Prolonging the Magic: On Fiction, Food, and Fandom

NOTE: This is a repost of an article I wrote for Book Riot on the 19th of July, 2016.

Ever since Harry Potter, recreating food I’ve read about in fiction became a way of prolonging the magic. Though, perhaps “prolonging” isn’t the perfect word for what I’m trying to do. I mean, there is a part of me that wants to prolong (or revive) some aspect of a world that is most definitely fiction, but what good is it if I can’t share that tangible proof of magic with anyone else?Recreating food from fiction feels more like making connections. It could be a way to explore a story you love, share it with someone else, or even a way of understanding a character’s everyday life. What is it like—as rioter Raych Krueger points out in her article “People Who Are Making and Eating Food from Books”—to be a Victorian somebody who looks forward to suckling pig? What does it say about that person’s background and station? I may never truly understand that particular character (or person), but these are questions worth exploring to me.

Food, much like stories, connects people. It gives them a shared context. It spells out their geography, the times they live/lived in, their social standing, even their religious beliefs. The neat thing about food from stories is that it can connect people across cultures and countries; the context is: “hey, you like that thing I like, let’s celebrate this mutual liking with pie.” And really, pie is where this whole thing started for me. I always felt that pie was something you loved only if you grew up with it, the way I grew up liking kaju burfi. Reading Ngozi Ukazu’s webcomic Check Please about a hockey player whose natural response to stress is to bake pies, convinced me that I should give pies a second chance. The decision was spurred on by Itty Bitty Bakes, a Check Please fan Tumblr that posts recipes for some of the baked goods mentioned in the webcomic:

Making “Bitty’s Love Pie”, I could understand why Bitty chooses to make pies when he’s stressed out. It’s a comforting process and a bit less frustrating than making cakes, I find. And biting into that pie, I knew that I was wrong about how liking pie was a matter of nostalgia.

Funnily enough, there are foods I haven’t grown up with that do taste like nostalgia; for example, The Leaky Cauldron‘s pumpkin pasties:

The buttery pastry and the sweet pumpkin filling transported me to Singapore, re-reading Prisoner of Azkaban for the thirty eighth time, wondering—purely for the sake of fanfiction—if Remus Lupin could afford these ingredients, could afford a place with a decent oven, if Sirius Black would have helped out with the baking … *cough* It took me back is all I’m saying. While I am not quite as crazed about the series as I used to be, I know now that it is an inextricable part of my childhood.

I have a feeling that younger readers may someday feel the same way about Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On and the sour cherry scones that the protagonist so passionately loves. I’m pretty sure Simon spends a good chunk of the book’s opening talking about these fabulous scones and, spoiler alert, they really are that good:

Fiction-Food Café, which has the best recipe for these scones, also has an impressive number of recipes for food referenced in several books and shows. This website is my go-to for the days I know will be spent in the kitchen with an audiobook.

Recreating food from books is also about trying something new, like the pork buns mentioned in CLAMP’s magic girl manga Card Captor Sakura. I believe it’s Yukito, Sakura’s brother’s best friend, who is often pictured with these. He once sapped all the tension from a fight scene by showing up with a bag of these, attempting to share them amongst the battling kids. It’s 90% of the reason I love Yuki and about 50% of the reason I want to try these:

I won’t be recreating this one exactly since I’m a vegetarian, but I do want to try and make a veggie version of these buns. Cook Fiction’s recipe here gives me a good starting point.

When I talked about making connections, something I didn’t expect is to go about this process backwards—as in, making the food first and reading the books after. I’ve been wanting to read Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief for a while, but I am certain I will be trying Feast of Fiction’s recipe for “Ambrosia Nectar” first:

There’s an alternative recipe for it on Fantastic Feasts and How to Make Them and I may try combining the two and coming up with a version I like. Since these foods are often presented without instructions or even a proper description, one may choose to tweak the recipe and make it one’s own. The cardamom tea that is relished by the protagonist of Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon is one such recipe that cannot afford to be definitive. Tea is all about personal preferences. And while I like the recipe from Food Through the Pages, years of making chai won’t allow me to make this tea without introducing the spices and ginger to my mortar and pestle, and certainly won’t be able to make this with anything less than half a cup of milk. Even if it means that it isn’t “true to the book”:

Sometimes food is like any other adaptation—you take the things you love about the source text, add a bit of your own magic to the mix, and create something that is delightfully new and old at the same time.

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