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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William Faulkner: Salmon Croquettes

When I told my boyfriend we were making one of William Faulkner’s favorite recipes, he prepared for a liquid lunch. “Did Faulkner even eat?” he asked. “I assumed he just poured bourbon into a bowl.”

Faulkner’s cocktails of choice – a mint julep or a hot toddy – were published by Faulkner’s niece in The New Great American Writers Cookbook, and the hushed ritual that accompanied their serving only enhanced his reputation as a man who loved – nay, respected – his liquor:

“Pappy alone decided when a Hot Toddy was needed, and he administered it to his patient with the best bedside manner of a country doctor. … Pappy always made a small ceremony out of serving his Hot Toddy, bringing it upstairs on a silver tray and admonishing his patient to drink it quickly, before it cooled off. It never failed.”

But he must have eaten something – man cannot live on mint juleps alone. Then I came upon this article in a 2008 issue of Gourmet, in which the curator of Faulkner’s home in Mississippi discloses the writer’s favorite meal: salmon croquettes, made straight from the recipe on the back of the salmon tin.

One of the great things about these salmon croquettes is their adaptability. Serve mini versions on a silver platter and you can have a fancy cocktail party. But serve them on a paper plate on your front porch, and you’ll be pretty close to Yoknapatawpha County.

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Honoré de Balzac: Ukrainian Black Bread

You might have seen the title of this post and had an immediate disconnect. Balzac and Ukrainian black bread? Wasn’t he more of a baguette kind of a guy? But that’s one of the things I love about Balzac. He was a baguette kind of guy. And a peasant bread kind of guy. And a traditional Easter paska bread kind of guy. He was just a man who loved food. He was a fan of the whole genre.

He is also one of the best writers of early “food erotica,” lingering over an account of a meal sometimes for several pages. Take one of his shortest descriptions in The Seamy Side of History: a breakfast of “monastic frugality” that “consisted of a small turbot with white sauce, potatoes, a salad, and four dishes of fruit: peaches, grapes, strawberries, and green almonds; then, by way of hors d’oeuvres, there was honey served in the comb as in Switzerland, besides butter, radishes, cucumber, and sardines.” If that’s what they’re serving at monasteries, sign me up.

Balzac’s encounter with Ukrainian bread happened late in life, but at a transformative moment. In 1832, he began a correspondence with one of his readers, a married woman living near Kiev who enigmatically signed herself “The Foreigner.” It was the beginning of a fifteen-year long-distance relationship – and soon Balzac found himself falling in love with his pen pal, Ewelina Hańska. So when her husband died in 1841, Balzac made his move, traveled to meet her, and eventually married her at her estate, in what’s now Ukraine.

Ewelina wasn’t the only thing that impressed him about the country – the bread did. He famously counted 77 different kinds of bread-making techniques used there, a fact that local tourism brochures don’t hesitate to play up (Visit scenic Ukraine! Land of the fabled 77 breads!).  And one of the most popular (and most delicious) is the Russian black bread, which gets its color from dark rye flour.

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What Would Faulkner Eat? Recreating the Favorite Recipes of Famous Authors

“Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry.” – Charles Baudelaire
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” – George Bernard Shaw

Hemingway in Key West, with future dinner

When Shakespeare said music was the food of love, I think he was only half right. Sure, couples get choked up when a band starts playing their song, and after a breakup every sad song on the radio seems made just for you. But personally, I’m more likely to get misty-eyed when someone invites me over to make risotto, or when sharing a lobster roll at the end of a pier. And when agonizing over why it didn’t work out, you know we all eat ice cream. Why indulge in metaphor? Food is the food of love.

With apologies to Baudelaire, after two days of hunger I would turn in all my collected poems for a good meal. And I can think of a lot of authors who would probably do the same. This blog was inspired by them.

A love of good books often comes with a love of good food.  It’s in the many mouth-watering descriptions we encounter in novels, the wealth of new food memoirs, and the explosion of incredible food writing and blogging online. But it isn’t just today’s writers that have a personal obsession with food. We hear about it in Ted Hughes’ letters, see it in Emily Dickinson’s recipes, and imagine it in Hemingway’s cafés. And when I hear about the food that inspired them, I want to eat it too.

This blog will attempt to recreate the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction. In doing so, it will be part historical discussion, part food and recipe blog, part literary fangirling. Above all, I hope it will be delicious.