Food and storytelling go hand in hand. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar munching along to Winnie-the-Pooh and his beloved honey. Harry Potter’s shepherd’s pie with a foaming tankard of butter beer to the mouthwatering descriptions of chocolates in the aptly named Chocolat. And judging by the number of “novels for foodies” lists online and the fact that culinary fiction is hugely popular, I’m obviously not the only one who noticed this.
Butcher and blogger, Cara Nicoletti, has always been a bookworm. In her world, from childhood forward, books and food have always been a focus. Whether the books were shared with her by a family member during a particularly challenging period in Nicoletti’s life and meant to give solace, or simply by a friend who couldn’t wait to share their latest favourite read, she was happily surrounded by books.
In her book, Voracious: a hungry reader cooks her way through great books, Nicoletti shares her favourite works of literature along with food memories connected to each book, and recipes which compliment the meals featured between the covers.
She kicks things off with her childhood favourites, which include breakfast sausage from Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and salted chocolate caramels from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The middle section, which covers her university years, includes clam chowder (“Moby Dick”) and chocolate eclairs (“Mrs Dalloway”). Brown butter crepes inspired by Gone Girl help cap off the final “adulthood” chapters of Voracious.
I was intrigued by the concept of Voracious and had high expectations. Voracious was a quick, light read and I did enjoy Nicoletti’s memories however I was a little disappointed in the recipes. I’d hoped to find a few to try but in the end I wasn’t inspired enough to note more than one (chocolate-covered digestive biscuits…I love digestive biscuits and always stock up on Marks & Spencer’s brand when overseas).
Reading Voracious did get me thinking about some of my favourite books featuring food. Excluding food-focused memoirs written by Peter Mayle, Frances Mayes, MFK Fisher and others, there are still a number with memorable scenes…scenes which will send you hurrying to the kitchen for a snack or to get cooking.
One of my favourite classics is Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott. I have lost count of the number of times I have read it over the years. Oddly enough, I never progressed on to the others in the series. “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys” just didn’t not have the same magic as Little Women.
In Little Women, the pages overflow with mentions of fluffy popovers (which the March sisters long for during tough times), rich steak and kidney pies, asparagus fresh from the garden, homemade currant jelly on freshly baked bread, sugarplums, petit fours with lemonade, soothing blancmange, and more. Oh, and there are some fairly comical disasters in the kitchen as well, to which we all can relate.
Going along with the theme in Voracious, I will share my recipe for popovers, inspired by the Christmas breakfast shared by the March family in Little Women. I love these when served warm with blackcurrant sloe gin preserves, but any jam will do.
— Sandi H.
1 c milk
3 tblsp oil (I use Becel)
1 c all purpose flour
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 450F.
Beat eggs until frothy. Mix in milk and oil. Gradually add in flour and salt, gently stirring to combine.
Spoon batter into lightly greased muffin tins. Fill each cup ½ full. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown.