It’s a well-known fact (or stereotype) that writers love to drink, but they’ve got to have something to weigh down all those whiskey shots and mint juleps. So if you too are looking for a little brain food, we’ve collected a few of the favorite recipes of some of our most beloved literary figures — who, predictably, have lots of very specific advice advice on how to properly prepare everything from eggs to trout to truffles. Plus, as far as we’re concerned, any recipe where Vladimir Nabokov chides us for our assumed clumsiness or Jonathan Franzen strictly forbids certain toppings is worth reading whether we’re in a kitchen or on the couch. Click through to pick up a few choice recipes from the likes of Hemingway, Ginsberg, and Dickinson, and let us know which meals you’ll be cooking up (book in hand, preferably) in the comments.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque
Now there’s a double (triple?) entendre if we’ve ever heard one. As sent to Maxime de la Falaise for her cooking book in 1972:
“Boil water in a saucepan (bubbles mean it is boiling!). Take two eggs (for one person) out of the refrigerator. Hold them under the hot tap water to make them ready for what awaits them.
Place each in a pan, one after the other, and let them slip soundlessly into the (boiling) water. Consult your wristwatch. Stand over them with a spoon preventing them (they are apt to roll) from knocking against the damned side of the pan.
If, however, an egg cracks in the water (now bubbling like mad) and starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff like a medium in an old fashioned seance, fish it out and throw it away. Take another and be more careful.
After 200 seconds have passed, or, say, 240 (taking interruptions into account), start scooping the eggs out. Place them, round end up, in two egg cups. With a small spoon tap-tap in a circle and hen pry open the lid of the shell. Have some salt and buttered bread (white) ready. Eat.
V.N. November 18, 1972”
Ernest Hemingway’s pan fried trout
We all know Papa was an outdoorsman, and like everything else, he had some pretty strong ideas about how cooking in the wild should be done:
“Outside of insects and bum sleeping, the rock that wrecks most camping trips is cooking. The average tyro’s idea of cooking is to fry everything and fry it good and plenty. Now, a frying pan is a most necessary thing to any trip, but you also need the old stew kettle and the folding reflector baker.
A pan of fried trout can’t be bettered and they don’t cost any more than ever. But there is a good and bad way of frying them….
The proper way is to cook over coals. Have several cans of Crisco or Cotosuet or one of the vegetable shortenings along that are as good as lard and excellent for all kinds of shortening. Put the bacon in and when it is about half cooked lay the trout in the hot grease, dipping them in cornmeal first. Then put the bacon on top of the trout and it will baste them as it slowly cooks….
The trout are crisp outside and firm and pink inside and the bacon is well done — but not too done. If there is anything better than that combination the writer has yet to taste it in a lifetime devoted largely and studiously to eating.”
[From Camping Out, published in The Toronto Star Weekly June 26, 1920]
Elizabeth Bishop’s Brownies
Elizabeth Bishop singlehandedly introduced brownies to Brazil. Or at least that’s what she claims in her letters to Robert Lowell during her years in the country. “Since Brazilians are mad about anything chocolate…I have been requested to bring along 4 dozen brownies (something I’ve introduced to Brazil) and a large chocolate cake,” she writes in the fall of 1957. “You see how innocent our lives are here — just making money and eating sweets.” Sound like the good life.
4 squares bitter chocolate (or about a cup of cocoa) 4 eggs 1/2 cup butter 2 1/2 cups white sugar 1 cup flour 2 teaspoons vanilla 2 cups chopped nuts
Melt the chocolate and butter together – or, if you use cocoa, melt along with half the sugar and a little water. Cool slightly and beat in eggs and rest of sugar.
Sift in flour, add vanilla and nuts and beat. The batter is fairly stiff – doesn’t run much. Spread about this thick in square pan.
Bake in a slow oven – about 45 minutes to an hr., depending on pan, thickness, etc. They should be dry on top, just pulling away from edges, but still rather damp in the middle. Cut in squares in pan and remove with spatula.
