Eat their words

A mar­malade roll from Nar­nia and other novel recipes

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Kate Young For the fried egg Kate Young blogs at the Lit­tle Li­brary Cafe, her web­site about food in lit­er­a­ture; lit­tleli­brary; @bak­ing­fic­tion

have al­ways been a highly sug­gestible, hun­gry reader. When dis­cov­er­ing a new book, or re­vis­it­ing an old favourite, my mind wan­ders, imag­in­ing what food the char­ac­ters are en­joy­ing would taste like. A pass­ing men­tion of a ripe sum­mer straw­berry, a fra­grant roast chicken or a warm­ing mug of hot choco­late sends me straight to the kitchen, book still in hand.

When I wasn’t in the kitchen, my child­hood was spent in books. On week­ends, my dad would push me out of our front door to­wards the park, en­cour­ag­ing me to run around in the fresh air un­til dusk. Lit­tle did he know that I al­ways had a book tucked into my bike shorts, and would in­stead hide un­der a tree some­where, los­ing my­self in Jane Austen’s Re­gency Eng­land, Enid Bly­ton’s sea­side Devon or Harper Lee’s De­pres­sion-era Alabama. My child­hood was idyl­lic, but I spent much of it in par­al­lel fic­tional worlds.

As I grew up and then moved away from Aus­tralia, the books I had read as a child be­came im­bued with a strong sense of nos­tal­gia. I found that I could of­ten re­mem­ber ex­actly where I was when I had read each book for the first time. Far away from home, these mem­o­ries pro­vided real com­fort. I dis­cov­ered that the pas­sages ut­most in my mem­ory were of­ten food-re­lated. And so, as well as read­ing them, I started cook­ing from them too.

As I started writ­ing about these lit­er­ary/culi­nary links, peo­ple be­gan to get in touch, telling me of their favourite fic­tional food mem­o­ries. So many of us seemed to have a shared child­hood: time spent dream­ing of eat­ing sar­dines and drink­ing gin­ger beer on Kir­rin Is­land with the Fa­mous Five; feel­ing jeal­ous of Bruce and his choco­late cake in Matilda; and won­der­ing what on earth Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham might taste like. It is not some­thing we grow out of ei­ther. We imag­ine the drip­ping crumpets at Man­der­ley in Rebecca, and find our mouths wa­ter­ing at the thought of the per­fect steak in The End of the Af­fair. All the ti­tles I have fea­tured in my book are ones that I have read, and are part of my story. Books that I, as the li­brar­ian, would press into your hands with a glow­ing en­dorse­ment.


On the way I found an open café and ate a break­fast of rice and miso soup, pick­led veg­eta­bles and fried eggs. Nor­we­gian Wood, Haruki Mu­rakami

This break­fast is bright, sharp and salty: it gives me a boost on days when I have lots to achieve.

Miso soup Serves 4

2 pieces of konbu sea­weed 750ml wa­ter

2 tbsp white miso paste

A pinch of salt

100g silken tofu, cut into small cubes

1 Put the sea­weed and wa­ter in a saucepan, and put over a very low heat, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally. As the wa­ter boils, pull out the sea­weed.

2 Al­low the stock to boil for 2 min­utes, then turn off the heat. Spoon in the miso and stir un­til it has dis­solved. Taste and sea­son with a lit­tle salt.

3 Add the diced tofu to the hot stock. Serve im­me­di­ately.

Rice, pick­les, egg Serves 4

100g sushi rice 125ml cold wa­ter 2 tbsp rice vine­gar 1 tsp mirin

1 tsp caster su­gar

For the pick­les

1 tbsp flaky salt

1 tbsp caster su­gar White pep­per

150ml rice vine­gar 1 cu­cum­ber, finely sliced 10 radishes, roughly chopped 2 tbsp sesame oil 4 eggs

1 Wash the rice 4 times in cold wa­ter. Drain well, then pour 125ml wa­ter over the rice. Let it sit for 30 min­utes.

2 Mean­while, make the pickle. Mix the salt, caster su­gar, white pep­per and vine­gar to­gether un­til the su­gar and salt have dis­solved. Split be­tween two bowls. Put the cu­cum­ber in one and the radishes in the other. Set aside.

