As if the mysterious combination of words isn’t delicious enough, I get a savory thrill whenever I come upon a recipe embedded somewhere in a novel. I internalize the ingredients and instructions for the dishes the same way I absorb the characters and plot twists that they support. Sometimes they are intriguing enough to try, but usually I assume recipes in literature are intended to tantalize the heart more than the palate, given that the presence and preparation of food in stories can serve up a mood or a setting sometimes in ways that non-culinary descriptions can’t. Think of Tita, the protagonist in Laura Esquivel’s LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, whose passive insubordination is sublimely characterized by the mysterious ingredients she uses when forced to bake her sister’s wedding cake. Or Wyn, the divorcee in BREAD ALONE by Judith Ryan Hendricks, who discovers a brand new life through the simple process of baking bread.
There are many other examples of recipes that add extra flavor to fiction. In DEADEYE DICK, Kirk Vonnegut describes his eponymous character’s life as an expatriate in Haiti partly through the recipes he creates, e.g. Haitan Banana Soup: stew two pounds of goat or chicken with a half cup of chopped onions… (If you find yourself wiping away a tear as you read, you wonder: is it the emotion in the story—or the onions?) Fannie Flagg provides a recipe for her Slice of Heaven Caramel Cake in CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO HEAVEN, and in POMEGRANATE SOUP by Marsha Mehran, there is a mélange of unpronounceable (to me) recipes for Persian delectable such as dolmeh, baklava, gush-e fil (elephant ears), torshi, chelow, and, of course, pomegranate soup.
Those of you who know me know that I love to cook. Just like combining words into palatable sentences, I enjoy the mysterious process of combining ingredients and flavors into something that’s theoretically edible. In one of the original scenes from my novel WHISPER HOLLOW, I included a recipe for a chocolate pie. Having just sliced that moment from the rewrite-in-progress, I was inspired to make one today—and to share it with you. You’re welcome to make one of your own, or come share a piece of mine. Or you could just read it as though it were simply part of a story; the calories don’t count when they’re only written down.
“She’d had to buy four extra pie pans. Then there was the filling to make. A cup of sugar, two tablespoons of flour, four tablespoons of cocoa powder, a half cup of milk, two eggs, three tablespoons of melted butter, and one teaspoon vanilla. Standard stuff. But the ingredient that made it special, the one that nobody for at least three generations had been able to guess. One half cup of pureed raspberries.”
ALTA PULASKI’S CHOCOLATE PIE
- 1/3 cup butter
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1/3 cup chopped nuts (almonds, pecans or walnuts)
Cream butter and sugar together. Stir in flour; mix well. Add nuts, mixing well. Press into greased 10-inch pie plate. Bake at 375 degrees 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup flour
- 4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
- 2 eggs yolks, beaten
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup pureed raspberries
Mix cocoa and flour in a double boiler over hot water and whisk in the water to make a smooth paste. Blend in the sugar and the beaten egg yolks and add milk and pureed raspberries. Cook over low until the mixture is thick; add butter and vanilla. Pour into baked pie crust.