Fictional Foods

Reflecting on half a semester’s worth of work now at midterm time again, my latest school photo project takes inspiration from the classics. Rather than tried-and-true recipes, the classics in question here are works of literature that have made their mark on readers and writers across the ages. Bringing snippets of each story to life in such mouthwatering clarity that viewers may be tempted to eat their books, the goal is to inspire an entirely new conversation about each featured novel. Even though few of the original writings themselves were focused entirely on the edible aspects of their tales, they can provide striking insights into cultural norms, personalities, and a character’s state of mind when food comes into the picture. It plays such a central role to all walks of life, so even when depicted in fictional works, it should be no different. Those who have never read the books featured should still be able to enjoy such a series if executed properly; no matter language barriers, age differences, or political associations, the appreciation of food is universal. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw famously said, “There is no love more sincere than the love of food.”

Dishes have been veganized as needed, of course! While I can’t claim to have the most accurate renditions of each passage due to this subversion, all “meats” are made of seitan or tvp, and no other animal products were employed in any other dishes.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust:

She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called “petites madeleines,” which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary 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 mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis:

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 had never tasted anything more delicious.

Sweeney Todd and the String of Pearls by Thomas Preskett Prest:

“What a strange manner of talking she has!” said Jarvis Williams to himself, when he found he was alone. “There seems to be some singular and hidden meaning in every word she utters. What can she mean by a communication being made to me, if I neglect my duty! It is strange, and what a singular-looking place this is! I think it would be quite unbearable if not for the delicious odor of the pies, and they are indeed delicious – perhaps more delicious to me, who has been famished for so long, and has gone through so much wretchedness; there is no one here but myself, and I am hungry now – frightfully hungry, and whether the pies are done or not, I’ll have half a dozen of them at any rate, so here goes.”

He opened one of the ovens, and the fragrant steam that came out was perfectly delicious, and he sniffed it up with a satisfaction such as he had never felt before, as regarded anything that was eatable.

“Is it possible,” he said, “that I shall be able to make such delicious pies? At all events one can’t starve here, and if it is a kind of imprisonment, it’s a pleasant one. Upon my soul, they are nice, even half-cooked – delicious! I’ll have another half-dozen, there are lots of them – delightful! I can’t keep the gravy from running out of the corners of my mouth. Upon my soul, Mrs. Lovett, I don’t know where you get your meat, but it’s all as tender as young chickens, and the fat actually melts away in one’s mouth. Ah, there are pies, something like pies! – They are positively fit for the gods!”

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens:

The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more–except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides.

The bowls never wanted washing. The boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again; and when they had performed this operation (which never took very long, the spoons being nearly as large as the bowls), they would sit staring at the copper, with such eager eyes, as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed; employing themselves, meanwhile, in sucking their fingers most assiduously, with the view of catching up any stray splashes of gruel that might have been cast thereon. Boys have generally excellent appetites. Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy, who was tall for his age, and hadn’t been used to that sort of thing (for his father had kept a small cook-shop), hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin of gruel per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next him, who happened to be a weakly youth of tender age. He had a wild, hungry eye; and they implicitly believed him. A council was held; lots were cast who should walk up to the master after supper that evening, and ask for more; and it fell to Oliver Twist.

The evening arrived; the boys took their places. The master, in his cook’s uniform, stationed himself at the copper; his pauper assistants ranged themselves behind him; the gruel was served out; and a long grace was said over the short commons. The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. 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.’

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving:

[A]nd he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the bee-hive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty flapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez:

The harmony they had longed for reached its culmination when they least expected it, at a gala dinner at which a delicious food was served that Fermina Daza could not identify. She began with a good portion, but she liked it so much that she took another of the same size, and she was lamenting the fact that urbane etiquette did not permit her to help herself to a third, when she learned that she had just eaten with unsuspecting pleasure, two heaping plates of pureed eggplant. She accepted defeat with good grace, and from that time on, eggplant in all its forms was served at the villa in La Manga with almost as much frequency as at the Palace of Casalduero, and it was enjoyed so much by everyone that Dr. Juvenal Urbino would lighten the idle hours of his old age by insisting that he wanted to have another daughter so that he could give her the best-loved word in the house as a name: Eggplant Urbino.

