Welcome back for Literary Gastronomy, Part 2.
“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” – Orson Welles
Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” (1861): Toasted Almond-bride cake
“As I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it . . . ‘I can’t guess what it is, ma’am.’ ‘It’s a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!’”
Ann Leckie “Ancillary Justice” (2013): Fancy tea.
Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” (2005): Vanilla Kipferls ( crescent cookies)
Growing up in the southern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, my family was a small oddity; our last name wasn’t Smith, Jones, or Johnson. Even as kids, we knew that our parents—who had immigrated separately from Germany and Austria—had brought a whole different world with them when they came to Australia. This was often felt most around Christmas, when we celebrated on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas Day. We cooked up weisswurst and leberkase and rouladen, with kraut and potato salad, and everything happened in the night.
The other memory I have of that time, of course, is the sweet things. For starters, my mother would make colossal gingerbread slabs and fashion them into houses. Sometimes her construction work was sound. Sometimes it wasn’t.
Us kids would decorate the houses with icing and lollies that ranged from smarties (like M&M’s), freckles, crunchie bars, and jaffas. The jaffas always went along the top, on the ridge. Sometimes small pretzels also found their way onto those rooftops, and it really was the time of our lives, especially given that we felt deprived all year of these things! Of course, we loved it when the houses collapsed as we decorated them—it just meant that they had to be eaten immediately . . . so there was always plenty going on at our place around Christmas.
Next to the gingerbread houses, the accompanying ritual was the making of Vanillekipferl. This is technically the wrong plural—in German there’s no s on the end—but I’ll go with the English version here. As a child, I remember making the mixture and taking clumps of it and rolling it into a long sausage. We would then chop it into the sizes we wanted and make them into horseshoe shapes.
Of course, these cookies were always best made on cold days, which can be hard to come by in Australia around December. Still, that’s what I do now. As soon as there’s a cooler day in the lead-up to Christmas, I start making Vanillekipferl. For the first time this year, I made them with my daughter, who just turned four. That’s the other good thing about this recipe. Kids can easily get involved. The ingredients are minimal, and if you destroy a cookie or two in the dough-making, it doesn’t matter. You just squash it up and try again.
The only warning I offer apart from choosing the right day to make them is that no matter how well you make these cookies, they’ll never taste as good as your mother’s. It’s just the way it goes.
Aimee Bender’s “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” (2010): Lemon Cake
My birthday cake was her latest project because it was not from a mix but instead built from scratch—the flour, the baking soda, lemon-flavored because at eight that had been my request; I had developed a strong love for sour. We’d looked through several cookbooks together to find just the right one, and the smell in the kitchen was overpoweringly pleasant. To be clear: the bite I ate was delicious. Warm citrus-baked batter lightness enfolded by cool deep dark swirled sugar.
Because the goodness of the ingredients—the fine chocolate, the freshest lemons—seemed like a cover over something larger and darker, and the taste of what was underneath was beginning to push up from the bite….None of it was a bad taste, so much, but there was a kind of lack of wholeness to the flavors that made it taste hollow, like the lemon and chocolate were just surrounding a hollowness
Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865): Queen of Hearts Tarts
“In the next moment, her eyes fell on the White Rabbit that was serving the court as a herald and was reading the accusation that the Knave of Hearts had stolen the Queen’s tarts. In the middle of the court, a large platter of tarts was on display.”
Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” (1987): Fried Green Tomatoes
“Idgie and Ruth had set a place for him at a table. He sat down to a plate of fried chicken, black-eyed peas, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, cornbread, and iced tea.”
Astrid Lindgren’s “Pippi Longstocking” (1945, Sweden): sandwiches, pancakes, sausages, pineapple pudding
“And they shouted with delight when they saw all the good things Pippi had set out on the bare rock. There were lovely little sandwiches of meatloaf and ham, a whole pile of pancakes sprinkled with sugar, little brown sausages, and three pineapple puddings.”
Louise Fitzhugh’s “Harriet the Spy” (1964): Tomato Sandwiches
“‘Listen, Harriet, you’ve taken a tomato sandwich to school every day for five years. Don’t you get tired of them?’
A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” (1926): Honey
“‘Well,’ said Pooh, ‘it’s the middle of the night, which is a good time for going to sleep. And to-morrow morning we’ll have some honey for breakfast. Do Tiggers like honey?’
‘They like everything,’ said Tigger cheerfully.”
What’s your favorite literary recipe or reference? Leave a comment down below!