This makes chewy brownies – for a harder kind, use brown sugar and an extra egg – or half brown sugar – Can be made thicker and used hot with whipped cream on top for a desert [sic].”
[via Paper and Salt]
Turns out legendary bad girl Colette didn’t just indulge her (risqué at the time) sexual appetites, but the prolific author also had a knack for truffles — a food that, of course, happened to be a prized aphrodisiac in ancient Rome.
“Steep in good very dry white wine. Keep your champagne for banquets; the truffle (highly prized black or white mushroom sniffed out by pigs and dogs) does very well without it. Lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Cook in a covered black concotte (black iron skillet). For 25 minutes it dances in the boiling liquid… which give substance to the cooking juices. No other spices whatsoever! To hell with the pressed napkin, tasting and smelling of chlorine, the final bed of the cooked truffle. Your truffles should come to the table in their court-bouillon (cooking liquid.) Take a generous helping: the truffle whets the appetite and assists the digestion.”
[From Authors’ Famous Recipes and Reflections on Food , by Diane E. Holloway]
Jonathan Franzen’s Pasta with Kale
We want to make fun of Jonathan Franzen for calling this garlicky pasta “handsome,” “private,” “erotic” and “virtuous,” but we want to eat it so much that we can’t quite bring ourselves to give him any lip.
“This is good food for a working writer: cheap, easy to make, handsome, elegant, nutritionally well-balanced, devoid of saturated fat, private, erotic, virtuous, delicious. I eat it hot the first night and then cold as leftovers for two further dinners and maybe one lunch.
1 lb. fresh kale 1 lb. good dry pasta, ideally Del Verde brand 1 kettle of water with lots of salt 3 medium-size garlic cloves 1/2 cup (or less) extra-virgin olive oil Salt and pepper to taste
Boil water in a kettle. Peel the garlic and chop it up. Wash the kale, tearing it into pieces roughly the size of playing cards (throw away the lower, woodier two-thirds of the stems), and pile it into a pot. Add a little water, if necessary, to make maybe a quarter-inch on the bottom of the pot. Cover with a lid. Sauté the garlic (and some salt) in the olive oil until the garlic just barely begins to brown; remove from heat. Add pasta to the boiling water and stir it a little. Turn on high heat under the kale and steam/boil it, tossing it once or twice, until it’s full wilted; pour off any excess liquid. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it with the kale, garlic, and oil. Some pepper may be ground over it. Grated cheese, however, is a desecration.”
[From The New Great American Writers Cookbook by Dean Faulkner Wells]
Salman Rushdie’s Lamb Korma
Turns out Padma’s cooking never held a candle to dear old Mom’s. “If you asked my mother for a recipe,” Salman Rushdie writes, “she’d say, ‘Well, you take some of this and a bit of that, and you stir it for a while and cook it a little more.’ But the meals of our childhood are magical memories—the koftas (meatballs), kormas (rich curries with yogurt), and delicious desserts. Lamb korma is one of [my son] Milan’s absolute favorites, and mine as well.”
1½ cups chopped onion 1 cup clarified butter (melted and skimmed of milk solids) 4 to 5 large cardamom pods (available in the spice section) 10 to 12 small cardamom pods 2 lb lamb, cubed 6 to 8 garlic cloves, crushed ½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated 1½ Tbsp ground coriander 1 tsp red chili powder 1½ tsp salt 8 oz plain yogurt, lightly whisked Pinch of saffron
1. Brown onions in butter until deep golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and pulse in a blender to form a paste. Crush cardamom; mix into paste.
2. Add meat to pan; stir over medium-high. After a few minutes, add garlic, ginger, coriander, chili powder, and salt. Stir for a couple of minutes. Mix in yogurt. Cover and cook over very low heat, 1 to 1½ hours.
3. About 5 minutes before korma is ready, add onion-cardamom paste and saffron so it can be absorbed by the meat and gravy.
Salman’s Tips: “Trim all excess fat first, then cut the meat into medium-size cubes, deboning some pieces and keeping others on the bone.” “After 30 minutes, you may need to add some water. But if your gravy is too watery, you added too much! Turn the heat up and boil some off. A korma should have a thick sauce.”
