Oscar Wilde once wrote in his novel A Woman of No Importance, "After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations." And while he wasn't talking about Thanksgiving, specifically, it's not hard to make that logical leap. Food has always been linked in with literature, ever since The Epic of Gilgamesh contained the first written descriptions of food and drink. And spoiler alert: There's a whole lot of raucous partying with mead.
Jump into the 20th and 21st century, and food is often used in literature as a means of describing emotion and circumstances, from Oliver Twist's porridge to Jay Gatsby's lavish spreads of hors d'oeuvres and champagne:
On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold.
If you're looking for a little twist on the plain turkey and stuffing this year, you can host your own literary Thanksgiving feast, inspired by some of the most iconic food dishes and moments in books. So grab yourself a frosty mug of J.K. Rowling's and Harry Potter's Butterbeer (recipe here!) and prepare your meal plan.
Starters: Soups & Salads
Clam chowder from Herman Melville's Moby-Dick
Who said the only protein on Thanksgiving should be turkey? For those chilly coastal holiday seasons, a warm mug of clam chowder can start the whole meal off on a cozy foot. And Melville just makes it sound so mouth-watering:
But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt…..we dispatched it with great expedition.
Chicken soup with rice from Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup With Rice
Not feeling the fish? Another toasty starter is the namesake soup of one of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's poems:
In November's gusty galeI will flop my flippy tailAnd spout hot soup I'll be a whaleSpoutin' once, spoutin' twiceSpoutin' chicken soup with rice
Lamb and plum stew from Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games
Who could forget the stew that had the powers to revive Peeta and give Katniss newfound strength to push forward? You can make the lamb and plum stew yourself, but just hope it comes out as good as it does in the Capitol.
Avocado and crabmeat salad from Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar
And now onto the salad to cleanse your pallet for the big meal. But beware: The way Plath describes the dressing is so enticing you might fill up on salad alone:
He taught me how to eat avocados by melting grape jelly and french dressing together in a saucepan and filling the cup of the pear with the garnet sauce. I felt homesick for that sauce. The crabmeat tasted bland in comparison.
Preserved pears from Cormac McCarthy's The Road
Pears, like apples, are a perfect side for a Thanksgiving meal. When father and son are struggling with starvation during the apocalypse, it's the jars of pears they find in a bunker that give them hope and a little taste of heaven when they're living in hell. The father tells the boy, "These will be the best pears you've ever tasted." You, of course, can add some spices and bake or grill them so they actually are the best pears you've ever tasted.
Sweet Yams from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without yams:
And no yams are probably better described than Ellison's:
I knew that it would be sweet before I broke it; bubbles of brown syrup had burst the skin ... I broke it, seeing the sugary pulp steaming in the cold.
Mashed Potatoes from Nora Ephron's Heartburn
Heartburn may not be the most optimistic title when you're talking about preparing food, but you have to trust me on these mashed potatoes. The key here is unlimited butter:
Nothing like mashed potatoes when you’re feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful.
Roasted Eggs and Hot Potatoes from Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden
Nothing fancy; all you need is a little salt and butter to transform eggs and potatoes into some seriously delicious side dishes — just ask Mary Lennox:
Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury and very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king—besides being deliciously satisfying.
Cranberry Bread from Wende and Harry Devlin's A Cranberry Thanksgiving
The plot of this classic children's book revolves around Grandmother's secret recipe for the most delicious cranberry bread. But don't worry, it won't stay secret for long, because the book contains the perfect recipe that you can cook up for your own Thanksgiving dinner.
Mrs. Ramsay's Boeuf en Daube from Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse
Mrs. Ramsay's dish was a major hit at her own dinner party, and sure, it's a bit of a gamble when everyone is expecting traditional turkey, but once they have a taste of this meal, you certainly won't hear any complaints:
…an exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs. Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats and its bay leaves and its wine . . . "It is a triumph," said Mr. Banks, laying his knife down for a moment. He had eaten attentively. It was rich; it was tender. It was perfectly cooked.
Turkey With Chestnuts from Virginia Zaharieva's Nine Rabbits
If you're looking for something a bit more traditional, but with a twist, you must try the turkey with chestnuts from Nine Rabbits, an unconventional book peppered with delicious recipes:
Tsvetana Galileeva’s secret is injecting the turkey with a syringe of melted butter so it is juicy, albeit quite caloric.
Ingredients: one turkey (around ten pounds), one small onion, a half-pound of shelled chestnuts, 3.5 ounces of foie gras (duck or goose), salt and black pepper to taste, three green apples, one stick of butter.
All of the Bird from James Joyce's Ulysses
For all of you adventurous eaters, don't let the rest of the bird go to waste. Take Ulysses' Leopold Bloom tactic and eat everything you can from the turkey, but maybe light some festive candles to cover the smell:
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Madeleines from Marcel Proust's Swann's Way
Finally we're on to dessert, the lynchpin of the Thanksgiving meal. If anything can bring a family back together, it's some hot tea and sweet cakes, cookies, and pies. Start off with something light as you recover from all of the turkey — and Proust has just the idea:
One day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that, contrary to my habit, I have a little tea. I refused at first and then, I do not know why, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines…
Turkish Delight from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
This rose-flavored candy topped with powdered sugar was completely irresistible to the children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. OK, so maybe you could leave out the whole evil enchantment part where anyone who eats the Turkish Delight can't stop until they are told to do so or, well, die. But still, Turkish Delight that delicious deserves a try.
Apple Pie and Ice Cream from Jack Kerouac's On The Road
It's a classic and a Thanksgiving staple, and it still fits perfectly into your literary Thanksgiving because the iconic beat writer was completely enamored with it:
I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that's practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.
I agree with Kerouac: It's practically health food. Which means you can keep the literary theme going the next morning and gobble up some leftover apple pie for breakfast just like they do in I meant they ate apple pie for breakfast in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Go with some more Wilder and top it off with something resembling Laura and Mary's Maple Snow from Little House In The Big Woods — maple ice cream, anyone?
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