In a digital world, I tend to collect recipes from the internet. Where my mom had a row of cookbooks, I have a Pinterest board.
That isn’t to say print cookbooks don’t have a place in my kitchen. I have four – a tried-and-true Better Homes & Gardens cookbook inherited from a grandparent, a staple-bound Southern cooking pamphlet my husband found at a secondhand book sale, and two of Alison Walsh’s cookbooks: A Literary Tea Party and A Literary Holiday Cookbook.
In March, Alison Walsh released her third literary cookbook. This time, the author and chef ventured into independent publishing to release the e-book A Literary Picnic.
Even though the majority of my go-to recipes are in a digital format, I’m somewhat disappointed there’s not a print edition of Walsh’s latest book. We’re a literature-loving household, so her cookbooks are on display in our kitchen. I wish I could add the latest edition to the shelf, but alas.
When it comes to practical use, though, the cookbook is handy because it’s accessible from my phone. My common practice in the kitchen is to prop my phone on the counter and open recipes on the screen, so it fits my habits nicely.
The cookbook features five picnic menus inspired by classic children’s literature: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, common fairy tales, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Secret Garden and Winnie-the-Pooh. Each menu is broken down into five items: appetizer, entree, side dish, dessert, and beverage. In the author’s note, Walsh points out the majority of the recipes are finger foods. That’s user-friendly for picnics.
At the beginning of each recipe is a quote from the respective story, which feeds insight into the menu selection. For example, the passage at the beginning of the Alice in Wonderland Mushroom Scones recipe reads, “After a while she remembered that she still held the pieces of mushroom in her hands, and she set to work very carefully nibbling first at one and then the other.”
The recipes are well-planned to fit their literary themes. Whether it’s the heart-shaped tarts on the Alice in Wonderland menu, key-shaped crackers on The Secret Garden menu, or the bunny-shaped hand pies for Peter Rabbit, the meal’s connection to its story is immediately recognizable. And the flavors tie into the stories, too – the ingredients are inspired by the characters and settings. The Winnie the Pooh menu, for example, prominently incorporates honey (or “hunny,” as Pooh would inevitably spell it).
Throughout the cookbook, users will find blue notes in the margins that offer a variety of tips to use leftover ingredients instead of discarding them, such as using trimmed bread crusts to make bread crumbs or what to do with homemade marshmallows if they start to turn stale.
The recipe instructions are written in a manner that’s friendly for beginning bakers; however, several of the menus include recipes that may be tricky for kitchen novices. A first-time pastry maker could probably assemble Rapunzel’s Braided Pastries, but I wager it will take a lot of practice before the final product looks like Walsh’s photo. Then there are higher level recipes like the Vanilla Bean Marshmallow Bunnies. The ambitious voice in my head says, “Cute! Let’s try it!” The realistic voice in my head says, “Let’s work our way up to that one.”
Some of the recipes will have novice bakers like me on the hunt for unfamiliar ingredients. I was especially intrigued by the color-changing Drink Me Potion for the Alice-themed picnic. It’s a four-ingredient beverage, which seems simple enough, but I had never heard of butterfly pea flower blossoms. I opened my Kroger app to see if the local store carries the ingredient and had a momentary shock when I saw 17 ounces of butterfly pea flower powder costs $87.31. Luckily that’s not the ingredient I needed (the recipe calls for the flowers, not the powder), but a quick search of local stores revealed it’s not stocked on shelves in my area. Fortunately, they are available (and affordable) online. Before scheduling a picnic, be sure to read the recipes closely and plan ahead to stock your cupboard.
One of my favorite recipes in the book is a relatively simple sugar cookie recipe. What makes it stand out is the way Walsh instructs bakers to pipe their own swans, which are then stood upright in a blue cookie to look like they’re swimming on a pond. As someone who bakes Christmas sugar cookies once a year and always uses a cookie cutter, this recipe created a lightbulb moment for me. I can pipe cookies into my own shapes! I’ve always just rolled the dough into balls or relied on cookie cutters.
One of the delights of a new cookbook is finding a recipe that I never knew existed. A Literary Picnic introduced me to fruit leather (it looks like a homemade Fruit Roll-Up), which takes only three ingredients per batch. It may prove more challenging in the kitchen than it sounds on paper, but I’m looking forward to the experiment.
If I had kids at home, I would love to do a summer parent/child book club by letting my kids pick one of the stories that inspired Walsh, then read it together and host a picnic as a finale. Walsh’s picnics would make a great capstone activity related to children’s literature – in fact, for an extra learning experience, kids could help prepare some of the simpler recipes, such as Chamomile Muffins.
Be sure to check out her list of cooking tips at the back of the book – they’re helpful, both in relation to her recipes and in general. Walsh also includes product links to special tools and ingredients (including those elusive butterfly pea flower blossoms I was hunting for).
To buy the cookbook, visit Alison Walsh’s blog at https://wonderlandrecipes.com/product/literary-picnic or buy it via Amazon.
Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of A Literary Picnic in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.