[via Dash Recipes]
Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake
Though Emily Dickinson was a famous recluse who rarely left the house, she loved to bake, and would often lower a basket full of her homemade sweets to the neighborhood children waiting in the street below, a touching brush with community through food. According to Dickinson critic Vivian Pollak, “slightly more than 10 percent of Dickinson’s poems employ images of food and drink,” a clear sign that the poet loved to cook (or at least to eat). The following recipe for coconut cake even inspired its own poem — penned directly on the back of the paper.
1 cup coconut 2 cups flour 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup butter 1/2 cup milk 2 eggs 1/2 teaspoon soda 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
[See Dickinson’s original handwritten recipe and read suggestions for assembly at NPR]
William T. Vollmann’s Caribou, Arctic Canada style
Well, we’d expect nothing less.
1. Kill a caribou, butcher it, and cut the meat into handy 5- or 10-pound chunks. 2. Freeze until needed. 3. Take a hunk of the raw frozen meat and put it on a piece of cardboard on the kitchen floor. 4. Kneel down and chop off a handful of flakes and splinters, using a nice sharp hatchet. 5. Dip in inukpo (seal fat, frozen to the consistency of jelly). 6. Eat.
[From The New Great American Writers Cookbook by Dean Faulkner Wells]
Allen Ginsberg’s Cold Summer Borscht
Though The Last Soup of Allen Ginsberg it’s not, Ginsberg had a notoriously fine soup hand, so we think this summery borscht might still inspire some poetic brilliance.
Dozen beets cleaned & chopped to bite size salad-size Strips Stems & leaves also chopped like salad lettuce All boiled together lightly salted to make a bright red soup, with beets now soft – boil an hour or more Add Sugar & Lemon Juice to make the red liquid sweet & sour like Lemonade Chill 4 gallon(s) of beet liquid – Serve with (1) Sour Cream on table (2) Boiled small or halved potato on the side i.e. so hot potatoes don’t heat the cold soup prematurely (3) Spring salad on table to put into cold red liquid 1) Onions – sliced (spring onions) 2) Tomatoes – sliced bite-sized 3) Lettuce – ditto 4) Cucumbers – ditto 5) a few radishes
Suitable for Summer Dinner.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Recipes
What roundup of author recipes would be complete without Fitzgerald’s famous (and hilarious) list of uses for leftover turkey? Not ours, at least.
“TURKEY REMAINS AND HOW TO INTER THEM WITH NUMEROUS SCARCE RECIPES
At this post holiday season, the refrigerators of the nation are overstuffed with large masses of turkey, the sight of which is calculated to give an adult an attack of dizziness. It seems, therefore, an appropriate time to give the owners the benefit of my experience as an old gourmet, in using this surplus material. Some of the recipes have been in my family for generations. (This usually occurs when rigor mortis sets in.) They were collected over years, from old cook books, yellowed diaries of the Pilgrim Fathers, mail order catalogues, golf-bags and trash cans. Not one but has been tried and proven—there are headstones all over America to testify to the fact.
Very well then. Here goes:
1. Turkey Cocktail: To one large turkey add one gallon of vermouth and a demijohn of angostura bitters. Shake.
2. Turkey à la Francais: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage pudding.
3. Turkey and Water: Take one turkey and one pan of water. Heat the latter to the boiling point and then put in the refrigerator. When it has jelled, drown the turkey in it. Eat. In preparing this recipe it is best to have a few ham sandwiches around in case things go wrong.
4. Turkey Mongole: Take three butts of salami and a large turkey skeleton, from which the feathers and natural stuffing have been removed. Lay them out on the table and call up some Mongole in the neighborhood to tell you how to proceed from there.
5. Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.
6. Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn’t noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg—well, anyhow, beat it.
7. Turkey à la Crême: Prepare the crême a day in advance. Deluge the turkey with it and cook for six days over a blast furnace. Wrap in fly paper and serve.
[See the rest at Lists of Note]