Great meals in literature

Meal from The Great Gatsby

Many readers have been entertained by detailed descriptions of great meals in books. For those who are passionate about cooking, the meals sometimes stay with us longer than the rest of the book. We paint pictures in our minds of the spreads, whether they are sparse as in Oliver Twist, or a lavish spectacle as in The Great Gatsby. Writer Dinah Fried took this one step further and wrote a book called Fictitious Dishes, where she created famous meals from literature with accompanying photographs shot from above, to replicate as closely as possible the view that the book’s character would have had.

NPR interviewed Fried and provided excerpts from the book, including the spread pictured above from The Great Gatsby. Other iconic meals depicted in the book are from such diverse sources as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (describing a “meal” of tequila and grapefruit), Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Bell Jar and Moby Dick. When asked about her favorites, Fried said that she was most proud of the ones from books she read as a child. Describing the fried cheese meal in Heidi, Fried noted that she was moved by that moment, “reading it as a child, you know, the anticipation of watching her grandfather prepare this melted goat’s milk cheese over toast and feeling so cared for – it’s always stuck with me.”

While she tries to stay true to the spirit of the passage that she is recreating, Fried does exercise poetic license. Not every last detail is depicted exactly as written. One example is the cheese sandwich from The Catcher in the Rye. “I know it’s a Swiss cheese sandwich,” she says. “But I didn’t use Swiss cheese because I wanted the color to pop. The designer in me wanted the cheese to be more orange.”

Often, the passages don’t explicitly describe the location or setting of the meal, so Fried’s goal is to evoke the atmosphere of the scene. “I’m interested in creating something that evokes an emotional feeling for myself and others,” she continues. “I wanted to see how other people who had read the books would connect on that level.”

What meals from literature have inspired you?

Photo courtesy NPR

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  • hillsboroks  on  April 30, 2014

    Years ago I devoured the entire 20 volume Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. Set aboard British naval ships in the early 1800s O'Brian described every aspect of life aboard a sailing ship in great detail, including the food. While I cannot imagine eating or cooking the things he described the images still stick with me. How could I forget the pudding dessert called "Boiled Baby" that they always looked forward to? I think someone actually went to the trouble to do an online cookbook or dictionary of all the strange food from these books. I remember referring to it as I was reading to figure out what they were eating. All the food detail plus other life details really took you into the story.

  • Melanie  on  May 1, 2014

    Thanks for sharing – the photos look great! I've always been entranced by the description of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

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