Food from the world of literature

Fri, 06, 20

Pickled limes were a big thing in Amy’s school in the book! Remember how Amy would share limes with girls in the school to be friends with them?


“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” - C. S. Lewis

If you’re a movie buff and loves to cook, then I am sure you must be obsessed with those videos on YouTube where chefs make dishes from the movies. Like making Ratatouille from the movie Ratatouille or Ram-Don from Parasite or Ben’s Calzones from Parks and Rec!

But here we are going to take a moment to appreciate all the classic novels we have read and obsess over the incredible food that got special attention in those stories.

Seed cake from Jane Eyre

“Having invited Helen and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, she got up, unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a parcel wrapped in paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seed-cake.”

Seed cake is a very traditional Victorian recipe. Baked like a normal cake it is infused with caraway seeds, commonly used in British-styled baked goods, but not readily available in grocery stores. But you can still make it with other kinds of seeds. Just use that regular pound cake batter recipe and replace some flour (around 3 tbsp) with flax seeds, crushed pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or sprinkle some black sesame seeds for texture. Play around and make it your own seed cake to eat while you reread Jane Eyre!

Pickled limes from Little Women

“Why, I owe at least a dozen pickled limes, and I can’t pay them, you know, till I have money, for Marmee forbade my having anything charged at the shop.”

Pickled limes were a big thing in Amy’s school in the book! Remember how Amy would share limes with girls in the school to be friends with them?

Pickled limes was a popular nineteenth century snack among school girls in England, but interestingly, it’s also a very popular kind of fermented food in Pakistan. Every autumn, my mom gets the best “kaghzi” lemons and uses a fool-proof method to pickle them for us to enjoy in summer. This is my mom’s recipe:

- Take a quart size jar and fill it with whole lemons. Make sure the lemons are completely dry. Even a drop of water would activate bad bacteria and you don’t want that.

- Sprinkle 4 tbsp salt and cover the lid.

- Keep them in a warm place and shake them twice every day for a week. When the lemons have turned brown, store them in a dark place and let some good bacteria do their job! They will be tender and ready to eat in a month. Throw them in salsas and chutneys or eat this extremely sour snack as it is to tickle your senses.

Ginger water from The Long Winter (Little House on the Prairie)

“She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty.”

Ginger water is more than just an old-time refresher, it’s a medicine. Back in the times when haymakers would work in the field, they would get really thirsty so they would make this drink to hydrate their bodies. Packed with antioxidants, enzymes and minerals, it also helps your digestive system function smoothly and boosts your immune system. Very similar to our “adrak ka kehwa”, ginger water, also known as switchel or haymaker’s punch, is made with few staple ingredients, but served cold. Don’t feel intimidated by the ingredients, and try beating some heat with this elixir (By Rural Sprout):

- Boil grated ginger (3 tbsp) in a cup of water and let it cool down. Strain the liquid, and add in more water (3 cups), lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (1 tbsp) and honey (3 tbsp). Now stir! Adjust sweetness to your taste.

- Let it in chill in fridge or throw in some ice cubes before you serve.

Lembas bread from Lord of the Rings

“Eat little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them.”

Lord of the Rings fans, this one’s for you! Yes, the lembas bread Frodo and Sam would eat on their journey to Mount Doom. Think of it as an ideal hiking snack or something you can take with you on a long journey. The great thing about this food is that it replenishes your energy very quickly and has a shelf-life of three months. That’s how you can make it (from SparkRecipes):

- Mix flour (2 ½ cups), baking powder (1 tbsp), salt (1 tsp), butter (8 tbsp), sugar (1/3 cup) and cinnamon (1 tsp) and mix them thoroughly to get a crumbly dough. Now add milk (2/3 cup) and vanilla (1 tsp) to form a thick cookie like dough.

- Roll the dough out about ½ inch in thickness. Cut out 3-inch squares and transfer the dough to a cookie sheet. Criss-cross (do not cut all the way) each square from corner-to-corner with a knife. Bake for about 12 minutes or more until it is set and lightly golden.

Blanc mange from Little Women

“Meg wanted me to bring some of her blanc mange, she makes it very nicely … It’s so simple you can eat it, and being soft, it will slip down without hurting your sore throat.”

Another one from Little Women (never getting over it)! And this dessert is my favourite! Though we do a different version of it with china grass (plant-based gelatin also known as agar agar) and milk, it’s similar in texture and taste. I love how it wobbles on my plate! The British recipe calls for few other ingredients as well other than gelatin and milk, which also makes it similar to kheer and custard and of course the Italian panna cotta! Let’s make some blanc mange our way:

Whisk together milk ( 1 litre), rice flour (1 tsp), corn starch (1 tsp), powdered sugar (250 g) and vanilla extract (1 tsp) in a pot and bring to a boil. Then add gelatin (2 tsp) or a packet of flavorless china grass. In 2-3 mins the gelatin will thicken the mixture. Turn down the flame and pour the mixture in a jelly mould. Classic recipe requires no colouring since the word “blanc” means white in French. But be rebellious and give it some colour!