Well-read & well-fed

Utahns whip up a literary-flavored cookbook

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 24 2003 12:00 a.m. MST

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.