Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘cookbooks’

16 APRIL, 2014

Fictitious Dishes: Elegant and Imaginative Photographs of Meals from Famous Literature

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From James Joyce to Maurice Sendak, by way of weep-worthy jelly and gifted chickens.

Food and literature have a long and arduous relationship, from the Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook to Jane Austen reimagined in recipes to Alice B. Toklas’s literary memoir disguised as a cookbook to those delicious dishes inspired by Alice in Wonderland. But nowhere does that relationship come alive more vividly and enchantingly than in Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals (public library) — an ingenious project by designer and writer Dinah Fried, who cooks, art-directs, and photographs meals from nearly two centuries of famous fiction. Each photograph is accompanied by the particular passage in which the recipe appeared, as well as a few quick and curious factlets about the respective author, novel, or food.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, 1963

'Then I tackled the avocado and crabmeat salad...Every Sunday my grandfather used to bring me an avocado pear hidden at the bottom of his briefcase under six soiled shirts and the Sunday comic.'

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, 1951

'When I’m out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn’t much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk. H. V. Caulfield. Holden Vitamin Caulfield.'

The project began as a modest design exercise while Fried was attending the Rhode Island School of Design a couple of years ago, but the concept quickly gripped her with greater allure that transcended her original short-term deadline. As she continued to read and cook, a different sort of self-transcendence took place (after all, isn’t that the greatest gift of literature?): A near-vegetarian, she found herself wrestling with pig kidney for Ulysses and cooking bananas eleven ways for Gravity’s Rainbow.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865

'Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone. Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.'

On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957

'But I had to get going and stop moaning, so I picked up my bag, said so long to the old hotelkeeper sitting by his spittoon, and went to eat. I ate apple pie and ice cream — it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer.'

The book begins with a beautiful quote from Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic Fahrenheit 451:

I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925

'On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.'

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1910-1911

'Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury and very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king—besides being deliciously satisfying.'

Fried, whom I had the pleasure of advising briefly during her graduate thesis at RISD, reflects on her long-term love affair with the culinary details of famous fiction, which possess a unique multi-sensory capacity to transport the reader into a specific world and thus grant the singular gift of exceptionally vivid memories:

Many of my most vivid memories from books are of the meals the characters eat. I read Heidi more than twenty years ago, but I can still taste the golden, cheesy toast that her grandfather serves her, and I can still feel the anticipation and comfort she experiences as she watches him prepare it over the open fire. I remember some meals for the moment they signify within a story: the minty cupcakes that Melissa gives to Chip in The Corrections — a marker of their love affair, which causes Chip’s professional downfall and general unraveling. Other meals have stayed with me for the atmosphere they help convey. Recently, a friend told me that after reading Lolita, he began to drink gin and pineapple juice, a favorite combination of the novel’s narrator, Humbert Humbert. I read Lolita when I was barely older than Lolita herself and was amazed that my friend’s description of the cocktail catapulted me back to the distinct world that Nabokov had created: a sticky New England summer when an intoxicated, lust-lorn Humbert Humbert mows the unruly lawn in the hot sun, pining for Dolores, who is away at camp. Likewise, Melville’s description of steaming chowder in Moby-Dick evokes a vision of Ishmael’s seafaring life: salty, damp ocean air on a dark evening; finding solace in a cozy, warmly lit inn with a toasty dining room filled with good cheer and the rich smell of fresh seafood.

All of Fried’s photographs are immensely thoughtful (Ishmael’s austere dinner from Moby-Dick is not only a nautically appropriate serving of clam chowder, but also appears lit by candlelight), and some bear a distinct undertone of cultural meta-satire (representing A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate edible Americana, a hot dog on a classic All-American diner tablecloth).

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, 1980

'Stopping before the narrow garage, he sniffed the fumes from Paradise with great sensory pleasure, the protruding hairs in his nostrils analyzing, cataloging, categorizing, and classifying the distinct odors of the hot dog, mustard, and lubricant.'

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, 1851

'Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favorite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition…'

In a sentiment reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s parallel between food and intellectual consumption, Fried writes:

Reading and eating are natural companions, and they’ve got a lot in common. Reading is consumption. Eating is consumption. Both are comforting, nourishing, restorative, relaxing, and mostly enjoyable. They can energize you or put you to sleep. Heavy books and heavy meals both require a period of intense digestion. Just as reading great novels can transport you to another time and place, meals — good and bad ones alike — can conjure scenes very far away from your kitchen table. Some of my favorite meals convey stories of origin and tradition; as a voracious reader, I devour my favorite books.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri, 1880

'The kettle soon began to boil, and meanwhile the old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire, turning it round and round till it was toasted a nice golden yellow color on each side. Heidi watched all that was going on with eager curiosity.'

