Shrewish heroines have been subdued with the offer of teacakes or mustard sauce on beef, sated lovers have renewed their passion over deviled children, and fictional families in trouble have held together with a pan of freshly made biscuits or a well-roasted goose, writes editor and author Linda Wolfe in her foreword to "The Literary Gourmet: Menus From Masterpieces."
In the recently released paperback edition of this clever collection of literary meals, Wolfe presents excerpts from more than 25 great works, following them with recipes from historical cooks and cookbooks of the authors' own times.
Food has been used by writers to demonstrate their characters' personalities, and so the book includes representations such as Tolstoy's Levin, "who ascetically longs for Russian cabbage soup" although he can have the finest French luxuries, and Thomas Wolfe's Eugene Gant, "who raids the refrigerator as if he were raping a woman," writes Wolfe.
Food is also used to set a mood. In an excerpt from Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," whalers Ishmael and Queequeg come upon the Try Pots, a Nantucket inn famous for its chowders.
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, chowder for dinner and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark skin.
At a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, Mrs. Hussey serves Ishmael and Queequeg a dinner of smoking chowder, as described by narrator Ishmael:
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. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favorite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we dispatched it with great expedition . . .
You won't need "Moby Dick" on your shelf to make this literary Express Lane, but you will need butter, salt, pepper, sugar and flour. The 1846 recipe for clam chowder comes from Catharine Beecher, sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe and author of "Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt-Book." And for dessert, there is apple charlotte from a poem by Joel Barlow.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: clams, milk, cayenne pepper, mace, chives, oyster crackers, apples, white bread. MISS BEECHER'S CLAM CHOWDER (6 servings) 2 cups water or juice of the canned clams plus enough added water to equal 2 cups 4 cups milk Up to 5 tablespoons flour 3 tablespoons butter 1 quart shucked, fresh clams or 20 ounces canned minced clams 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon mace Salt and pepper to taste Fresh chives or dried chives for sprinkling Oyster crackers for serving
In a large saucepan, combine water, clam juice (if using) and milk. Heat over medium heat until hot, but do not bring to a boil. Work 3 tablespoons of flour into butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk into soup, stirring constantly. If thicker soup is desired, dissolve 1 tablespooon flour in 1/4 cup water and add to soup, whisking constantly. Repeat procedure again, if soup is not thick enough. Add clams, cayenne pepper and mace, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat. Adjust seasoning. Sprinkle minced chives on each bowl of soup before serving. Serve with oyster crackers. Adapted from "The Literary Gourmet" APPLE CHARLOTTE (6 servings) 12 slices white bread 5 tablespoons butter, softened 3 medium apples, pared, cored and cut in thin slices 1/4 cup sugar 3/4 cup milk
Trim crusts from bread. Butter 4 slices of the bread and place in the bottom of a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Cut another 4 slices of bread in half, butter and line the sides of the dish. Spread apple slices on top of bread, sprinkling sugar and dotting with butter after each layer.
Heat milk until warm. Soak remaining 4 slices bread in warm milk. Lay on top of apples and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Adapted from "The Literary Gourmet"