposite gentleman under the table, if personally unacquainted with him; your pleasantry is liable to be misunderstood — a circumstance at all times unpleasant.”

As an intense lover of both all things Alice in Wonderland and unusual cookbooks, I was beyond thrilled to be gifted a surviving copy of the vintage out-of-print gem The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion (public library) — an utterly delightful compendium of recipes inspired by the Carroll classic, each accompanied by the appropriate excerpt from Alice’s adventures and featuring John Tenniel’s original illustrations. From “Ambidextrous Mushrooms” to “Bread-and-Butter-Fly Pudding,” the book is an absolute treat from cover to cover and features two of Carroll’s shorter pieces, Feeding the Mind and Hints for Etiquette: Or, Dining Out Made Easy. Here are some favorites:

LOOKING GLASS CAKE

1 pound flour | ½ pound butter | 4 ounces currants | 4 ounces mixed peel | 3 ounces raisins | ½ pound castor sugar | 2 teaspoons baking powder | 3 eggs | 1 teaspoon mixed spice | milk

  1. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
  2. Beat eggs and whisk gradually into the creamed mixture.
  3. Sift flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture by degrees.
  4. Finally mix in fruit and spice.
  5. The mixture should now be of such a consistency that it will drop easily from the spoon. Add milk only if necessary.
  6. Turn into a cake tin approximately 7 ½ inches in diameter lined with greaseproof paper.
  7. Bake for 2-3 hours in a slow oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, Gas Mark 2.
  8. Test with a skewer to see if cooked. Insert it in the centre. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready to be placed on a wire rack to cool.
  9. Cut it first and hand round afterwards.

FLOWER SALAD

acacia flowers | marrow flowers | rosemary flowers | borage flowers | cowslip flowers | elderflowers | marigold petals | nasturtium petals and trumpets | green salad | olive oil | vinegar

  1. All the flowers listed were once commonly accepted for culinary purposes. So:
  2. Scald the petals with hot water.
  3. Leave to cool.
  4. Arrange a bed of green salad including lettuce, parsley, thyme, chives, sorrel leaves, sliced raw cabbage or spinach, according to availability.
  5. Add the flowers to the centre.
  6. Serve with oil and vinegar dressing, proof that some flowers, at least do have the edible qualities of the other flour.

A TOAST TO ALICE

1 flagon cider | 8 lumps sugar | 2 oranges | 8 cloves | 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg | 1 cinnamon stick | 8 teaspoons water | 1 lemon | 1 sherry glass of rum | 1 sherry glass of brandy

  1. Rub the sugar against the rind of one of the oranges to remove zest.
  2. Cut the orange in half, and squeeze out juice into a saucepan.
  3. Cut the orange into 8 segments.
  4. Stick a clove in each and sprinkle with nutmeg.
  5. Add to the pan with the water and cinnamon.
  6. Cut lemon rind into strips and add this also.
  7. Heat over a gentle flame until sugar dissolves.
  8. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  9. Take away from heat to cool.
  10. Remove cinnamon stick.
  11. Add cider and reheat.
  12. Add rum and brandy.
  13. Serve hot in a heated punch bowl.
  14. “And welcome Queen Alice with ninety-times-nine!”

Carroll counsels in Hints for Etiquette: Or, Dining Out Made Easy:

As caterers for the public taste, we can conscientiously recommend this book to all diners-out who are perfectly unacquainted with the usages of society. However we may regret that our author has confined himself to warning rather than advice, we are bound in justice to say that nothing here stated will be found to contradict the habits of the best circles. The following examples exhibit a depth of penetration and a fullness of experience rarely met with:

I

In proceeding to the dining-room, the gentleman gives one arm to the lady he escorts– it is unusual to offer both.

II

The practice of taking soup with the next gentleman but one is now wisely discontinued; but the custom of asking your host his opinion of the weather immediately on the removal of the first course still prevails.

III

To use a fork with your soup, intimating at the same time to your hostess that you are reserving the spoon for beefsteaks, is a practice wholly exploded.

IV

On meat being placed before you, there is no possible objection to your eating it, if so disposed; still in all such delicate cases, be guided entirely by the conduct of those around you.

V

It is always allowable to ask for artichoke jelly with your boiled venison; however there are houses where this is not supplied.

VI

The method of helping roast turkey with two carving-forks is praticable, but deficient in grace.

VII

We do not recommend the practice of eating cheese with a knife and fork in one hand, and a spoon and wine-glass in the other; there is a kind of awkwardness in the action which no amount of practice can entirely dispel.

VII

As a general rule, do not kick the shins of the opposite gentleman under the table, if personally unacquainted with him; your pleasantry is liable to be misunderstood — a circumstance at all times unpleasant.

IX

Proposing the health of the boy in buttons immediately on the removal of the cloth is custom springing from regard to his tender years, rather than from a strict adherence to the rules of etiquette.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to snag a used copy of The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook. Supplement it with equally delightful treats like The Artists’ & Writers’ Cookbook, The Seducer’s Cookbook, and The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

Thanks, Kaye!

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