For me, the best food passages are the ones that sneak up on you in the middle of a great book — the ones that leave you nostalgic and salivating but shy away from obscuring the big picture.
My favorite food writing avoids syrupy-sweet odes to Grandma’s biscuits and doesn’t oversimplify complex dynamics that can play out at the dinner table or in the kitchen. From Haruki Murakami’s detail-oriented loners to Don DeLillo’s prescient farmstagram critique, food scenes in literature are at their best when they resonate at unexpected emotional frequencies.
Lucky for us, the marriage of the Food Book Fair and Egg has spawned annual multi-course literary dinners and this year is no exception: Join them this Saturday, April 11, for a multi-course affair derived from Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding.
Chef Evan Hanczor first read the classic in college. “It was just such a perfect encapsulation of preadolescent angst; it makes you tighten up inside when reading it,” he says. He was reminded of the book when he was flipping through a Bill Neal cookbook and ran across a McCullers passage that Neal quoted before his recipe for hoppin’ John:
“Now hoppin’ John was F. Jasmine’s very favorite food. She had always warned them to wave a plate of rice and peas before her nose when she was in her coffin, to make certain there was no mistake; for if a breath of life was left in her, she would sit up and eat, but if she smelled the hopping john, and did not stir, then they could just nail down the coffin and be certain she was truly dead.”
To plan the dinner, chef Evan Hanczor and owner George Weld combed through the book and cataloged all the food mentions. They also noted more general scenes to keep in mind throughout the process. The menu isn’t final yet, but it may include other Southern classics like skillet corn bread, crispy pork belly and sunken chocolate cake. “This book does lean heavily on the sweets,” Evan admits, so they’ll either omit a few dishes or serve a lot of sugar (not actually a far cry from the lavish dessert buffets of my Southern grandmother’s family gatherings).
Can’t make it out next Saturday? The folks at Egg are hoping to hold a second literary dinner later this year. We’re hoping someday they’ll re-create the oyster loaf and the strawberry lattice pie from East of Eden, but here’s a great Brooklyn restaurant and book pairing roundup to tide you over.