The Cooking School Murders and The Baked Bean Supper Murders by Virginia Rich were the first books I remember reading with recipes in the back. This was back in the early 1980s. A decade later I found Tamar Myers's Pennsylvania Dutch series that featured Magdalena Yoder, the owner of a Mennonite inn in Hernia, Pennsylvania. She made me laugh when she said that she came from a family with so much intermarriage that she was probably her own aunt, niece or cousin and could have a family picnic if she went outside to eat all by herself. I did try one or two of the recipes that Myers included in her early books, but they all failed dismally. The one I wanted to succeed most was a form of chocolate pie.
|Spaghetti in Ink|
Gerald Samper, in the book Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson, declares that a good dish must remind us that the world is an unexpected place full of unfamiliar challenges. Some of his recipes include kidneys in toffee, lychees on toast with peanut butter and hard cheese, and any animal or other creature you might see in your back yard skinned and eaten with a mixture of a variety of fruits and veggies, some of which should be getting old and possibly maggot-ridden. For the extra flavor and protein, you know. These recipes would put me on a starvation diet and it would be so great for my body and soul.
The most curious cuisine that I have come across in my reading was in the book Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong. I knew that food is an important aspect of Chinese life, but what I learned in this novel was that sometimes people ate certain foods to produce certain moods and to reinforce the power in their life.
This unusual dinner that Chen Cao was invited to in order get him on the right path was a cruel food experience. This was a multi-course meal that took several hours. The menu included fried sparrow tongues followed by live caged monkey brains. The diners apparently enjoy the live brain fresh and bloody. The live caged monkey with shaven head was brought to the table. There was also live shrimp in wine. In this dish the shrimp become intoxicated as they swim in the wine. They are fried alive at the table and they hop about on the skillet. There are a few more dishes in this vein, but these few choices are also enough to put us off food for a while.
For those of you who have chosen to give up a favorite thing for Lent, I hope it wasn't reading. Whatever you are denying yourself, hang in there. Before you know it, the 40 days of penance will be over and menus can return to comfort food and satiety.