I was walking through the newsroom where I work two weeks ago when a reporter waved me to his desk.
“I know you like literary things,” he said. “Have you heard about this new cookbook that’s coming out?”
He gestured to his screen, where there was a cover image of “A Literary Tea Party” by Alison Walsh. He was writing a preview about the book’s June 5 release and interviewing the author.
The preview article my newspaper published moved across my desk last week during the evening production shift, and I had the chance to read more about it. “A Literary Tea Party” takes inspiration from foods in classic literature — such as the Turkish delight in the Chronicles of Narnia and “Bread and Butter Flies” from Alice in Wonderland — and turns them into recipes that any do-it-yourselfer can put on the table.
I’m a dabbler at cooking and baking — I love homemade meals, but I would be stretching the truth to say I cook at home more than twice a week. It’s a lucky week when I put homemade meals or treats on the table three to four times.
Even so, I knew I had to have this book.
One Amazon order later, it showed up my doorstep on Saturday. Unfortunately, it arrived after I pulled a loaf of spiced banana bread out of the oven. (There goes half my homemade quota for the week.) We had four extremely overripe bananas in the fruit basket that needed to be used, so I Frankenstein’ed a surprisingly tasty recipe from a handful I found online. When the book turned up on my doorstep later that afternoon, it turns out there was a banana bread recipe inside — Beorn’s Honey Nut Banana Bread, inspired by “The Hobbit.”
I was more than a little disappointed at the timing. If only I could’ve tested a recipe the first day!
From a literary standpoint (and especially a kid lit standpoint), the choice of literary links in this book is Turkishly delightful. Titles and series represented include:
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Borrowers
- James and the Giant Peach
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- King Arthur
- The Phantom of the Opera
- Little Women
- Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot mysteries
- Anne of Green Gables
- Sherlock Holmes
- White Fang
- The Hobbit
- A Little Princess
- The Secret Garden
- Romeo and Juliet
- Treasure Island
- Peter Pan
- A Christmas Carol
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
- The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Parents, teachers, librarians, and lovers of kid lit, do you see the number of children’s titles on that list? There are even more kid-friendly titles if you’re a believer in sharing Illustrated Classics with the kiddos. (Be a believer in sharing Illustrated Classics … they’re an amazing introduction to classic literature at a young age.)
Even better, almost all of the titles on the list have multiple recipes associated with them. That makes it easy to build a themed party. Want to host a mystery-themed book club meeting or movie night? Serve up Sherlock’s Steak Sandwiches with an Agatha Christie-inspired Delicious Death Chocolate Cake for dessert.
Or how about an Alice in Wonderland birthday party for your curiouser and curiouser young reader? Bread and Butterflies and Stuffed Button Mushrooms make good finger foods, and you can stick some birthday candles in the Queen of Hearts’ Painted Rose Cupcakes.
Each recipe includes either a passage from its related book or an explanation of the recipes link to its literature.
As the title suggests, the theme of the book revolves around a tea party. Naturally, that means a hefty portion of the recipes are tea recipes, and it’s supplemented by a decently lengthy list of savory bites and desserts. As I initially fanned through the pages, I was disappointed at the long list of tea recipes for the simple reason that I’m not a tea drinker. I haven’t found a blend yet that doesn’t make me feel like
I’m tempted to try the Anne of Green Gables-inspired Raspberry Cordial Tea, though. And honestly, I’m easily won over by names like Second Star to the Right tea, so I’m willing to give a few recipes a try.
But Walsh must have anticipated picky drinkers like me (and may even have had young tastebuds in mind), because she included a list of five tea alternatives:
- Autumn Harvest Cider (Redwall)
- Hundred Acre Hot Chocolate (Winnie-the-Pooh)
- London Fog Lattes (Sherlock Holmes)
- Raspberry Cordial (Anne of Green Gables)
- White Witch Hot Chocolate (The Chronicles of Narnia)
The range of offerings is good, from buns and breads to cookies and eclairs, to cake and cupcakes, to doughnuts and eclairs. There’s something for multiple skill levels inside.
Now, I have no doubt when I try some of these recipes, mine will look like spectacular Pinterest fails. After all, I can’t make it through a loaf of simple banana bread without texting Mom to ask how long I have to let it cool before adding the icing. (Spoiler: I didn’t let it cool enough and the icing melted down the sides. Although it looked nice after, so I pretended I meant to do that.) When I try to make something technical like these Cyclone Cookies (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), I’m sure Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would be appalled at my spiral and layers. But Walsh makes her recipes clear and accessible to baking beginners like me, so there’s hope.
I’ll post photos and updates as I disappear into Narnia … er, my kitchen … later this week and test a few of the recipes. (And even better … taste-test them!) I’ll also post what the recipe is supposed to look like, since I don’t want to do Alison Walsh the disservice of representing her recipes solely by my (lack of) culinary skills.
My initial review: If you love books and like food, get this cookbook. I’m not much of a host, but I’m already plotting a bookish get-together for fellow readers and writers that will revolve around these recipes. I hope she releases another volume in the future with even more literary references.
In the meantime, for more literary and pop culture recipes not included in the book, you can follow Alison Walsh on her blog, Alison’s Wonderland Recipes.