“Imagine, if you can, what the rest of the evening was like. How they crouched by the fire which blazed and leaped and made so much of itself in the little grate. How they removed the covers of the dishes, and found rich, hot, savory soup, which was a meal in itself, and sandwiches and toast and muffins enough for both of them.” ~ A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Reading Kate Young’s new cookbook is like sitting in the kitchen with a good friend and chatting endlessly about cherished stories while noshing on all manner of sweet and savory homemade treats.
Fancy a Room with a View iced coffee and meringue, a stack of Pippi Longstocking Swedish Pancakes, a slice of Moominland Pear and Lemon Birthday Cake, or a Franny and Zooey Chicken Sandwich?
If you’re a fan of her literary food blog, The Little Library Café, or read her Novel Recipes column in The Guardian, you know Kate is Australia-born, but now lives in London, where she works as a private cook and food writer who caters weddings and hosts regular supper clubs. With her lifelong passion for food in literature, she’s been able to strike a delicious chord with accessible, doable recipes and captivating personal stories.
The Little Library Cookbook: 100 Recipes from Your Favorite Books (Sterling Epicure, 2018), might be the most comprehensive literary cookbook I’ve come across in ten years of blogging, since it includes classic and contemporary works of fiction for both children and adults. It was just as much fun reading about old favorites as it was learning about new-to-me titles, which I’m anxious to read now that I know about all the food they contain. I certainly look forward to some stimulating bookish travel: what about Paris for tea (The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford), Holland for warm cinnamon rolls (The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt), or Naples for pizza (My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante)?
Recipes are presented in the following categories:
- before noon
- around noon
- after noon (tea)
- the dinner table
- midnight feasts
- parties and celebrations
This pretty much satisfies all the cravings any hungry bookworm might have at any time, day or night, throughout the year. Let’s face it, 100 recipes is a lot of recipes. Oh, have you tried the roast pheasant, yet? 🙂
Kate introduces each recipe with a book excerpt as well as her personal musings and remembrances — mostly about when and where she first read the book, what food(s) stood out, and a bit about recipe origin, adaptation, and serving ideas. I couldn’t help thinking about my own first encounters while reading Kate’s. It’s uncanny how many of the books she included define my own life:
The Secret Garden (Porridge)
The Railway Children (Cold Apple Pie)
Little House in the Big Woods (Baked Beans)
Winnie-the-Pooh (Hunny & Rosemary Cakes)
Little Women (Buckwheat Pancakes)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Lane Cake)
The Bell Jar (Crab & Avocado Salad)
The Hobbit (Seed Cake)
A Christmas Carol (Stuffed Roast Goose)
Ulysses (Queen Ann’s Pudding)
The Great Gatsby (Mint Julep)
Moby Dick (Clam Chowder)
Dubliners (Figs & Custard)
Anna Karenina (Turbot in Lemon Sauce)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Treacle Tart & Rosemary Ice Cream)
Like Water for Chocolate (Three Kings’ Day Bread)
Bridget Jones’s Diary (New Year’s Day Turkey Curry)
A Bear Called Paddington (Marmalade)
Recipes are clearly written, easy to follow, and appropriate for all skill levels. They range from simple soft boiled eggs to more complicated breads and layer cakes. Ingredients are listed in the right or left margins alongside the directions à la Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and there are color photographs of many of the finished recipes as well as step-by-step instructional photos of a few (Christmas Pudding, Stuffed Eggplant, Three Kings’ Day Bread).
This is a cookbook for people who like to cook, and are willing to invest the time it takes for a satisfying result. As Kate writes, these are “real” recipes, rather than “make believe” ones (think Roald Dahl’s lickable wallpaper or three-course dinner chewing gum). Fans of ethnic cuisine will be happy to see curries, samosas, Chinese dumplings, ramen, spanakopita, and halwa alongside the typically British sausage rolls, scones, toad-in-the-hole, crumpets, fish & chips, and trifle. Kate also salutes her Aussie heritage with lamingtons, Anzac biscuits, and pumpkin scones — all inspired by Mem Fox’s Possum Magic.
Don’t like to cook? No problem — as long as you’re a book lover you’ll still find lots to love because of Kate’s delightful recipe backstories. She shares anecdotes from her childhood through college years and beyond, and her love of reading and rereading, in many different genres, is inspiring and impressive.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about Kate’s granny, who made black food dinners on Friday the 13th (a memory sparked by the black ice cream in The Hundred and One Dalamations); or her favorite primary school teacher Mr. Moynihan, who read Sherlock Holmes aloud in class, rewarding them with a pizza party if they solved the mystery; or about the plain chicken sandwiches Kate’s mum made when she stayed home sick from school — something she remembered when reading Salinger’s Fanny and Zooey.
Reading about Becky Sharp’s first time eating curry in Vanity Fair brought Kate’s memories of working in an Indian restaurant into sharper focus, and homemade crumpets will always remind her of when she and her mother visited Cornwall and Kate read about Mrs. Danvers’s tea spreads in Rebecca.
In The Little Library Cookbook, Kate does a brilliant job of showing how fictional food provides a portal to the past, as beloved books remain an ongoing source of comfort, inspiration, and illumination about our lives on and off the page. Her friendly, reassuring voice, whether describing cooking technique or story details, will make you feel like you’ve found a kindred spirit. Only one problem: read or eat first? 🙂
Enjoy these videos with Kate demonstrating several of the recipes from the cookbook (be sure not to miss the ending of the chocolate cake one). 🙂
FYI, the videos show the UK edition of the cookbook published last Fall by Zeus Head. The U.S. edition published by Sterling Epicure last month includes ingredient measurements in US/Imperial as well as metrics.
THE LITTLE LIBRARY COOKBOOK: 100 Recipes from Your Favorite Books (U.S. Edition)
written by Kate Young
photos by Lean Timms
published by Sterling Epicure, April 2018
Literary Cookbook, 320 pp.
🍒 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY! 🍕
Thanks to a very kind fairy godsister, I have an extra copy of this cookbook to give away to one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. If you’re especially ravenous for books and food, please leave a comment at this post telling us about your favorite food scene from a book for either kids or adults, no later than Friday, May 25, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with LIBRARY COOKBOOK in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
“Back home, I told the cook girl to boil enough pots of water and to chop enough pork and vegetables to make a thousand dumplings, both steamed and boiled, with plenty of fresh ginger, good soy sauce, and sweet vinegar for dipping.” ~ The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!
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