"Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys."
Not exactly the confessions of a gourmet, you'll agree. Nevertheless, the litany of Mr. Bloom's gustatory likes will be intoned aloud in Washington, New York, Dublin, Paris and in other cities around the world this Saturday as fans of James Joyce gather to read aloud "Ulysses," the author's expansive, exhilarating, frustrating and ultimately comic chronicle of the comings and goings of a handful of Dubliners on June 16, 1904.
Joyce's realism in all his writings was based on his belief that "in the ordinary is contained the extraordinary." Food, which for many is merely fuel, was for him both nourishment and sacrament. Ordinary ingredients, like ordinary words can combine in a creative process that is both transitory and lasting.
With the intricacies of what is generally acknowledged to be this century's most famous novel to mull over, food will be secondary in Bloomsday participants' minds as they follow the wanderings of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, and listen to the ruminations of Bloom's voluptuous and restless wife, Molly.
And yet, Joyce's masterpiece is larded throughout with gastronomic and culinary references. Food is described, partaken of, enjoyed, planned for, remembered, anticipated, and woven inextricably into the events of an ordinary day that unfolds in all its extraordinary complexity.
"Know me come eat with me," Leopold Bloom says early on in "Ulysses." Joyce knew that you could tell a lot about people by what they ate. In the early years of his self-imposed exile from Ireland in Trieste, Rome, Zurich and Paris, money for food was scarce. He and Nora Barnacle, his gutsy companion and later wife, often went hungry.
Out of this hunger, however, came some descriptions of food so evocative that the smells and tastes seem to waft up from the printed page like the smoke from Bloom's frying pork kidneys: meals such as the Christmas buffet detailed in Joyce's most famous short story (and John Huston's powerful movie "The Dead") where ham and turkey, relishes and trifles are arrayed in mouth-watering detail.
But when the money was there, Joyce and Nora ate well, and usually out. Although Nora was an adequate cook and prepared the Irish dishes they preferred, she was quite content not to have to be tied to the kitchen and thought it was good for Joyce to get out and about after a day spent cooped up writing.
When fame and notoriety finally came after the publication of "Ulysses," Joyce became a regular at some of the more fashionable eating establishments in Paris, and he demanded a high standard of hospitality from any literary hanger-on he allowed to host him.
Noted more as an oenophile than a gourmet, Joyce's consumption of white wine was prodigious, even though Nora rode herd on him and his drinking companions, believing it adversely affected his failing eyesight.
Whatever Joyce's personal tastes, in "Ulysses" his characters show an amazing appreciation of the sensory delights of food and drink, from the fresh, new milk Stephen shares with Buck Mulligan and Haines in the Martello Tower at Sandycove in the opening chapter, to the earthy hedonism of Molly's midnight musings when she thinks about "scrumptious currant scones and raspberry wafers" and "blancmange with black currant jam," and dreams of "a big juicy pear now to melt in your mouth like when I used to be in the longing way ... "
When Bloom goes into Davy Byrne's pub for a lunchtime repast, his Gorgonzola sandwich with mustard and Italian olives and a glass of Burgundy set off for him a chain of thoughts about foods and their associations that has few rivals in literature.
As the "Glowing wine on his palate lingered," it triggers recollections of a sun-filled tryst with Molly amid the ferns of Howth Head and the seedcake she shared with him from "Soft, warm, sticky gumjelly lips ... "
The sensuousness of Joyce's food descriptions is almost sexual. On his way to an afternoon assignation with Molly, the amatory Blazes Boylan pauses to buy a basket of fruit: "lifting fruits, young juicy crinkled and plump red tomatoes ... "
This Bloomsday in Washington, although far removed from the smells and tastes and pubs of Dublin, you can create an edible odyssey for your literary friends to enjoy alongside Joyce's permanent feast of wit and words.
PISTO MADRILENO (6 servings)
Daughter of a Spanish mother (Lunita Laredo), Molly perhaps inherited this recipe from her: " ... O Mrs. Dwenn now whatever possessed her to write after so many years to know the recipe I had for pisto madrileno ... " This makes a nice brunch dish, or with a tossed salad, a good supper.
2 thick slices (about 1/4 pound) smoked ham, diced
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 medium eggplant, diced
1 can (8 ounces) pimento, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt, to taste
In a large casserole, gently fry the ham in the olive oil. Remove the ham and cook the onions until transparent but not brown. Add the chopped tomatoes and eggplant to the onions and return the ham to the casserole. Add the pimento and garlic, sprinkle with the pepper, and simmer, covered, until the mixture is quite soft. Set aside to allow flavors to blend.
