Literary Dinners

I love The Guardian, as might be evidenced by the frequent citations that pop up here in the Free For All.  They are darned fine journalists who not only seek out the truth, but who work together with other papers to produce the best stories possible, and who don’t put their stories behind a pay wall, allowing all of us to access quality information for free (although you do have the option to contribute to them, if you feel so moved).  I also love The Guardian because they maintain a pretty impressive sense of humor and whimsy that is difficult to maintain given the state of the world today (check out their TV reviews.  They are amazing.).  This can be evidence by their series from “The Little Library Cafe“, produced by Kate Young, which features recipes from famous (and some not-so-famous-yet) novels.

Via The Guardian: Novel recipes: cream puffs from The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

I love this feature because it brings the world of fiction into tangible form, helping us feel the texture and the savor the tastes that language can only imitate.  Who wouldn’t want to snack on robber steak with Jonathan Harker (I mean, I don’t eat steak, but in theory?)?

And savoring this series of pieces got me thinking about food in fiction…and all those dishes that we can probably never actually get to taste.  Like what, you might ask?  Well, let’s see….

3-Course Gum from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

There was a pause. Then suddenly, Violet Beauregarde, the silly gum-chewing girl, let out a yell of excitement. ‘By gum, it’s gum!’ she shrieked. ‘It’s a stick of chewing-gum!’

‘Right you are!’ cried Mr Wonka, slapping Violet hard on the back. ‘It’s a stick of gum! It’s a stick of the most amazing and fabulous and sensational gum in the world!’

This piece of gum I’ve just made happens to be tomato soup, roast beef, and blueberry pie, but you can have almost anything you want!’

I could think of a few dishes I would rather sample than the one provided in Roald Dahl’s description, but nevertheless, I can only imagine how much it would save on dishes, cutlery, and washing-up time if you could just hand out gum at a party.  Though it would probably also cut down a bit on conversation, as well…
…But then again, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to serve it until Mr. Willy Wonka managed to work all the unpleasant side-effects out…

The cakes in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words `EAT ME’ were beautifully marked in currants. `Well, I’ll eat it,’ said Alice, `and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door; so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!’

She ate a little bit, and said anxiously to herself, `Which way? Which way?’, holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing, and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size: to be sure, this generally happens when one eats cake, but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.

Just a tip: never consume foods or drinks with imperative statements on them like “eat me” or “drink me” in real life.  But what always appealed to me about the food in Lewis Carroll’s classic was how he turned Victorian etiquette and rules about proper dining on their head (and shook them a few times, for good measure).  The subversive nature of this story is really embodied in the food and drink, especially the tea party, so there is no doubt any foods brought out of these pages would, at the very least, result in a memorable dinner party!

A Pan-Gallactic Gargle Blaster from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Take the juice from one bottle of Ol’ Janx Spirit.

  • Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V — Oh, that Santraginean seawater! Oh, those Santraginean fish!

  • Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzene is lost).

  • Allow four litres 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 odours 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.

  • Sprinkle Zamphuor.

  • Add an olive.

  • Drink… but… very carefully…

One of the great things about Douglas Adam’s novels is the way he makes our own cultural practice, the things we absolutely take for granted, like food and eating, and make them seem alien.  Read his passage about a tea-making machine in space, if you don’t believe me.  But this drink is perhaps the best example.  On the surface, it’s the recipe for any mixed drink on earth–but there is so much subtext, so many tiny stories mixed up in this recipe, that you just know it’s nothing that can be experienced without a trip into the further reaches of the galaxy….



…So there we have it, dear patrons.  What will you be serving at your fictional dinner party?

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