Category Archives: Food In Fiction
Originally published 9/13/09
My first strong female literary character was Trixie Belden. She rocked. You have to be a woman, and probably a woman of a certain age, to be a hardcore Trixie fan. A friend’s sister gave me my first Trixie Belden book when I was in the hospital for surgery. By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked.
It is fitting then, that I begin the series on Food in Fiction with Trixie Belden and one of the first recipes I tried on my own, cooking for my parents, adapting and experimenting, even then.
- 1 slice bread, crusts removed
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- salt & pepper to taste
Soak bread with milk for 5 minutes, mix all ingredients together completely. Form into 4 patties and grill or fry to desired doneness.
This works especially well with extra lean ground beef, keeping it moist and flavorful, even if you like them cooked to medium-well.
Burger week begins right here…
Rarely am I stumped or surprised when I’m reading and a food item comes up during a meal scene. But that happened the other day. I was reading the second book in the Lomax and Biggs series by Marshall Karp, when lo and behold, our hero is having dinner with his girlfriend and she serves him an authentic Italian meal befitting her heritage (nice Jewish girl who married a nice Italian man with a scary Italian mother) – oh, don’t worry, our hero and his girlfriend are both widowed now, so it is not an illicit dinner. On the menu is broccoli rabe, and I was stumped. I had no idea what it was or how it was prepared. So I did a little research and the first thing I find out is it is NOT broccoli, not even related, more like mustard greens:
The leaves, stems, and flower heads are cooked (broil, stir-fry, braise, saute, or steam) and eaten just like greens and have a flavor similar to broccoli but much more pungent. It is quite tasty with a nutty flavor and has a slightly bitter taste. Some say it is aggressively pungent and bitter. In spite of its uniqueness, broccoli raab/rabe is considered an acquired taste – but once acquired, it’s addictive! Preparing it is very easy.
I’m intrigued enough to go looking for some. Here are two recipes I’m going to give a try:
Broccoli Rabe and Hot Italian Sausage Pasta
- 16 ounce farfalle (bow tie) pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 pound Italian sausage
- 2 tsp crushed garlic
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned and trimmed
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the Italian sausage until crumbly and no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and continue cooking until the sausage begins to brown, about 5 minutes more. Pour off the excess grease, then pour in the chicken broth and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil over high heat, then add the broccoli rabe, and cover. Cook until the broccoli rabe is tender, about 4 minutes.
When the broccoli rabe is done, stir in the butter, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper until the meat sauce has thickened. Toss with the farfalle and serve. Serves 6-8 generously.
Lemon and Garlic Broccoli Rabe
- 1 bunch broccoli rabe, cleaned, stems trimmed, coarsely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tsp crushed garlic
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
Bring 1-inch of water to a boil in a deep skillet. Add rabe, season with salt, and cover pan. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Drain well.
Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in oil over moderate heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add rabe, coat and cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat.
Squeeze the juice of lemon over the pan and sprinkle in zest. Toss rabe and serve immediately. Serves 4 – 6
Today is the 5oth anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird, so I thought I would repost the Food In Fiction recipes from last year.
Originally posted October 21, 2009
The book that had the greatest influence over me as a child was To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I read it for the first time when I was 12 and have read it every year or two since. My Gram Rullo gave me a hardbound copy that is probably my favorite gift ever - except for the two special rings my brothers won at the county fair when they are little and gave to me. Those I keep in a ring case in my jewelry box.
To Kill a Mockingbird is filled with food, good southern food, that as a child I’d never heard of before. It was an exotic world filled with scuppernongs and Lane cakes and of course, Bo Radley. I’ll start with Crackling Bread:
Perhaps Calpurnia sensed that my day had been a grim one: she let me watch her fix supper. “Shut your eyes and open your mouth and I’ll give you a surprise,” she said. It was not often that she made crackling bread, she said she never had time, but with both of us at school the day had been an easy one for her. She knew I loved crackling bread. “I missed you today,” she said.
- 1 1/2 c. cracklings or crisp bacon, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups white cornmeal
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven ot 450° and grease a heavy oven-proof skillet (cast iron works great). Or preheat to 350° and grease 12 count muffin tin, but do not preheat the tin.
Sift together dry ingredients and then mix in cracklings. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add buttermilk and egg. If batter seems to thick, you can add a bit of water. Pour into a hot, greased skillet. Bake in 450 degree oven (or 375 degrees for muffins) for about 25 minutes or until light brown.
I actually did make this cake and posted a recipe for it in November 2009, here.
Originally posted: October 28, 2009
For the Lane Cake, I won’t be posting a recipe, but instead, because of the wonder of the internet can offer the history of how it came to be. In all the years I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, I really didn’t have a clear idea of what a Lane Cake was, except I knew it had liquor in it, as described when Atticus’ sister came to stay and help with Scout and Jem:
Maycomb welcomed her. Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane Cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight….
Before that, Miss Maudie baked a Lane Cake as a thank you to one of the men who helped fight the fire that burned her house to the ground:
“Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week – he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane Cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”
I reflected that if Miss Maudie broke down and gave it to her, Miss Stephanie couldn’t follow it anyway. Miss Maudie had once let me see it: among other things, the recipe called for one large cup of sugar.
From the Encyclopedia of Alabama:
The Lane cake, one of Alabama’s more famous culinary specialties, was created by Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, Barbour County. It is a type of white sponge cake made with egg whites and consists of four layers that are filled with a mixture of the egg yolks, butter, sugar, raisins, and whiskey. The cake is frosted with a boiled, fluffy white confection of water, sugar, and whipped egg whites. The cake is typically served in the South at birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and other special occasions. The recipe was first printed in Lane’s cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, which she self-published in 1898.
According to chef and culinary scholar Neil Ravenna, Lane first brought her cake recipe to public attention at a county fair in Columbus, Georgia, when she entered her cake in a baking competition there and took first prize. She originally named the cake the Prize cake, but an acquaintance convinced her to lend her own name to the dessert.
Lane’s recipe states that the cake should be baked in medium pie tins lined on the bottom with ungreased brown paper, rather than in cake pans. She specified “one wine-glass of good whiskey or brandy” for the filling and that the raisins be “seeded and finely clipped.” She also insisted that the icing be tested with a clean spoon. In Lane’s time, the cake would have been baked in a wood stove. Lane also suggested that the cake is best if made a day or so in advance of serving, presumably to allow the flavors to meld. Lane used the cake recipe as the basis for other cakes in her book, some frosted with orange or lemon cream.
The Lane cake has been subjected to countless modifications and twists over the years. Coconut, dried fruit, and nuts are common additions to the filling described in the original recipe. Home bakers who wish to avoid the whiskey or brandy in the original recipe have substituted grape juice, especially for children’s birthdays. Another common variation is to ice the entire cake with the filling mixture. The Lane cake is often confused with the Lady Baltimore cake, another fruit-filled, liquor-laced dessert with a different pedigree.
In Alabama, and throughout the South, the presentation of an elegant, scratch-made, laborious Lane cake is a sign that a noteworthy life event is about to be celebrated. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Alabama native Harper Lee, character Maudie Atkinson bakes a Lane cake to welcome Aunt Alexandra when she comes to live with the Finch family. Noting the cake’s alcoholic kick, the character Scout remarks, “Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” Shinny is a slang term for liquor.