When Ella Buchan, co-author of A Gothic Cookbook, reached out to me, I was excited for the opportunity to test any recipe in her and Alessandra Pino’s forthcoming gothic literature-inspired cookery book. When she offered “that very special gingerbread” from Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 classic, Rebecca, it felt fated. I love ginger and Rebecca with equal intensity. Already a fan of Hitchcock’s adaptation (1940), my first encounter with du Maurier’s Rebecca occurred on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I was newly living in California. It was hot. I was homesick. I pored over Rebecca, missing cold breezes, crumpets, and ‘proper’ cups of tea. Every time our nameless heroine took tea, so did I. I had a toaster oven, a hot plate, and an electric kettle in my barely-there kitchenette corner. I had measuring cups, American-sized, and the smallest loaf tin known to existence. I didn’t realise I was doing it at first, but I baked and brewed my way through that reading, and it made me feel at home. So, when I say it felt fated that Ella should bestow “that very special gingerbread” upon me, I truly mean it. Of all the gothic classics that I know and love, this is the one that existed in my kitchen and this is the one I am most keen to properly taste.
When I awoke on this ‘fine’ British summer’s morning to the sea air and salty rain rattling the windows in their panes, I knew that today was the day. I am descended from a first-generation food blogger, and I’ve seen the memes; I know I have to tell a story first – well that (above) was it. Now, I will let you meet Ella who will introduce the book itself. I will share my photos from today – a glimpse at the scene I set. I hope Mrs Danvers would be proud. Excitingly I will, with kind permission, also be giving the full recipe from A Gothic Cookbook and an exclusive offer to you, dear spooky nerds! Feast on!
𝕱𝖗𝖔𝖒 𝕿𝖊𝖝𝖙 𝖙𝖔 𝕿𝖆𝖇𝖑𝖊 𝕿𝖔𝖕
First, let me introduce the team: Ella Buchan, who joins me today, is a food and travel writer for National Geographic titles, amongst others; Alessandra ‘Allie’ Pino, is a PhD candidate with a specialism in food and Gothic literature; and Lee Henry, a graphic designer and artist specialising in food branding, is the book’s illustrator (and Ella’s partner).
Now we know who, let’s explore what. What is A Gothic Cookbook and how did it come to be?
“‘A Gothic Cookbook’ was born (as most beings) on a birthday – Allie’s (I won’t say which one). Knowing about her studies, I scouted around for something that combined food and Gothic literature. I didn’t find much, and certainly not a Gothic cookbook. I bought a lovely edition of Poe’s Collected Stories and joked to Allie that I couldn’t find a Gothic cookbook. She said, “let’s write one!” So we did.
“‘A Gothic Cookbook’ is, first and foremost, a celebration of food in Gothic literature. There are 13 chapters, each focusing on a different novel or short story, including Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, of course, plus Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (a vegetarian “monster”), Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ (where the ghost craves “sweet things” as if they are what “she was born for”), Ira Levin’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (witchcraft, spells, cravings, and a “chalky undertaste”) and Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’.
“Each chapter opens with original artwork inspired by the food in the story, has an essay-style discussion highlighting the edible imagery and themes, and has around half a dozen recipes inspired by that particular text. The recipes are accompanied by illustrations. We want it to feel and look like a vintage Gothic novel, with a cloth-bound cover and shadowy, intricate drawings. The latter are black and white with touches of red – […] from salmon pink to rusty-red, via blood-red.“
It sounds like a delicious combination of the culinary, literary, academic and artistic – the perfect medley of each team member’s skills. Obviously I am delighted that you did, but I am keen to understand why you chose gothic literature in particular. I understand that the gothic is Allie’s academic specialism*, but what does the gothic mean to you? (I ask this of everyone who features here on Generally Gothic and I am always looking for personal responses not dictionary definitions!)
