The way to a librarian’s heart is indeed through books. But there is another door that is always open and that is: FOOD. Combine the two, and well, that’ll make a librarian’s heart truly sing, at least at LPL.
We even have a special group chat for folks who want to be the first to know whenever there are scrumptious, often homemade, treats en route to the breakroom. Recently our Materials Handling Coordinator, Ian, made a variation of Lembas bread and was kind enough to share it. His elven travel food triumph reminded me of the Game of Thrones cookbook I own, and how satisfied I was when I made Lemon Cakes that were every bit as good as Sansa always said they were.
This is a THING in the reading community. Somewhere in our formative years we read about roadside inn visits on long, arduous journeys. And when the characters were able to rest their weary bones and enjoy a glass of mead and a hot stew or meat pie, then curl up on an unpretentious straw mattress and enjoy the security of four walls and a full belly, WE FELT THAT. And from then on, whether it be simple fare for simple folk, or decadent feasts in faraway castles, we have craved the food we’ve read about in books.
Cara Nicoletti, author of Voracious, understands this more than most. Full of delicious recipes and heartfelt anecdotes, her book is about how her love of food and her love of literature have always gone hand in hand, helping her understand the world and her place in it when all else fails. It's a memoir, a love letter to her favorite books, and chock full of mouth watering recipes inspired by the stories that shaped her life.
Nicoletti has also taken the time to educate readers about the history of her best loved books and authors, often in the context of their relationships with food. For example, in the very first chapter of Voracious, she shares a recipe for gingerbread cake with blood orange syrup, inspired by Hansel and Gretel, which she read in a dark, dusty attic with her childhood friends. She calls to our attention how food is prominent in almost every Grimm tale, and this is probably because Jacob and Wilhem Grimm were orphans in charge of taking care of their younger siblings and sometimes only ate one tiny meal a day.
Grimm's Fairy Tales are featured in the "Childhood" portion of the book, of course, but in "Adolescence and College Years" she shares a recipe for crab-stuff avocados inspired by Esther Greenwood, the heroine of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. In this chapter, she mentions being in the fourth grade when her mom casually told her that a very famous writer grew up in the house across the street from theirs.
At the time, I was up to my ears in the Redwall and Golden Compass series, filled with dreams of someday becoming a writer. I simply could not believe that a very famous female writer had grown up across the street and my mom had never thought to tell me about it.
This was, of course, pre-Google, a world in which you did not have access to every intimate detail of a person's life at the click of a button. So that afternoon I rode my bike to the library. I asked the librarian where I could find Sylvia Plath's books, and she looked at me in a concerned way but led me to the stacks. I spent hours on the floor of the library that day, trying to make sense of just one line of Plath's poetry, but I left with only a vague sense of dread that I would never be happy again once I turned ten.
I identify so strongly with every single sentence of this. I also grew up with librarians who didn't censor my reading choices, I am also bamboozled by Plath's poetry, AND I also absolutely loved the incomparable Brian Jacques' Redwall series, and in fact it is probably the genesis of my love of food in literature. Those fierce, brave forest creatures made indulgent spreads out of whatever they could forage plus some homemade bread and cheese. Simple, perfect, chef's kiss.
If your love of reading and your love of food feel intrinsically linked, check out Nicoletti's book, as well as these other literature inspired cookbooks!
-Leah Newton is the Readers' Services Technician at Lawrence Public Library.