October 12, 2013

A Culinary Diversion

I was looking through a couple of boxes of old cookbooks recently and found a copy of the 1976 British book The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook by John Fisher.

Fisher’s book features illustrations and excerpts from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass.  Recipes are inspired by each of the Alice passages.  Dishes include “Drink Me” Soup & “Eat Me” Cakes, Ambidextrous Mushrooms, Not “Too Much Pepper” Soup, Mock Turtle Soup, Bread-and-Butter-Fly Pudding, and–of course–The Jam Tarts of the Queen of Hearts.

While the inspiration is a children’s book, most of the recipes are not really kid friendly.  By far, the most interesting–and most adult–recipe is one called “Snapdragon”:

a shallow metal bowl / brandy / seeded raisins 
1.  For this traditional Victorian Christmas game, rather than dish, fill the bowl with brandy, toss in the raisins, and then set light to the spirit. 
2.  The object of the game (also known as Flapdragon) is to snatch the raisins from the flickering blue flames and pop them, still alight, into your mouth. 
3.  For full atmospheric effect the room should be otherwise in darkness, while to ensure the longest lasting flames none of the flavour is impaired if the brandy is beforehand diluted with vodka, two parts of the former to one of the latter. 
4.  The flavour of the raisins is enhanced, in fact, if they are steeped in a jar of the spirit for a day or two before playing the game.

Also included in the book are two shorter pieces by Carroll…”Feeding the Mind” & “Hints for Etiquette: Or, Dining Out Made Easy.”  In “Feeding the Mind,” Carroll argues that we should “provide for our mind its proper kind of food” (ie reading) while being “careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount.”  He writes, “Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite.”  He goes on to warn of the dangers of consuming “too many kinds at once,” of allowing “proper intervals” between meals, and of digesting our mental food by “simply thinking over what we read.”

Carroll concludes by stating: “If this paper has given you any useful hints on the important subject of reading, and made you see that it is one’s duty no less than one’s interest to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ the good books that fall in your way, its purpose will be fulfilled.”

“Hints for Etiquette” is a blueprint by Carroll for behavior at the dinner table and was first published in 1855 (10 years before Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland).  In it, he lists 9 “rules” of etiquette.  Here are two of my favorite:
In proceeding to the dining-room, the gentleman give one arm to the lady he escorts–it is unusual to offer both. 
We do not recommend the practice of eating cheese with a knife and fork in one hand, and a spoon and wine-glass in the other; there is a kind of awkwardness in the action which no amount of practice can entirely dispel.

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