Two Cache Valley women are proving that you don't need to be a celebrity or a big-name chef to publish a novel cookbook.
Instead of the latest TV show, Shaunda Kennedy Wenger and Janet Kay Jensen chose the written word as the angle for "The Book Lover's Cookbook" (Ballantine Books, $21.95).
It offers 200 recipes linked to literature, such as James' Ginger Peaches with Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach," Ichabod Slapjacks from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and a Specialty Omelet to honor the scorched omelet the March sisters made in "Little Women."
Jean Valjean's desperate theft of a loaf of bread in Victor Hugo's classic "Les Miserables" prompted the recipes for Multi-Grain Bread and French Onion Soup.
The book is one of two recent releases that deal in literary masterpieces. "Shakespeare's Kitchen," by Francine Segan, updates recipes popular in Shakespeare's time, with quotes from his plays sprinkled in.
The "Book Lover's Cookbook" covers a wide range of literature children's favorites, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books, contemporary best-sellers, like John Grisham, and classics, such as Steinbeck and Hemingway. Poetry (Robert Frost and Ogden Nash) and non-fiction (Ann Landers' Meatloaf) also get attention.
Jensen, from Logan, made sure to include Miss Maudie's Lane Cake to go with her favorite book, "To Kill a Mockingbird."
"Harper Lee wrote it with grace, humor and honesty," she said. "It's always been special to me, as I have an Atticus Finch in my own life. I remember watching an interview with Gregory Peck. He said it was an honor to play the role of Atticus."
Both Wenger and Jensen are avid readers who met as members of the Cache Valley Chapter of the League of Writers. Neither had done a cookbook before; they were unknown to the national publishing scene.
Wenger, from Nibley, got the idea for the book while reading "While I Was Gone," by Sue Miller. The story was set on the East Coast and mirrored her memories of off-campus living at the University of Vermont.
"When the two main characters made chili, I felt as if they were in my old house, in my old kitchen, making my old recipe, one that I made with my housemates on rare evenings when our schedules allowed us to share a meal," she said.
Inspired to make that chili once again, she thought, "Wouldn't it be great if we could cook with our favorite authors and characters?"
She asked Jensen if she'd like to collaborate on the idea. For two years, they read and cooked, cooked and read.
"Sometimes the book preceded the recipe we'd think of books we'd read that included scenes where food was cooked, eaten, the subject of conversation or even the theme of dreams," said Jensen. "We'd find the passage and then develop a recipe to match. In other cases, a recipe begged for a book, so, with a good recipe in mind, we'd search for a book mentioning that particular dish."
They also pored through hundreds of new books for scenes that referred to food. "I won't tell you about my Logan Library fines," added Jensen.
Then they organized the recipes in typical cookbook fashion appetizers, soups, main dishes, desserts, with the recipe and literary passage together.
A number of authors contributed their own recipes, including Elizabeth Berg, Maeve Binchy, Sandra Dallas, Jim Fergus, Connie May Fowler, Judith Guest, Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Picoult, M.L. Rose, Camron Steve Wright and Utah author Carolyn Campbell.
Others, like Isabel Allende, Kay Chorao, Patricia Gaffney, Jane Hamilton, Joanne Harris, Sue Miller, Laura Numeroff, Richard Peck, Gwyn Hyman Rubio, James Alexander Thom and Jamie Langston Turner, helped them modify recipes or supplied anecdotes about them.
"Unnatural Exposure," by Patricia Cornwell, contains a passage about a recipe for crab cakes, where a character, Bev, dishes out cooking tips as well as personal advice, concluding, "and that's as much as I would fuss over any man." Jensen and Wenger extrapolated a crab-cake recipe for their book based on Cornwell's description.
"The crab cakes are great, and Bev's advice always makes me laugh," said Jensen. "You wouldn't think Stephen King and Garrison Keillor have much in common, but both wrote about apple pie."
For recipes to match the stories, they drew from their own recipe collections, family, friends and neighbors.
"Our families never know what would appear at the dinner table," said Jensen. "They were great sports and ate well."
The women already had 375 pages done when Shaunda's query caught the eye of a New York agent who likes to cook. After it was sold to Ballantine in November 2002, the duo added, edited and sought permission to use all of the copyrighted material. The book was released Oct. 28.
So would she consider herself more of a reader or a foodie? "You'd probably find me curled up with a delicious book," said Jensen."We wish we could have included more of our favorite books, but not all authors write about food in their books. Fortunately, many do include rich references to food that enhance their plots, scenes and characters, giving us choice tidbits."
MATANNI'S BUTTERNUT SQUASH APPLE CIDER SOUP
Inspired by "Icy Sparks" by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (other winter squash can be substituted)
3 cups apple cider
2 cups cream
1 1/2 tablespoons butterDash of salt
Steam squash until tender. Drain and puree. Return to pan and turn heat to low. Add apple cider, cream, butter and salt. Do not boil after cream is added. Stir until butter is melted. Serve immediately.
Inspired by "The Good Earth," by Pearl S. Buck
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
2 tablespoons green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups cooked riceComment on this story
1 5-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and thinly sliced
1 3-ounce can sliced mushrooms, drained
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup peas, blanched
1/4 cup bean sprouts
1 cup cooked and diced ham, chicken or crumbled bacon3 eggs, scrambled and cooked
In a large frying pan, saute onion and green pepper in vegetable oil over medium-high heat until tender. Stir in the remaining ingredients and continue cooking over medium-low heat until warmed through. Serves 6-8.
Inspired by "Gone With the Wind," by Margaret Mitchell
4 large yams, peeled and cooked
1 13-ounce can pineapple chunks or tidbits, or crushed pineapple, with juice
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup orange juice (or 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup lemon juice)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Cut yams in thick diagonal slices; arrange them in a shallow greased baking dish. Drain pineapple; reserve juice in a small saucepan. Pour pineapple chunks over yams. In a small bowl, combine the sugars, salt and cornstarch. Add orange juice to the pineapple juice and bring the fruit juices to a boil; gradually add sugar mixture. Stir over medium-high heat until thickened. Stir butter or margarine into this thickened sauce until it is melted. Pour the hot sauce over the yams and pineapple, then sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg. Leave the baking dish uncovered while it bakes in a 350-degree oven about 30 minutes, or until bubbly.