Jean-Paul Sartre: Halva with Almonds

Food often tops our list of guilty pleasures, but it’s hard to think of famous writers indulging in the gratuitous and occasionally sordid ways we do. When I was in college, part of my late-night routine was to buy a huge bag of Tostitos with lime, eat the whole thing while writing a paper and—in one final profligacy—scrape the fake citrus-flavored salt out of the corners of the bag. Trying to imagine Camus doing that just feels wrong.

But there’s probably a kernel of truth to it, if Jean-Paul Sartre’s letters are anything to go by. Sartre had his cravings too, and while he was fighting with the French army during World War II, his letters to Simone de Beauvoir repeatedly mention the same thing. He demands halva.

In between discussions of Weltanschauung and his work on Being and Nothingness, Sartre can’t stop talking about halva. “Don’t forget,” he reminds de Beauvoir in 1939, when asking her to send two boxes. Then, in a following letter: disaster. “I was in an excellent mood today, and then I got your books (the Romains) but no halva. Is there another package?”

But when Sartre does receive halva, multiple times over the next few years, his joy is palpable. “The halva arrived in good order … Thank you very much, my little sweet. We ate the whole box at lunch.” And later: “I gave the halva to Pieter, who carried on about it so, that I bawled him out. At this very moment he’s eating a big chunk with great satisfaction.”

The letters between Sartre and de Beauvoir are also incredibly beautiful. But Sartre’s sweet tooth makes him just a bit more relatable. Existentialists: They’re just like us.

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Louisa May Alcott: Apple Slump

If something called a “slump” doesn’t make you salivate, how about eating a “grunt”? No? Then Louisa May Alcott will have your helping. They’re two different names for the same homey New England dessert: a dumpling crust over a baked (or steamed) fruit base, which was said to make grunting noises as it cooked down.

Another name? Pandowdy. Still hungry?

But Alcott loved the dish so much that she nicknamed her house after it. Orchard House, where she lived for nearly 20 years, famously provided the setting for Little Women as well as the backdrop to many Alcott family adventures. With a 12-acre apple orchard, as well as neighbors including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson, it was an idyllic place both to grow up and to bake.

Louisa’s parents, well-known transcendentalists, had tried and failed to start an agrarian commune called Fruitland (sadly not a fruit-based theme park) before buying Orchard House in 1857. So when Alcott and Hawthorne often referred to the new house as Apple Slump, it was both a fond reference to the favorite dessert as well as a wink at the prior collapse of Fruitland, a slump in its own right.

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