Recipes and Household Tips from Great Writers
Tiramisu à la Proust, hanging wallpaper with Hemingway, weeding by hand with Émile Zola, and other domestic adventures with literary greats.
By Maria Popova
Household chores. We dread them, we put them off indefinitely, we think of them as anything but entertainment. But here comes The Household Tips of the Great Writers — an imaginative and impossibly humorous omnibus of literary impersonation by parodist extraordinaire Mark Crick, who guides us through the art and craft of cooking, gardening, and fixing up the house with the help of some of modern history’s most celebrated literary icons. The real joy of the book, of course, isn’t so much the specific recipes and tips — though who could resist a quick miso soup à la Kafka? — as the comedic precision with which Crick caricatures, lovingly, each writer’s voice.
From boarding the attic with Edgar Allan Poe (“Working from the corner furthest from the feeble light source, which scarce illuminated my labours, I began to lay the boards. Those dark recesses, unlooked upon since the cloak of slate first enveloped them in eternal night, resisted my intrusion like the densest thicket.”) to putting up a garden fence with Hunter S. Thompson (“He lifted a size-eleven foot onto the spade, his leg peeking coquettishly through the slit trouser leg, and the blade sank into the ground. There was a lot to do.”) to burying bulbs in autumn with Sylvia Plath (“I swallowed trying again to clear the bitter taste from my mouth then I tipped the bulbs from the bag and watched as their fat little bodies rolled around on the garden path.”), Crick has all your household and gardening needs and emergencies covered.
Then there’s the kitchen, with its delectable tapas bar of literary treats. Start with tarragon eggs à la Jane Austen:
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons tarragon (fresh or dried)
The possibility that her eggs might find themselves cooked with the aristocratic herb sent Mrs. B— into such a state of excitement that Lady Cumberland would have risen to leave were it not for the promise of luncheon. Instead she instructed her host to produce the dish without delay: ‘I suggest you begin.’
Follow with mushroom risotto à la John Steinbeck:
Extra virgin olive oil
25g porcini mushrooms
3 field mushrooms
2 cloves garlic
200g risotto rice
500ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
1 glass white wine
The porcini lay dry and wrinkled, each slice twisted by thirst and the colour of parched earth. When the water finally fell, at first only in splashes, they drank what they could, but soon they were all covered with the life-giving liquid. The parched fragments recovered an earlier form, their contortions changed, by the gift of the water, into a supine mass, glistening. What had resembled a bowl of tree bark now had the rich colour of cooked meat, the purple brown of wet soil had replaced the dry plaster of Arizona earth.
Finish with tiramisu à la Marcel Proust:
12-15 Saviardi sponge fingers
100g caster sugar
Amaretto di Saronno
2 cups cold coffee
From this ancient past — its great houses gone and its inhabitants dwindling, like the last creatures of a mythical forest — came something infinitely more frail and yet more alive, insubstantial yet persistent; the memories of smell and taste, so faithful, resisted the destruction and rebuilt for a moment the palace wherein dwelt the remembrance of that evening and that tiramisu.
Whether you consider yourself a bibliophile, a culinary connoisseur, or a modern-day MacGyver, The Household Tips of the Great Writers is bound to tickle your fancy and impart a handy tip or two along the way — because who doesn’t want to know how to prune a rose like Pablo Neruda?
Illustration: “Snacks of Great Scribblers” by Wendy MacNaughton
Published May 16, 2012