Recent Reading: Voracious by Cara Nicoletti

So, I don’t remember who brought this book to my attention, but I’m enjoying it. It’s yet another of the many new books that seems to have grown out of a blog, in this case Yummy Books, which I had never heard of but must remember to check out because it certainly sounds like it ought to be right up my alley.

So, Voracious,

It’s not a novel. It’s a series of short entries about books, all kinds from Charlotte’s Web to Les Miserables, each followed by a recipe based on something or called to mind by something from the book. The sections are essentially Childhood, Young Adulthood, Maturity, with suitable entries for each category. There are about fifty entries total. Some of them are really compelling, though I can’t say I’m very interested in reading the Gone Girl one after reading this review at The Book Smugglers a few years ago. And Nicoletti found Tana Frenche’s In the Woods way more satisfying than I did, apparently.

Lots of great books here, though. Plus some short stories and stuff. Here’s a bit from the second entry, “Hansel and Gretel,” which I found really delightful:

In third grade I discovered a dusty old copy of [Grimms’ Fairy Tales] in my attic while snooping around after school with my best friends … we were heavily into mysteries and ghost stories at the time, and when we found the book we were certain we had discovered some dark secret that my parents had tried to keep under lock and key.

The book was wonderfully old, with gilded pages and illustrations covered by thin sheets of onion paper, full of beautiful words like “dearth” and “soothsayer” and “earthenware.” From then on, every chance we got, we snuck up to the attic, settled on some old packing blankets, and read it by flashlight.

Beautiful old words! Sounds like Nicoletti was a child after my own heart. Also, the recipe for this entry is perfect – not a recipe for a gingerbread house (I’m not likely to make that!), but for gingerbread cake with blood orange syrup (which I totally do plan to make). I love gingerbread and gingercake and ginger in most any form. In fact I also do keep an eye out for blood oranges, which I like to use to make orange curd, but I am quite willing to branch out and try this syrup.

Before moving on from the subject of fairy tales, let me add that Mari Ness just recently had one of her long, thoughtful posts up at about “Red Riding Hood.” That didn’t come with a recipe for, say, Grandmother’s bread, but it’s well worth reading anyway. Man, those original fairy tales were grim, weren’t they? No pun intended.

Anyway, another entry in Voracious is on Burnett’s The Secret Garden, which is all very well (currant buns, btw), but this means Nicoletti skips over one of my all-time favorite children’s books: A Little Princess.

Remember A Little Princess? Wow, does food ever figure prominently in that one, too. Everything exquisite when Miss Minchin thinks Sara has expectations, then Sara slowly starving when Miss Minchin finds out she’s been orphaned and has nothing. The story features sponge cake and meat pies and the buns Sara gives away to the beggar child, and of course most of all the meals that magically appear in the attic, along with warm blankets and things. Rich, hot, savory soup, and sandwiches, and toast and muffins. Who doesn’t love that part, where the barren and bitterly cold attic fills up with warmth and comfort?

Anyway, another recipe I’ll be wanting to try from Voracious include black rye bread (Les Miserables), but I’m not sure even Pride and Prejudice can make me feel all that thrilled about the idea of white garlic soup. Though I haven’t actually read that one yet, so we’ll see.

Pity Nicoletti isn’t more into SFF. A book like this would be even more fun if the recipes were all drawn from fantasy and science fiction novels. You could certainly start with sautéed mushrooms for The Fellowship of the Ring and go on from there.

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