Reading and eating are two of the greatest pleasures in life, so it’s no surprise that the two are intertwined. Authors frequently incorporate food into their work and some manage to prove that books can even touch our taste buds, as well as our hearts and minds. You know the moment: you come across food described so vividly that you actually find your mouth watering. It’s rare, but it’s amazing.
Book-lover Cara Nicoletti, who also happens to be a butcher, food blogger, and former pastry chef, understands the beauty of a well-written meal, and her new book celebrates food in literature. Part cookbook, part memoir, Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books takes us through books that are significant to Nicoletti and recipes she based on them.
From the breakfast sausage of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods to Concord grape sorbet from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye , Nicoletti’s selections are relatable and familiar, not to mention tempting. As you read Voracious, she’ll have you itching to recreate meals you’ve previously only vicariously enjoyed through your favorite literary characters. Whether you prefer quick and easy recipes or are willing to devote more time to cooking, Nicoletti has got you covered.
Since brunch is the best meal of the week, Voracious inspired me to create a menu for a perfect literature-inspired brunch using some of Nicoletti’s 50 recipes. Go forth, eat, drink, and be literary.
Skillet Cornbread With Honey Butter (Where the Red Fern Grows)
Carbs are such an important part of brunch, just as Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is an important part of childhood. Nicoletti remembers how mouthwatering the cornbread Billy brought everywhere sounded, and her recipe for it, along with honey butter, is perfect to accompany a literary brunch. Not only is it not all that hard to make, you can you get creative and throw different stuff inside it (think chives, bacon, cheese, or other delicious additions).
Perfect Soft-Boiled Eggs (Emma)
Even picky Mr. Woodhouse of Jane Austen’s Emma couldn’t find fault with soft-boiled eggs, so neither should your guests. Eggs are a brunch staple, and Nicoletti’s are ridiculously simple to make. Three ingredients, one of which is water? Yes, please.
Red Flannel Hash ("The Best Girlfriend You Never Had")
Red flannel hash introduced Nicoletti to Pam Houston and her short story “The Best Girlfriend You Never Had,” and incidentally the dish is part of the best literary brunch you’ve never had — at least not yet. You can change that with some potatoes (a mix of fingerling and sweet), beets, bacon, yellow onion, thyme, vinegar, eggs, kosher salt, and black pepper. Conveniently, some of the ingredients could be left out without ruining the recipe, depending on you and your guests' dietary restrictions.
Crab-Stuffed Avocados (The Bell Jar)
Esther in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar got a bad bout of food poisoning after eating avocado with crabmeat at a luncheon, but Nicoletti’s recipe is free of the mayonnaise that she suspects would have caused the illness. Her recipe is nice and easy: avocados and crabmeat (of course), spices and garnishes (parsley, dill, cilantro, kosher salt, and black pepper), olive oil, and lemon juice. If you’re vegetarian, the Internet can suggest tons of other ways to stuff an avocado. I personally would just try out Nicoletti’s recipe, minus the crab and some of the lemon juice. Since that would kind of ruin the whole stuffed aspect, you could slice up the avocado and toss it with the other ingredients.
Grilled Peaches With Homemade Ricotta ("Goodbye to All That")
In Joan Didion’s short story “Goodbye to All That,” she stands on the street eating a peach, a tiny moment that “knocked the wind” out of Nicoletti. Reading it inspired her to grill peaches, which she ended up eating that night with farmer’s cheese that a friend brought over, thus inspiring her recipe for grilled peaches with homemade ricotta. I’ll be the first to admit that I like shortcuts when it comes to cooking, so no judgment if you just want to grill peaches and leave it at that. (Or hey, maybe you just want to serve them raw. Do what you want.) If you get ambitious, though, her ricotta sounds delicious.
Raspberry Cordial (Anne of Green Gables)
Voracious focuses only on food, but your brunch guests will need a drink to quench their thirst. I’m hoping Nicoletti will write a beverage-focused follow-up (and send royalties my way), but until then, I recommended serving raspberry cordial. I know that Diana of Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery actually confused red currant wine for raspberry cordial (hence her getting so drunk), but the drink has appealed to me ever since.
I found a straightforward recipe from Tori Avey that uses raspberries, lemon juice, sugar and water. If you’re having drunk brunch, I say go ahead and mix it with champagne. An AllRecipes Australia user agrees that this is a great idea, so clearly I’m onto something. Cheers.