A few years ago, in honour of a beloved family member who was born in that decade, my sons and I decided to organize a 1930’s themed dinner party. With lots of time to plan, it was agreed that the evening’s guests would each be given the identity of someone who had been famous in the ‘30s. Our guests were to learn as much as they could about their character and arrive in disguise, ready to play their part.
What an evening! Without too much trouble, we managed to assemble in my parlour such luminaries as Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Amelia Earhart, Simone de Beauvoir, Greta Garbo, Zelda Fitzgerald, Winston Churchill, Vivien Leigh, Alfred Hitchcock and even Emperor Hirohito.
Planning the evening’s menu was a lot more tricky than expected. The 1930’s meant the Great Depression and the early rumblings and eventual declaration of another world war: there was more oat than haute in the decade’s cuisine!
And then suddenly, I struck gold, when an internet search turned up The Nero Wolfe Cook Book, by none other than novelist Rex Stout himself. Published in 1973 (just two years before Stout’s death), the book features more than 225 recipes drawn from the superb dishes often prepared and served to Wolfe by his majordomo, butler and cook, Fritz Benner. I tracked down a used library copy, its pages a little yellowed, but otherwise in mint condition.
I don’t remember which recipes we eventually settled on, but I remember spending hours poring over dishes like “Shad Roe with Creole Sauce”, “Hedgehog Omelette”, “Duckling Roasted in Cider with Spanish Sauce” and “Capon Souvaroff”. What a treat!
I was just recently reminded of this wonderful volume and the evening it touched with its magic when I came upon a lovely little book by photographer Dinah Fried titled FICTITIOUS DISHES, An Album of Literature’s Most memorable Meals (2014). Described online as “a book that serves up a delectable assortment of photographic interpretations of culinary moments from contemporary and classic literature”, FICTITIOUS DISHES includes interesting food facts and entertaining anecdotes about the authors, their work, and their culinary predilections, as well as the excerpts that inspired the shots themselves, and brief summaries of the books cited in the work.
I opened the small, hardcover book with such anticipation! Which of literature’s memorable meals had inspired Fried? I had no idea. Actually, I had a devilishly difficult time coming up with even five such recollections from all the books I’ve read. Joanne Harris’ Chocolat seemed a shoe-in, but it wasn’t there, and neither were Nero Wolfe’s excesses.
What the reader can find in the book is the “episode of the madeleine”, from Proust’s Swann’s Way; the succulent clam chowder served aboard the Pequod in Melville’s Moby Dick; the glistening buffet tables laden with hors-d’oeuvres, salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys in Jay Gatsby’s garden in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; and the enticing Turkish Delight that corrupts Edmund in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Which delicious reads come to mind when you search your memory?
Try this list of 10 Great Novels for Food Lovers: it comes with all the reasons why the recommended book is great for food obsessives, and even gives you a tasty excerpt to tantalize you!