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, 1915

'There were old, half-rotten vegetables; bones from the evening meal, covered in white sauce that had gone hard; a few raisins and almonds; some cheese that Gregor had declared inedible two days before; a dry roll and some bread spread with butter and salt….'

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, 1971

''You goddamn honkies are all the same.’ By this time he’d opened a new bottle of tequila and was quaffing it down….He sliced the grapefruit into quarters...then into eighths...then sixteenths...then he began slashing aimlessly at the residue.'

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 1837

'Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity: ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’'

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1960

''Gracious alive, Cal, what’s all this?’ He was staring at his breakfast plate. Calpurnia said, ‘Tom Robinson’s daddy sent you along this chicken this morning. I fixed it.’ ‘You tell him I’m proud to get it — bet they don’t have chicken for breakfast at the White House.’'

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, 2005

'She improvised bandages and covered the wound with a makeshift compress. Then she poured the coffee and handed him a sandwich. ‘I’m really not hungry,’ he said. ‘I don’t give a damn if you’re hungry. Just eat,’ Salander commanded, taking a big bite of her own cheese sandwich.'

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, 1913

'One day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that, contrary to my habit, I have a little tea. I refused at first and then, I do not know why, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines…'

But as a hopeless admirer of Maurice Sendak, this is my indisputable favorite:

'Chicken Soup with Rice' by Maurice Sendak, 1962

The final pages of Fictitious Dishes, which is an absolute delight in its entirety, also feature one of the loveliest dedications I’ve ever laid heart on:

Thank you and love to my father, for teaching me to read carefully, and to my mother, for teaching me to look closely.

For a side order of literary deliciousness, see Alexandre Dumas’s rules of dining etiquette and some scrumptious recipes inspired by Jane Austen’s novels.

All photographs courtesy of Dinah Fried

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25 FEBRUARY, 2014

Dinner with Mr. Darcy: Recipes from Jane Austen’s Novels and Letters

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Mr. Bingley’s white soup, Lady Middleton’s apricot marmalade, Margaret Dods’s pigeon pie, and more literary treats from Georgian England.

As a hopeless lover of imaginative cookbooks, especially ones with a literary or art bend — from homages like The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook and Modern Art Desserts to conceptual masterpieces like The Futurist Cookbook to actual recipes by Alexandre Dumas, Andy Warhol, Liberace, George Orwell, and Alice B. Toklas, and especially The Artists & Writers’ Cookbook — I was delighted to come across Dinner with Mr. Darcy (public library) — a collection of recipes inspired by the novels and letters of Jane Austen, conceived and compiled by Penguin Great Food series editor Pen Vogler.

From Mr. Bingley’s white soup in Pride and Prejudice to Aunt Norris’s lavish and prolific jellies in Mansfield Park to the everyday edibles Austen discussed in her letters to her sister Cassandra, the recipes capture both the spirit of the era and Austen’s singular sense and sensibility in creating an atmosphere through food.

One recipe comes from Martha Lloyd, Austen’s longtime friend and eventual sister-in-law, who lived with the Austen sisters for the final decade and a half of the author’s life. Lloyd kept a small “household book,” included in which were a number of recipes. One entry reads:

Pease [sic] Soup

Take two quarts of pease. Boil them to a pulp. Strain them. Put ½ lb of butter into a saucepan. Celery, half an onion, and stew them til tender. Then put two anchovies, powdered pepper, salt, mint and parsley (each a small handful) and spinach, and heat of each a small quantity. Half a spoonful of sugar. The soup be boiled as thick as you like it and the whole be ground together, boiled up and dished.

Vogler adapts the recipe into a contemporary version, featuring proper spelling and the use of a blender:

FRESH PEA SOUP

Pea soup was an Austen family favorite: Jane wrote that she was not ashamed to invite an unexpected guest to “our elegant entertainment” of “pease-soup, a spare rib and a pudding” (letter to Cassandra, December 1, 1798.) This was a perfect way of using up the older peas from the garden to produce a fresh, vividly colored soup.