3 Bring the rice to the boil, then slowly sim­mer for 10 min­utes, with the lid on, un­til the wa­ter dips below the rice.


Des­de­mona went up and down the line, adding wal­nuts, but­ter, honey, spinach, cheese, adding more lay­ers of dough, then more but­ter, be­fore forg­ing the as­sem­bled con­coc­tions in the oven. Mid­dle­sex, Jef­frey Eu­genides

Shop-bought filo turns this from a full­day chal­lenge into a mid­week sup­per or week­end lunch. In Mid­dle­sex, Des­de­mona lays her pas­try out all over the house, but she is cook­ing in the 1920s, be­fore Greek pas­try was com­mon in su­per­mar­kets. If us­ing shop-bought, keep it cov­ered for as long as pos­si­ble, or it will dry out faster than you can fill it.

Spanako­pita Serves 4

1 brown onion, finely chopped 1 tbsp flavour­less oil

1kg frozen spinach 1 tbsp chopped dill 3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf pars­ley 1 egg 100g feta cheese Nut­meg, freshly grated Salt and black pep­per 100g but­ter 10 sheets filo pas­try Sesame seeds, to dec­o­rate

1 Set your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Fry the onion in the oil un­til translu­cent. Tip in the spinach, stir­ring con­stantly while it de­frosts. Cook over a rel­a­tively high heat to try to en­cour­age some of the wa­ter to evap­o­rate.

2 Tip the spinach and onion into a sieve. Squeeze out as much wa­ter as you can. Leave to cool.

3 Add the chopped herbs and egg, crum­ble in the feta, then add nut­meg, salt and pep­per to taste.

4 Melt the but­ter. Lay 2 sheets of filo on your work sur­face, with their long­est edges par­al­lel to you, and over­lap­ping by 2cm. Brush gen­er­ously with but­ter. Lay two more sheets on top, but­ter again. Repeat un­til all the filo is used up. Lay a long line of fill­ing about 5cm from the long edge of pas­try clos­est to you. Roll the pas­try into a long sausage. Coil into a spiral.

5 Trans­fer to a lined bak­ing sheet, brush gen­er­ously with but­ter, sprin­kle with sesame seeds and bake for 25 min­utes, or un­til golden brown.


Is it pos­si­ble to fall in love over a dish of onions? ...

I said, “It’s a good steak,” and heard, like po­etry, her re­ply: “It’s the best I’ve ever eaten.”

The End of the Af­fair, Gra­ham Greene

This is, in my opin­ion, the sex­i­est dish in my book. I rec­om­mend serv­ing it to someone you fancy. Sarah’s thoughts on the steak in The End of the Af­fair are the re­sponse you are aim­ing for, so keep it sim­ple, and don’t for­get to let it rest. And, I guar­an­tee you, it is pos­si­ble to fall in love over these onions.

Steak and onions Serves 2

2 rump steaks Salt and black pep­per Olive oil

For the onions

16 small, round shal­lots 50g but­ter

30 sprigs thyme Salt and black pep­per

1 Set your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Re­move the steaks from the fridge to bring them to room tem­per­a­ture.

2 Top and tail your shal­lots and peel off the outer layer of skin. Ar­range them with one of the cut sides up in a small oven­proof dish. Put a small pat of but­ter on each one, then add a cou­ple of sprigs of thyme. Sea­son. Trans­fer the dish to the oven for 50 min­utes, un­til golden and soft.

3 In the last 15 min­utes of the onion cook­ing time, heat a grid­dle pan or heavy fry­ing pan un­til wa­ter evap­o­rates im­me­di­ately when flicked on to it. Sprin­kle some salt and pep­per on one side of the steaks and put them, sea­son­ing-side down, into the pan.