Push the softened meat and vegetables to the outer edge and place the casserole on low heat. Whisk the eggs with a little salt and pour into the center of the casserole. Lightly scramble the eggs, scraping the bottom to keep the eggs from sticking. Stir in the vegetable and ham mixture and serve while eggs are still moist.
Per serving: 265 calories, 14 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 19 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 377 mg cholesterol, 382 mg sodium.
Adapted from "The Joyce of Cooking" by Alison Armstrong (Station Hill Press, 1986) COMBUSTIBLE DUCK (4 servings)
While he enjoys his luncheon sandwich, Leopold Bloom thinks about curly cabbage and "Combustible duck ... "
5-pound duck, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 cup of duck or chicken stock
2 tablespoons Jameson Whiskey
Prick duck with fork all over and sprinkle inside with salt and pepper and herbs. Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes in a preheated 450-degree oven. Pour off all accumulated fat. Put onion and carrot pieces around duck, reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast for 30 minutes more. Drain off fat again and roast for another 15 minutes. Check to see if juices run clear, if not, roast for 10 minutes or so more. Remove duck to warmed serving platter and keep warm.
Strain and degrease cooking juices and put into saucepan. Deglaze pan with chicken or duck stock made from wing tips, neck and gizzard, and add to juices. Add whiskey and bring to boil. Simmer until reduced by half, strain into sauce boat, pressing on solids. Season with salt and pepper and serve with duck.
Per serving: 430 calories, 24 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 33 gm fat, 11 gm saturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 268 mg sodium.
BLANCMANGE WITH BLACK CURRANT JAM (6 servings)
Molly's "blancmange with black currant jam" was probably made with carrageen, a seaweed found in Ireland that is an excellent gelatin. In my day in Dublin, blancmange was a treat for Sunday lunch or for when you were sick -- it was thought the milk would do you good. This makes a delightfully mild and pleasant dessert for anytime, but is especially cool and soothing in summer. Raspberry jam and fresh raspberries can always be substituted for the blackberries.
1 1/2 envelopes gelatin
3 cups milk
1/2 cup blackberry jelly (if using jam, heat and strain out the seeds)
5 drops of red food coloring (otherwise blancmange will have a slightly grayish color)
2 tablespoons creme de cassis (optional but delicious)
2 cups fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
Soften gelatin in small bowl with a few tablespoons of the milk. Gradually add 1 cup milk, stirring until mixture is smooth.
Heat remaining milk and blackberry jelly in saucepan until jelly has melted. Add milk and gelatin mixture and stir with whisk until gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the red food coloring and the creme de cassis.
Pour mixture in 1-quart mold that has been rinsed with cold water. A fluted mold with slanting sides is most traditional. Cool and then refrigerate until set.
Sprinkle blackberries with sugar and set aside until ready to serve. Unmold blancmange by dipping briefly into basin of hot water. Spoon blackberries decoratively around or on top of blancmange and serve on chilled plates.
Per serving: 188 calories, 6 gm protein, 33 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 66 mg sodium.
COD A` L'ORANGE FROM THE KING SITRIC RESTAURANT IN HOWTH (4 servings)
As she tosses and turns unable to sleep, Molly soliloquizes about what she'll make for dinner ... "cod yes I'll get a nice piece of cod ... I'm sick of that everlasting butchers meat ... "
3 to 4 navel oranges
2 pounds cod steaks or fillets
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash hot pepper sauce
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
Reserve one of the oranges for segments and squeeze the rest.
Place the cod flesh side down in the orange juice in pan over gentle heat and cook for about 2 minutes.
Turn the fish, season with salt and pepper and add a dash of hot pepper sauce. Cover with lid or a piece of tinfoil and cook for about 10 minutes in 350-degree oven. Remove fish to heated platter, cover and keep warm.
Reduce cooking liquid by 1/3, add the butter a little at a time, rotating the dish all the time.
Decorate the cod with the orange segments, heated through, and strain the sauce around the fish. Garnish with cilantro.
Per serving: 419 calories, 56 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 7 gm saturated fat, 199 mg cholesterol, 314 mg sodium.
Dubliner Anne Mullin Burnham now lives in Pittsburgh and is a founding member of the James Joyce Society of Washington. For further information on the Society, call Michael Heneghan at 703-978-0347.