2 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
Scant ½ stick (50g) butter
Few springs of mint and parsley, chopped
3 anchovies or 6–8 anchovy fillets, chopped
Freshly ground white pepper
4 cups (500g) frozen or fresh peas
Generous 1 quart (1 liter) light vegetable or chicken stock
Pinch of sugar
4–5 good handfuls of spinach (you could use lettuce and/or chopped cucumber instead of the spinach)

  1. Gently cook the celery and the onion in butter until it is soft but not browned, then add the mint, parsley, and anchovy, grind in a little white pepper, and cook for a few minutes.
  2. Stir the peas into the mixture, add the stock and a good pinch of sugar, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach (or lettuce and/or cucumber) at the end of the cooking time, and cook for a few minutes more. Let it cool, then whizz with a blender. This gives a nice grainy texture, but push it through a sieve if you would like a smooth soup in the Georgian manner. Reheat gently to serve.

Another recipe surmises where Austen’s jam fancies may have come from and turns to The Experienced English Housekeeper, a popular 1769 book by Elizabeth Raffled. Vogler adapts Raffled’s recipe thusly:

APRICOT MARMALADE AND APRICOT “CAKES”

Lady Middleton successfully deploys “apricot marmalade” (which we would now call jam) to stop her daughter’s attention-seeking screams. The apricot cakes are made from thick purée, which is dried in the oven to make delicious, chewy sweets.

Makes 2 quarts (2 liters)

18 oz (500g) fresh apricots or dried apricots, reconstituted overnight in apple juice
1 ¼ cups (250g) preserving sugar for marmalade
1 ¾ cups (350g) preserving sugar for cakes

  1. Pit the fruit and boil it until tender — about 30 minutes. Then rub through a sieve or purée in a blender, stir in the sugar and bring back to a boil. Boil until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. To make apricot cakes, spoon the mixture into oiled muffin cups and smooth down. Leave in a very low oven, 175°F (80°C) to dry out for 5–6 hours, turning them over halfway.

Another recipe cooks up one of England’s most popular specialties from that era:

PIGEON PIE

It was the custom to put “nicely cleaned” pigeon feet in the crust to label the contents (although sensible Margaret Dods says “we confess we see little use and no beauty in the practice”). Georgian recipes for pigeon pie called for whole birds, but I’ve suggested stewing the birds first, so your guests don’t have to pick out the bones.

Serves 6–8 as part of a picnic spread

4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
Slice of lean ham, chopped
4 pigeons with their livers tucked inside (the livers are hard to come by, but worth hunting out)
Flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
9 oz (250g) steak, diced (original cooks would have used rump steak, but you could use something cheaper like topside, diced across the grain of the meat)
Butter
Olive oil
Finely chopped parsley
2 white onions, roughly chopped
A bouquet garni of any of the following, tied together: thyme, parsley, marjoram, winter savory, a bay leaf
Beurre manie made with about 2 tsp butter and 2 tsp flour
1 lb (500g) rough puff pastry, chilled
Optional additions: 1 onion, peeled and quartered; 2 carrots, roughly chopped; 1 celery stick, roughly chopped

  1. Brown the bacon and then the ham in a frying pan, then add the onions, if using, and cook until they are translucent. Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan
  2. Flour the pigeons well and brown them all over in butter and olive oil in a frying pan, transferring them to the same large saucepan. Flour and brown the steak in the same way
  3. Put the pigeons in a saucepan, and push the steak, bacon, and onions down all around them (choose a saucepan in which they will be quite tightly packed). Although the original recipe doesn’t include them, you may want to add the carrots and celery stick to improve the stock.

    Add approximately 1 ¼ cups (300ml) water, or enough to just cover the contents. Cover the pan, and simmer slowly until the meat comes off the pigeon bones — at least an hour.

    Do not allow the pan to come to a boil or the beef will toughen. Remove from the heat.

  4. When it is cool enough to handle, remove the steak and pigeons with a slotted spoon, and carefully pull the pigeon meat off the bones, keeping it as chunky as possible, and put it, with the livers from the cavity, with the steak. You should have a good thick sauce; if it is too thin, stir in the beurre manie a little at a time.

    Wait for it to cook the flour, and thicken before adding any more, until you have the right consistency.