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf:

An exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish and she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass to choose an especially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savory brown and yellow meats, and its bay leaves and its wine and thought, This will celebrate the occasion…

40 thoughts on “Fictional Foods

  1. What a fun project and great choices on books and dishes- I’ve read all but Sleepy Hollow! Your photos are gorgeous as usual.
    Will you be sharing the recipes? Maybe not Oliver Twist’s gruel…

    1. Thank you! I hadn’t really thought about it, but I might just have to go back and share some of the favorites… That “beef” stew in particular was a surprising success in the flavor department.

  2. I am SO glad that my parents weren’t as enarmoured of food as the Urbino’s! ;). I love this post. It so rightly links food with the classics for wherever there is humanity and passion and thought and understanding there is food. Feasts and famines highlight the tenous place we humans hold on this wild planet and attest to our traditions, our very humanity. Linking food with literature and classic literature at that, is fundamental :). I wondered where you had gone, no Germany this time, this time it was a journey of the mind ;). Glad to see you back and your choice of tableware was perfect for your foody subject matter :) Can your dear constant readers give you an A+? ;)

  3. This is one of my favorites ever of your posts! I’m such a bookworm (although I’ve only read 3 of these) and it’s a lot of fun to see you bring the dishes from these books to life!

  4. As I enjoy (classical) literature, I absolutely love this idea. Thanks for including those text passages, too!
    I’ve wanting to make an “Alice in Wonderland” tea party for quite a while… I should finally get around to do it!

  5. That’s such a neat idea! Seeing “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” featured made my day. The plates and other dishware you used are lovely.

  6. This is so great! I obviously love food, but as an English major my heart lies in geeking out over texts. I’ve definitely written essays for fun on the role food plays in books, but I’ve never thought to make any of the dishes. I haven’t read all these books but I would read a Fictional Foods cookbook if you ever have enough time while not baking pies :)

  7. What a lovely project (and beautiful photos)! I just love the idea of translating these classic pieces of literature into a meal to be shared in the present.

  8. Love the Sweeney Todd “meat pies” photo – the way the filling is spilling out onto the wooden table, the knife, the grinder! Well done. :)

  9. This is one of my most favourite posts that you have ever written! This brought back such fond memories of many of my favourite books and plays and it was just so beautiful! You just made my morning :)

  10. Wow..i really enjoyed this how you linked those photos to passages in the classics. How delightful! It must have been a fun project to undertake.

  11. What a great and fun project! I especially like the Turkish Delight. It would be so cool if you did a whole cookbook like that with your recipes and beautiful photography, you could even narrow it down to just desserts from classic books. :-)

  12. What a fantastic idea! I cannot tell you how many times I fantasized about and craved the Turkish Delight from the Narnia books as a girl. Your Turkish Delight would certainly rival even that of Narnia… and the snow, the green ribbon, and the quote from the book are all little magical details. Thank you, Hannah ans all hail the beautiful Aslan!

  13. This post is one of the most epic (haha.) posts I have ever seen. I cannot believe how cleverly you connect two of my most loved hobbies, food and literature. This reminds me of my Daydreamer’s Soup which I created (in a very melancholic mood) after reading Dostojewski’s “White Nights”. It’s very kitschy and sugary and incredibly sad, but if you do not mind those characteristics, I’d love to recommend it to you.
    Story-telling food + B-E-A-utiful photos = one happy reader :)
    Love, Lara

  14. Hannah, I love this idea for a project! I bet you could also turn this into a book… Your photos are just gorgeous (as usual). I enjoyed reading excerpts from your excellent literature picks (especially the Virginia Woolf), and can’t believe you actually went there with Sweeney Todd pies. :) I hope you got an A++!

  15. Very envious of your photography and cooking skills. I am such a beginner to both but enjoying the learning process!! What a great project. A mixture of two things I luuurve reading and food! Very inspiring!

  16. Oh my goodness! If you have a recipe for vegan Turkish delights i would be would be so happy! I had them when i was little and have wanted them ever since, but of course when i previously had them they were not vegan.

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