4 Flip each steak ev­ery 30 sec­onds or so. I’m loath to give cook­ing times here, be­cause it is so de­pen­dent on the thick­ness of your steak. I use the hand test I was taught at school in­stead. Gently touch your fore­fin­ger to your thumb. Prod the heel of your thumb with a fin­ger from your other hand. You’re look­ing for a sim­i­lar ten­der­ness in a rare steak. If you want your steak cooked dif­fer­ently, it’s: medium rare – mid­dle fin­ger; medium – ring fin­ger; well done – lit­tle fin­ger.

5 Once your steaks are cooked to your lik­ing, wrap them in foil and leave to rest for 5 min­utes, then slice the

Des­de­mona went down the line, adding more lay­ers of dough, then more but­ter ...

steak into strips, put on your plate, and sea­son with salt, pep­per and a lit­tle driz­zle of olive oil. Serve with the dish of onions.

Mid­night feast

And when they had fin­ished the fish, Mrs Beaver brought, un­ex­pect­edly, out of the oven, a great and glo­ri­ously sticky mar­malade roll, steam­ing hot ...

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

I am un­able to stay in­side when snow starts. I frolic. But as much as I love be­ing out­side in it, that first hour back in­side again – the long bath, the clean, warm socks, the hot meal – is just as won­der­ful. This mar­malade roll, served to the Peven­sie chil­dren by the beavers as the snow lies thick on the ground un­der an ink-black sky, is just the ticket. Custard is the ideal ac­com­pa­ni­ment.

Mar­malade roll (on the cover)

Serves 6

250g plain/all-pur­pose flour 50g light brown su­gar 1 tsp bak­ing pow­der 40g but­ter 40g veg­etable suet 60g soured cream 60ml milk 1 egg 450g mar­malade 25ml whiskey

For the custard

300ml milk 100ml dou­ble cream 1 vanilla pod 4 egg yolks 40g caster su­gar

1 Set the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Sift the flour, su­gar and bak­ing pow­der into a mix­ing bowl. Rub the but­ter and suet into the mix­ture with your fin­ger­tips un­til it re­sem­bles bread­crumbs.

2 Whisk the soured cream, milk and egg to­gether in a cup, then tip into the dry in­gre­di­ents. Mix with a fork un­til it comes to­gether in a dough. Gen­er­ously flour the work sur­face and tip the dough out. Push it out into a rough rec­tan­gle, around 18x30cm in size and 15mm thick.

3 Spoon ⅔ of the mar­malade on to the dough, spread­ing it over the whole sur­face. If your mar­malade is hard set and not very spread­able, warm it over a low heat to melt a lit­tle.

4 Us­ing a spat­ula, roll the dough up from the short end into a scroll. Pinch the ends to­gether, and roll tightly in grease­proof pa­per. Tie the ends with string, or twist them and tuck them un­der the mar­malade roll. Place a rack in the base of an oven dish, and place the roll on top. Trans­fer to the oven and, be­fore you close the door, tip a lit­tle boiling wa­ter into the bot­tom of the dish, be­ing care­ful to en­sure that the wa­ter does not touch the roll. Bake for 1 hour, un­til a skewer in­serted into the roll comes out with no bits of un­cooked dough cling­ing to it.

5 To make the custard, pour the milk and cream into a saucepan with the split vanilla pod. Place over a low heat un­til al­most sim­mer­ing, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally to pre­vent the milk burn­ing. Re­move the vanilla pod.

6 Whisk the egg yolks and su­gar to­gether. While still whisk­ing, slowly pour the hot milk and cream on top.

7 Pour the custard back into the saucepan. Stir con­tin­u­ously over a very low heat un­til thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. If you’re not go­ing to serve it im­me­di­ately, cover the top with plas­tic wrap, push­ing it down un­til it sits on the top of the custard, to pre­vent it from form­ing a skin.

8 Re­move the roll from the oven. Put the rest of the mar­malade and the whisky in a small saucepan and heat un­til liq­uid. Paint the top of the roll with the mar­malade glaze and serve hot with the custard.

▲ The Lit­tle Li­brary Cook­book (Head of Zeus) is out now

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