“It’s a tough question and there’s no obvious answer (which I guess is why you ask everyone!). Gothic can mean horror, it can mean ghosts, it can mean being scared out of your skin. But, more often, it’s a dark foreboding. A fleeting shadow, a “something” out of the corner of your eye, a sense that something is off, not quite right. It’s a misty, foggy, web-strewn, textured, atmospheric way of writing, and it’s creepiness that usually, well, creeps up in an insidious way. Many of the best Gothic authors signal the terror/doom/haunting and so on without spelling it out, so imagery is even more important than in other genres, perhaps. We think that’s why food is so important – it often gives a hint at horror, is used as a device for dramatic irony, suggests that the character/s should run for the hills (not Hill House, though – definitely not). An example is when, after Maxim’s damp squib of a proposal, the narrator eats some segments of his tangerine and finds them “bitter”. There’s no accidental, incidental imagery in Du Maurier’s writing, and our reading is that the fruit is basically telling her “don’t marry him!” (She should have listened.)”
* For Allie’s take on food in the gothic, watch her discuss her research, as part of Romancing the Gothic – an ever-inspiring lecture series/network of gothicists, masterminded by our strong, female lead, Dr Sam Hirst.
I love how you describe the atmospheric quality of the gothic, and speak of food as a motif or device “hint[ing] at horror”. I think of the gothic, like the wider horror genre, as visceral. That it would expand into a truly multisensory reading experience in this way seems like natural progression. I am interested to know, how do you select specific culinary moments within literature? Do you find yourself naturally drawn to or away from certain [literary or culinary] aspects?
“We start by scouring the texts to ensure they really are right for the book, because they do need to contain plenty of food (in the writing, that is – we’re not talking spillages and biscuit crumbs!). It needs to have something to say/be important in the development of the plot and/or characters, and we need to know it will inspire some recipes that are delicious, fun to cook and really help bring the book to life/to the dinner party. Then it’s about selecting the passages that are most important, most evocative, and most mouth-watering. […]
“But it’s all interesting, because even when food is scantly described, that tells us something: in ‘The Woman in Black’, for example, the narrator begins feasting on broth, beef and apple and raisin tart. By the end, he finds no comfort in food and struggles to drag himself to the breakfast table. In ‘Rebecca’, a very different afternoon tea is simply bread, butter and China tea. Jonathan Harker’s meals become less descriptive in ‘Dracula’ as it becomes clear he is to be consumed…”
It’s fascinating how much representations of food seem to reveal about character and plot development! When you first mentioned the gingerbread in Rebecca, I was interested to see whether you would interpret that as a cake or biscuit, because (thanks, British English!) the two are interchangeable… What is the process of creating a recipe, particularly from a primary source with limited detail? Do you carry out contextual research or work purely with information provided within the text itself?
“It’s really important to us to be as authentic as possible, which, as you say, can be tricky when there are very scant descriptions in the text. When that is the case, we research the time period and the setting/location. In the case of ‘Rebecca’, no year is given so we assume 1930s, when it was published, and also that the afternoon tea dishes would have been traditional and very “proper”. That would have been a gingerbread loaf, Victorian style, and this was our starting point. To make it “very special”, rum made sense because it was already widely available in England, at least for wealthy households. […]
“All recipes are:
– true to the descriptions in the books,
– based on research of the place/period/type of occasion to avoid being anachronistic,
– connected to a story about the author,
– inspired by a major food/drink theme in the book.”
I am sure all the research will not go unnoticed – it is the historical authenticity that will really bring the novels alive through the recipes. Beyond Manderley’s very special gingerbread, what other delights can ravenous readers expect to find in A Gothic Cookbook?
“We’ve actually decided to recreate the entire Mandeley afternoon tea spread – hot floury scones, sandwiches of “unknown nature”, angel cake and “his stodgier cousin”. The ‘Rebecca’ chapter will also have ravioli (as eaten by Mrs Van Hopper in Monaco) and chicken in aspic, from the ball.
