Many people talked about the Turkish delight in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which isn't really a fictional food but almost qualifies as such because so many of us imagined it to be something totally different from the real thing. How many of you fantasized about that confection as children, only to have the real thing horrify you? I distinctly remember my 5-year-old self bursting into tears when I had my first taste of Turkish delight. My mother had warned me I wouldn't like it, but the description in the book was so seductive I couldn't believe her. And Edmund had betrayed his family for it! It's as if the snake had tempted Eve successfully with durian.
There are also a lot of references to the food in Harry Potter, which now exist in real life in two places: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Florida, and the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. I've tested out both of these sources for wizarding food, and the cookbook wins, hands down. It's actually a pretty great book with a ton of history, mythology and fun facts in it, and it covers a giant swath of Anglo-Saxon cuisine. The theme park food, however, is a total disappointment, especially the butterbeer, which tastes like creme soda with margarine in it.
Fictional food has become a popular muse for artists and capitalists alike. Recently, graphic designer Dinah Fried photographed a series depicting meals from her favorite novels. And there are cookbooks out for The Hunger Games and even The Sopranos.
The fictional food that has had the most sway over my own psyche comes from a little-known Australian book called The Enchanted Forest, first published in 1921. In the book, a little girl named Anne is thrown off her pony into the forest near her house, where she sprouts wings and discovers a whole world of fairies and goblins. The goblins in question live in trees and produce meat pies so delicious, Anne ignores the warnings to stay away from the dangerous goblins in order to get her hands on one of these pies. Of course she becomes enslaved and must be rescued, but not before she successfully managed to procure a pie. The description of those pies made such an impression on my 5-year-old self, it stayed with me forever. I'll give you a taste:
Right underneath was a row of the most lovely pies you ever saw, crisp and freshly made, with crust that looked as if it would melt in your mouth. The exquisite smell was like beefsteak pie and sausage rolls and herrings and onions all mixed together. Then Anne knew she was very, very hungry. She forgot about the witch-girl, she forgot about the goblins; quickly she put out her hand and broke off a piece of the crust -- that knobby bit that grows in the middle of pies -- and began to eat it. It went down like butter, and she seized the rest of the pie and broke it open; and faster that you could have said anything, she was holding up the dish and drinking the gravy and swallowing the inside!
The greatest impact this passage had on my life was to end my vegetarianism more than 10 years after I read it. As a 16-year-old vegetarian living in Hartford, Conn., I came across my first Jamaican beef patty. The smell reminded me of Anne's goblin pie encounter, and I gave up my non-meat-eating ways so I could see if I'd found that magical meat pie. (It's possible you heard me talking about this experience over the weekend on KCRW's Good Food.)
Any fictional food item change your life?