Virginia Woolf, who placed much emphasis upon dining within her works, famously said that “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well” ( A Room of One’s Own, 1929).
I bought the book Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals (HarperCollins, April 2014) when it came out, because how could one not! As an avid reader, I always paid attention to the meals that the characters were having, looking for their raison d’être: did it bring back a memory of family, was it the first meal you had with your (soon to be) significant other; what did J.D. Salinger mean when he picked the cheese sandwich for “Catcher in the Rye”, or Lucy Maud Montgomery for the raspberry cordial of “Anne of Green Gables”.
Come with me as we travel the pages of literature to indulge with the characters, revealing everyday life and its rituals.
Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” (1957): Apple Pie & Ice Cream
“I ate apple pie and ice cream—it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer…that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.”
Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs” (1988): Liver, Fava beans and a nice Chianti*
“A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone. Go back to school, little Starling.”
*Ed Note: the Chianti is the movie line.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (1925): Cold Fried Chicken and Ale
“Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table with a plate of cold fried chicken between them and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up and nodded at him in agreement.”
Bonus Food for “The Great Gatsby”: Mint Juleps
“And we all took the less explicable step of engaging the parlor of a suite in the Plaza Hotel.
The prolonged and tumultuous argument that ended by herding us into that room eludes me, though I have a sharp physical memory that, in the course of it, my underwear kept climbing like a damp snake around my legs and intermittent beads of sweat raced cool across my back. The notion originated with Daisy’s suggestion that we hire five bath-rooms and take cold baths, and then assumed more tangible form as “a place to have a mint julep.”
C.S. Lewis “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” (1950): Turkish Delight
“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very center and Edmond and never tasted anything more delicious.”
Bonus Food for “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe”: Marmalade rolls
“And when they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot, and at the same time moved the kettle onto the fire, so that when they had finished the marmalade roll the tea was made and ready to be poured out.”
Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (1964): Bill’s Candy Shop
“Eatable marshmallow pillows. Lickable wallpaper for nurseries. Hot ice creams for cold days. Cows that give chocolate milk. Fizzy lifting drinks. Square sweets that look round.”
Jonathan L Howard’s “Johannes Cabal the Necromancer” (2009): Peas
(Ed note: a bit gruesome )
“Then, one morning, the surviving family woke up and found themselves short one for breakfast. They discovered Beatrice tied by her ankles to the chandelier. Her expression was one of purest horror and she was quite dead. There were a lot of peas in the room. The post-mortem discovered another five pounds of them forced down her throat, jamming her esophagus shut and clogging her airways.“
Extra: Characters from the Johannes Cabal universe. From left: Satan, Frank Barrow, Leonie Barrow, Johannes Cabal, Horst Cabal, Bones the Carnival Manager, Dennis and Denzil, and Layla the Latex Lady. Image courtesy of AgarthianGuide on Deviantart.com. Here’s the link for more of her Johannes Cabal images: https://www.deviantart.com/agarthanguide/art/Johannes-Cabal-the-Necromancer-Linup-590426600
Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” (2001): Chili
“Laura made a great chili. She used lean meat, dark kidney beans, carrots cut small, a bottle or so of dark beer, and freshly sliced hot peppers. She would let the chili cook awhile, then add red wine, lemon juice and a pinch of fresh dill, and finally, measure out and add her chili powders. On more than one occasion, Shadow had tried to get her to show him how she made it: he would watch everything she did…………….“
(Ed note: have you seen the series on Starz? Season 3 just dropped the other night!)
Edward Gorey’s “The Gashleycrumb Tinies” (1963): Peaches
“E is for Ernest who choked on a peach”.
Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (1979): Zaphod Beeblebrox’s Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster
Take the juice from one bottle of the Ol’ Janx Spirit.
Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V — Oh, that Santraginean water… Oh, those Santraginean fish!
Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost)
Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia
Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odors of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle, sweet, and mystic
Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink
Add an olive
Drink… but…..very carefully…
The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster’s effect is described as “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon, wrapped ’round a large gold brick.” Or “the alcoholic equivalent to a mugging; expensive and bad for the head.”
Stephen King’s “The Shining”: Wendy’s canned tomato soup and cheese omelette
“She opened the can and dropped the slightly jellied contents into a saucepan. PLOP. She went to the refrigerator and got milk and eggs for the omelet. Then to the walk-in freezer for cheese. All these actions, so common and so much a part of her life before the Overlook, had been a part of her life, helped to calm her. She melted butter in the frying pan, diluted the soup with milk, then poured the beaten eggs into the pan. A sudden feeling that someone was standing behind her, reaching for her throat.”
Douglas Adams’ “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” (1980): Bovine Quadrupeds
Miliways serves “Large fat meaty quadrupeds of the bovine type, with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost be ingratiating smiles.”
Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” (English version,1922): Madeleines
“She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place.”
Steven Brust’s “Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar & Grille” (1990): Matzo Ball Soup
“Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille has the best matzo ball soup in the galaxy. Lots of garlic, matzo balls with just the right consistency to absorb the flavor, big chunks of chicken, and the whole of it seasoned to a biting perfection. One bowl, along with maybe a couple of tamales, will usually do for a meal.”
J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone” (1997): Pastys
He had never had any money for sweets with the Dursleys, and now that he had pockets rattling with gold and silver he was ready to buy as many Mars Bars as he could carry — but the woman didn’t have Mars Bars. What she did have were Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs. Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange things Harry had never seen in his life.
Not wanting to miss anything, he got some of everything and paid the woman eleven silver Sickles and seven bronze Knuts. Ron stared as Harry brought it all back in to the compartment and tipped it onto an empty seat.
“Hungry, are you?”
“Starving,” said Harry, taking a large bite out of a pumpkin pasty.
Ron had taken out a lumpy package and unwrapped it. There were four sandwiches inside. He pulled one of them apart and said, “She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.”
“Swap you for one of these,” said Harry, holding up a pasty. “Go on –“
“You don’t want this, it’s all dry,” said Ron. “She hasn’t got much time,” he added quickly, “you know, with five of us.”
“Go on, have a pasty,” said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties, cakes, and sweets (the sandwiches lay forgotten).
Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” (1965): Shrimp, French Fries, Garlic Bread. Ice cream and strawberries and whipped cream
“Read in the paper, afternoon paper, what they ordered for their last meal? Ordered the same menu. Shrimp. French fries. Garlic bread. Ice cream and strawberries and whipped cream. Understand Smith didn’t touch his much.”
Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1960): Calpurnia’s Crackling Bread
“Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. ‘Shut your eyes and open your mouth and I’ll give you a surprise,’ she said. It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school today had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread.”
Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” (1988): Chocolate Cake
“The cook disappeared. Almost at once she was back again staggering under the weight of an enormous round chocolate cake on a china platter. The cake was fully eighteen inches in diameter and it was covered with dark-brown chocolate icing.”
And in the immortal words of Erma Bombeck…
“Seize the moment.
Remember all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
What`s your favorite literary recipe or reference? Leave a comment down below!
Featured image: The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, from the color illustrated Nursery Alice, 1890.