“Each chapter inspires quite different styles of cooking, so ‘Dracula’ has the Hungarian paprikash or Paprika Hendl, which we are presenting as a chicken paprikash and a vegetarian alternative, with squash. ‘Frankenstein’ is foraged berries and acorn-based recipes (yes, we will be gathering some and making our own flour!), plus a “Shepherd’s Breakfast Bake” – like a savoury bread pudding – made with the ingredients of the shepherd’s breakfast the creature devours (he likes everything but the wine). Then we have “Chalk and Chocolate” mousses inspired by the “chalky undertaste” in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, a Chilean “chupe” (seafood stew with a breadcrumb and cheese top) from the same book and, from Angela Carter’s terrifying short story ‘The Bloody Chamber’, a roast pheasant (and veggie alternative) served with a chocolate and hazelnut mole, based on the “Mexican dish of pheasant with hazelnuts and chocolate”.
“There will be seed cake, offered as a gesture of kindness in ‘Jane Eyre’; a poached chicken in wine and Count Fosco’s vanilla bon bons from Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’; and, from Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman in Black’, a bone broth. Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ will focus on “sweet things”, craved by the ghost, while ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ has peach shortcakes, paranormal picnic spreads, and spatchcock chicken with radish-top pesto (based on “a bird, and radishes from the garden”). Plus many more… […] Each chapter has at least 4-5 recipes, while some have more.
“It’s also worth mentioning that we are very conscious of making the book vegetarian and vegan friendly, so we are including well-tested adaptations where relevant and often a full recipe for a vegetarian option, plus many of the recipes are meat-free anyway. We want this to be a book to inspire both solitary immersion in all things Gothic and literature and also to help people create wonderful Gothic dinner parties for family and friends, with everyone given the full, darkly delicious experience.”
Who knew gothic literature could taste this good?! My mouth waters at the thought… Before I share the recipe for Rebecca’s Gingerbread – which was a text to table top triumph! – pray tell: how, where, and when can voracious readers get their greedy mitts on A Gothic Cookbook?
“Our Unbound page has details of various pledge levels, from signed copies to dinner party kits, original artwork and even a Gothic-style portrait of your pet. We recently added a cocktail booklet, too, bound in textured recycled card and containing drinks recipes inspired by the book. This is my favourite bit of crowdfunding merchandise, actually, because it’s so beautiful – like a chapbook or the pamphlets that Gothic stories and novellas were once published in. Like the book, this has illustrations throughout, though here they are in full colour.“
And, as a special treat:
“Readers of Generally Gothic can use the code “GINGER10” for 10% off crowdfunding pledges up to £100, until midnight on the 12th of August, 2021.”
𝕿𝖍𝖊 𝕻𝖗𝖔𝖔𝖋 𝖎𝖘 𝖎𝖓 𝖙𝖍𝖊 𝕻𝖚𝖉𝖉𝖎𝖓𝖌
Okay, confession time. I ate three pieces of the very special gingerbread in the making of this blog post. It really is very special indeed. The recipe, which you’ll find below, is simple to follow and accurate. Ella’s culinary expertise is apparent; this recipe works – the proof is in the pudding.
I used a plant-based butter alternative and the booze-free lemon extract option. I also skipped out on the lemon glaze, subbing in a raspberry topping, simply because I had already been out in the rain for sugar once, and the weather was far too ferocious to brave… again!
If you try this recipe, and I really recommend that you do, share your photos with me & A Gothic Cookbook over on Instagram – we’d love to see your creations! If like me, you cook up a treat and are keen for more, you can support A Gothic Cookbook and make it a full, physical reality. Instead of a purchase, at Unbound, you place a pledge, which is essentially a pre-order. Use the code GINGER10 for 10% off until midnight (GMT) on Thursday the 12th of August, 2021.
And, as ever, if you would like to support me on these Generally Gothic endeavours, unfunded and gingerbreaded, feel free to sprinkle a little sugar and spice on me here. Thank you for reading and happy baking, spooky nerds!