Suspend Your Disbelief

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Cooking from writing about eating

Image: Paper and Salt

Image: Paper and Salt

When I was in elementary school, I used to read at the dinner table (my parents were just happy I was at the table!) and I’d always save particular books for mealtime perusal. Specifically, they were books that made me hungry with their descriptions of food. There was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, in which even a meal of yesterday’s bread with a smear of salt pork fat was treated as a feast. There was Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family, which was my introduction to foods I wouldn’t taste until years later: hamentaschen, challah, latkes. And in Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain, the runaway narrator learns to forage from the land, and I would nibble Eggo waffles and pretend they were acorn-flour pancakes. Even now, I can’t read a description of a good meal without getting hungry.

The cleverly named lit/food blog Paper and Salt clearly shares my passion for books and food: as it says on its website, it “attempts to recreate and reinterpret the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.” Some recent posts include Walt Whitman’s Cranberry Coffee Cake and Salman Rushdie’s Lamb Korma. This is more than just a recipe blog, though: Paper and Salt gives historical—and literary—context for each recipe, as with Zora Neale Hurston’s Chicken Consomme:

“I know that you worry about my future,” Hurston wrote to her godmother. “Therefore, if I had a paying business—which after all could not take up a great deal of my time,—I’d cease to be a problem.”

That’s how she came up with her backup plan to become “New York’s Chicken Specialist.”

Like any good start-up entrepreneur, Hurston did her research. She surveyed the local competition: “I have been sampling the chicken soups already on the market and find not one really fine one.” She outlined the business model: Ever practical, she would use all parts of the bird. The bones would be for soup. The chicken breasts, “they’d be my salad material. The other part of the chicken would emerge as a la king.”

Check out the whole set (so far) at Paper and Salt, and tell us: what literary recipes would you like to sample? And what’s the connection between food and writing, too?

Further reading:

Literary Partners