  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Roll out two-thirds of the pastry and line a pie dish about 3 inches/8cm deep, keeping a good ¼ inch (5mm) of pastry above the lip of the dish to allow for shrinkage
  6. Prick the bottom of the pastry and bake blind for 12 minutes. Add the meat mixture and pour in enough gravy to come to within an inch of the top.

    Roll out the remaining pastry to cover the top, crimping the edges together. Make a vent in the center, and use the trimmings to decorate.

    You may like to use the point of the knife to make small slash marks in the shape of pigeon footprints — a nod to the “nicely cleaned feet” of the original recipe. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the pastry is lightly golden, and cooked through

  7. To serve, this is a juicier pie than we are used to for picnics, so you will need plates, and knives and forks, in the Georgian manner

Dinner with Mr. Darcy contains many more edible delights inspired by the beloved author’s life and literature. Complement it with some recipes inspired by Lewis Carroll.

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21 JANUARY, 2014

The Futurist Cookbook: 11 Rules for a Perfect Meal and an Anti-Pasta Manifesto circa 1932

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Optimism at the table, or why the dark void of the soul can’t be stuffed with spaghetti.

Given my voracious appetite for unusual cookbooks — especially ones at the intersection of food and the arts, including little-known gems from the likes of Andy Warhol, Liberace, Lewis Carroll, and Alice B. Toklas — I was delighted to discover The Futurist Cookbook (public library; AbeBooks) by Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, originally published in 1932 and reprinted in 1989, translated into English by Suzanne Brill.

At the time of its release, the cookbook became somewhat of a sensation, thanks to Marinetti’s shrewdness as a publicist. But while major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune proclaimed it a bold manifesto to revitalize culture by revolutionizing how people ate, what the media missed at first was that the cookbook was arguably the greatest artistic prank of the twentieth century — it wasn’t a populist effort to upgrade mass cuisine but, rather, a highbrow quest to raise the nation’s, perhaps the world’s, collective artistic consciousness.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

In the introduction to the 1989 edition, British journalist, historian and travel writer Lesley Chamberlain calls it “a provocative work of art disguised as easy-to-read cookbook” and writes:

The Futurist Cookbook was a serious joke, revolutionary in the first instance because it overturned with ribald laughter everything “food” and “cookbooks” held sacred: the family table, great “recipes,” established notions of goodness and taste.

Marinetti fighting a duel with the journalist Carlo Chiminelli in Rome, April 30, 1924. He was wounded.

What made Futurist “cooking” so revolutionary was that it drew on food as a raw material for art and cultural commentary reflecting the Futurist idea that human experience is empowered and liberated by the presence of art in everyday life, that osmosis of arte-vita. Marinetti himself framed the premise of the cookbook in his introduction to the original 1932 edition:

The Futurist culinary revolution … has the lofty, noble and universally expedient aim of changing radically the eating habits of our race, strengthening it, dynamizing it and spiritualizing it with brand-new food combinations in which experiment, intelligence and imagination will economically take the place of quantity, banality, repetition and expense.

This Futurist cooking of ours, tuned to high speeds like the motor of a hydroplane, will seem to some trembling traditionalists both mad and dangerous: but its ultimate aim is to create a harmony between man’s palate and his life today and tomorrow.

[…]

It is not by chance this work is published during a world economic crisis, which has clearly inspired a dangerous depressing panic, though its future direction remains unclear. We propose as an antidote to this panic a Futurist way of cooking, that is: optimism at the table.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Indeed, Marinetti saw food as the ultimate promise of optimism — a gateway to sensual freedom, imbued with the carefree lightness of a children’s party and the intellectual enthusiasm of a literary salon. He believed that “men think, dream and act according to what they eat and drink.” But nowhere did his culinary and cultural dogmatism shine more blazingly than in his contempt for pastasciutta, better-known simply as pasta — the traditional Italian staple beloved the world over. He preceded the modern low-carb craze by more than seven decades, outroaring even its most zealous contemporary adherents with the fanaticism of his convictions. Pasta, he asserted, made people heavy in both body and spirit, turned them sour and pessimistic, and robbed them of the creative impulse. The riddance from pasta wasn’t merely a matter of individual salvation — Marinetti even made it a matter of patriotism, arguing that the abolition of pasta would liberate Italy from the despotism of expensive foreign grain and instead boost the domestic rice industry.

