My first foodie experience was not in the kitchen. It was with a book, which is appropriate. Long before I ever became interested in food, I was interested in books, and the first time food really interested me was when I read Little House in the Big Woods. It was all so fascinating, how involved everyone was in the making of the food, how it took up such a large part of their lives. I was no more than ten years old, and food only interested me insofar as what appeared on the table at dinner. I was a child of very simple tastes, but Wilder’s descriptions of where their food came from and how it was made enthralled me.
Obviously, food has its place in fiction, but it’s more prominent in some works than in others. The “Little House” books were my first introduction to fictional food. The “Anne of Green Gables” series offered other selections, most notably the raspberry cordial that Anne is so proud to serve to her friend and turns out to be much stronger currant wine instead. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe introduced me to Turkish delight, which I, for many years, thought Lewis had made up. Tolkien gave me lembas bread. The Harry Potter series (which I admit I have not read and have no plans to read) may not have interested me with the story, but who can ignore such culinary entertainment as butterbeer and pumpkin pasties? Most recently, The Hunger Games trilogy practically made food another character, showing just how important it was to the lives of so many in the dystopian world.
And, oh, the cookbooks that abound for each of these various universes! A few weeks ago, Geordie came home with The Little House Cookbook, and a little idea grew in my head. I went searching for recipes from other stories, and they are certainly out there, in abundance. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to give some of these recipes a try.
So, here we go, a mini-feature for the blog to give me something to write about. It probably won’t be a weekly thing, but my goal is to do at least one fictional food a month.
I decided to start with Laura Ingalls herself, with something so basic that it formed a major part of the Ingalls family’s diet: cornbread. And it is a very simple recipe that can serve as a basis for so many different types of meals, savory or sweet. I made cornbread to be served with white chili for a cold winter night.
The cornbread that the Ingalls ate would have been bare bones by necessity, and the recipe reflects that. Plain yellow cornmeal (about three cups of it) and a bit of salt is mixed up with enough boiling water to make a soft dough. And that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t make for a very flavorful bread, but, as the author of the cookbook points out, even plain cornbread is better than nothing to eat at all. The dough is formed into two semi-circles, which are placed side-by-side in a greased cast iron skillet. It goes into the oven until the bread becomes dry and a bit crusty. It’s then cut into wedges and served any number of ways.
For the chili, I crumbled some cornbread into my bowl and ladled the chili over it. A good idea, because the chili ended up being thin and uninteresting on its own. The cornbread added a nice texture to it, and the corn flavor contributed to the overall flavor of the chili.
Since then, the cornbread has served nicely as my lunches. Broken up and soaked in warm milk and maple syrup, it’s a fairly decent little meal. Simple and sweet, almost like a throwback to childhood. I imagine it would be even better with buttermilk.
I also guess it would be pretty decent with some gravy, or broken up to make a stuffing for poultry. A versatile bread, a useful staple indeed. I’ve had good cornbread that could stand nicely on its own, but this works in a pinch when you need a blank canvas to match with whatever you’re intending to serve.
Personally, I think it was a nice introduction to the world of fictional food (though I suppose this is more historical than fictional, but still). I’ve got a list of foods I want to try, from any number of sources, and I’m eager to see how they go. I’m also open to suggestions!