The Start

Literary cooking is a dangerous occupation. Besides being bad for the waist – food plus extended sedentary pursuit – eating these literary works could be bad for the palate. With something like chocolate cake or lamb shanks braised in red wine, you only have to shoot a pin at the multitude of available recipes or learn about braising. The difficult are the simple dishes that surely are so self-explanatory they don’t need instructions. Which is why when I read that the victim, Philip Boyes in Strong Poison, ate a sweet omelet filled with hot jam as part of his last meal and thought yummm, I resisted. Already I’d been forewarned of literary cooking dangers by Anne Fadiman when she attempted Ben Gunn’s “cheese – toasted mostly”. Still yummming that night while lying in bed, I thought of “adding sugar from a sifter” to my eggs and resisted jumping up to the kitchen. Fortunately, a cold night kept me bundled in bed and I lulled myself to sleep with entertaining ideas of strawberry, mulberry or cherry jam.

The next day was spent raiding my kitchen of anything but that murderer-at-the-top-of-the-stairs omelet. I resisted until night when finally, I cracked my egg, whisked in sugar, milk for good measure, poured into heated skillet and only then did I realize how bad this could be. Still, in went the strawberry jam, the omelet was folded up and eaten. A success? Well, it successfully killed the days’ insatiable appetite.

Fortunately, my omelet didn’t kill me like with the victim, sans arsenic you see. Happily enough I am not the only person to be attracted by this item. Browsing Half-Price Books, I found a copy of Strong Poison with a small pamphlet stuck inside that included a recipe for Sweet Omelet, also sans arsenic but with powdered sugar instead of granulated. Apparently, I didn’t fully comprehend the sifter detail.

Dorothy Sayers is one of those cruel writers who fill their novels with tantalizing smells of bacon and eggs, lip licking descriptions of buttery crumpets, mentions of fine port and hot-plate coffee. Reading one of her detective novels I don’t have to know the proffered dish to desire it – too often I fear it’s some sort of glossy-eyed, head on fish – because the food is almost always served with praise and friends.

With P.G. Wodehouse, I finally made the leap to full on cookbook reading. At first, I resisted the Blanding’s guest who was on a diet and so read cookbooks to feed his appetite. “Cruelty!” I cried. But, then with only one very part-time job I found myself spending all day flipping the full color pages of Williams-Sonoma Complete Outdoor Living Cookbook. I followed up this page turner with Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess reading more what she wrote about the recipes than the recipes themselves. From there I was in culinary trouble.

At least this was the original start. Things have changed a bit since then, but I still hope you enjoy.