He resolves in the cookbook:

Futurist cooking will be free of the old obsessions with volume and weight and will have as one of its principles the abolition of pastasciutta. Pastasciutta, however agreeable to the palate, is a passéist food because it makes people heavy, brutish, deludes them into thinking it is nutritious, makes them skeptical, slow, pessimistic.

[…]

[Pasta] is completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul of the Neapolitans. If these people have been heroic fighters, inspired artists, awe-inspiring orators, shrewd lawyers, tenacious farmers it was in spite of their voluminous daily plate of pasta. When they eat it they develop that typical ironic and sentimental skepticism which can often cut short their enthusiasm.

Any pastascuittist who honestly examines his conscience at the moment he ingurgitates his biquotidian pyramid of pasta will find within the gloomy satisfaction of stopping up a black hole. This voracious hole is an incurable sadness of his. He may delude himself, but nothing can fill it. Only a Futurist meal can lift his spirits.

He then outlines the eleven requirements for the ideal Futurist meal:

One perfect meal requires:

  1. Originality and harmony in the table setting (crystal, china, décor) extending to the flavors and colors of the foods.
  2. Absolute originality in the food.
  3. The invention of appetizing food sculptures, whose original harmony of form and color feeds the eyes and excites the imagination before it tempts the lips.
  4. The abolition of the knife and fork for eating food sculptures, which can give prelabial tactile pleasure.
  5. The use of the art of perfumes to enhance tasting.

    Every dish must be preceded by a perfume which will be driven from the table with the help of electric fans.

  6. The use of music limited to the intervals between courses so as not to distract the sensitivity of the tongue and palate but to help annul the last taste enjoyed by re-establishing gustatory virginity.
  7. The abolition of speech-making and politics at the table.
  8. The use in prescribed doses of poetry and music as surprise ingredients to accentuate the flavors of a given dish with their sensual intensity.
  9. The rapid presentation, between courses, under the eyes and nostrils of the guests, of some dishes they will eat and other they will not, to increase their curiosity, surprise and imagination.
  10. The creation of simultaneous and changing canapés which contain ten, twenty flavors to be tasted in a few seconds. In Futurist cooking these canapés have by analogy the same amplifying function that images have in literature. A given taste of something can sum up an entire area of life, the history of an amorous passion or an entire voyage to the Far East.
  11. A battery of scientific instruments in the kitchen: ozonizers to give liquids and foods the perfume of ozone, ultra-violet ray lamps (since many foods when irradiated with ultra-violet rays acquire active properties, become more assimilable, preventing rickets in young children,etc.), electrolyzers to decompose juices and extracts, etc. in such a way as to obtain from a known product a new product with new properties, colloidal mills to pulverize flours, dried fruits, drugs, etc.; atmospheric and vacuum stills, centrifugal autoclaves, dialyzers. The use of these appliances will have to be scientific, avoiding the typical error of cooking foods under steam pressure, which provokes the destruction of active substances (vitamins, etc.) because of the high temperatures. Chemical indicators will take into account the acidity and alkalinity of these sauces and serve to correct possible errors: too little salt, too much vinegar, too much pepper or too much sugar.

Marinetti proceeds to offer several dozen colorfully titled, highly performative Futurist recipes compliant with these criteria. Her are a few favorites:

IMMORTAL TROUT

Stuff some trout with chopped nuts and fry them in olive oil. Then wrap the trout in very thin slices of calves’ liver.

HUNTING IN HEAVEN

Slowly cook a hare in sparkling wine mixed with cocoa powder until the liquid is absorbed. Then immerse it for a minute in plenty of lemon juice. Serve it in a copious green sauce based on spinach and juniper, and decorate with those silver hundred and thousands which recall huntsmen’s shot.

DATES IN MOONLIGHT

30–40 very mature and sugary dates, 500 grams Roman ricotta. Stone the dates and mash them well (all the better if you can pass them through a sieve). Mix the pulp thus obtained with the ricotta until you have a smooth poltiglia [mush]. Refrigerate for a few hours and serve chilled.

AEROFOOD

The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiters spray the napes of the diners’ necks with a conprofumo [perfume] of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent conrumore [music] of an aeroplane motor and some dismusica [music] by Bach.

The Futurist Cookbook is a kooky treat in its entirety. Complement it with The Artists’ & Writers Cookbook, then spice it up a notch with Mimi Sheraton’s The Seducer’s Cookbook.

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