Not that fantastic

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on August 14, 2014 Published on May 23, 2014

In a (rabbit) stew: Fantasy lovers have no choice but to warm up to stews   -  shutterstock

Not for muggles: Professor Dumbledore towers over a heaving table at a rare feast in Harry Potter   -  AFP

Why hang out with all those magical types if they can’t even conjure up a decent meal?

Let me begin with a confession. I am not a fantasy fiction fan. I can’t bite my nails and hold my breath through 819 pages as some unwashed and unbrushed hero crosses mountains infested with blood-sucking rodents and realms sizzling with wicked magic. And all this just to swap insults with a Dark Lord with a bad case of halitosis.

I don’t like the tedious journeys — worse even than a Mumbai-LA flight with three stopovers. I don’t like characters with names like Dragonbludd and Cthgumrill. But most of all, I don’t like the food.

I mean, look at the irony. These books are fantasy. The writers don’t need to stick to reality. They can — and do — create whatever their heart desires. Nasty witches who can steal your dreams. Talking trees. Pigs with wings.

So then why do all their characters — after a hard day spent getting lost in zombie lands, hunting for dragons’ eggs, identifying lost heirs to kingdoms — always settle down to the same meal, night after night? For in every book since Tolkein wrote Lord of the Rings, the characters in Fantasyland seem to subsist solely on stew. Or, on occasion, hunks of four-day-old bread, cheese and dried meat. Which makes me wonder, what is the point of hanging out with all those magical types if they can’t even conjure up a decent meal?

It also makes me enormously grateful to the rare writers who pep up mealtimes with a dash of magic and strangeness. With, for example, a ‘Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster’ that is like “having your brains smashed in with a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick” and includes ingredients like Mega Gin, Hypermint and the tooth of an Algolan Suntiger ( The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Or feasts of camels, lacquered duck and seagulls that George RR Martin dreams up in his chunky books.

Perhaps the loveliest fantasy foods appear in books for children. Remember the popping, fizzing goodies that were always consumed on the branches of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree? The thrill when Silky — the long-haired pixie — brought out a tin of Pop Cakes to share with Jo, Bessie and Fanny? “As soon as you bit into them they went pop! And you suddenly found your mouth filled with new honey from the middle of the little cake.”

Similarly, the Google Buns that the magical Moonface served were “most peculiar”. “They each had a very large currant in the middle and this was filled with sherbet. So when you got to the currant and bit it, the sherbet frothed out and filled your mouth with fine bubbles that tasted delicious.”

Equally tantalising are the treats from the wizarding world inhabited by Harry Potter — Butterbeer and Fudge Flies and exploding bonbons and Chocoballs stuffed with strawberry mousse and clotted cream. Though I’m not sure that I’d really bother with a bag of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans — which are a lot like jelly beans but include unexpected flavours like spinach, liver, earwax and vomit and guarantee “a risk with every mouthful”. Or Peppermint Toads that hop in your tummy. Or squeaking sugar mice. Not very muggle-friendly, I guess.

Given that the youthful denizens of Fantasyland enjoy pretty innovative fare, one wonders why they eventually feel compelled to make the switch from Chocolate Frogs to stew. Rabbit stew. Raptor stew. Elk stew. Just-gobble-it-and-don’t-ask stew. Usually cooked and consumed on a grassy hillock. Or in dimly lit taverns full of shadows and lurking strangers.

Okay. I exaggerate. There are exceptions. The hobbits in Tolkein’s books eat six meals a day, and aren’t all that eager to set out on quests that interfere with their intake of Honey Nut Cake, Mulled Wine and Cottage Pies. And even the Elven bread called Lembas — perhaps the most famous magical food of all times — is a poor substitute. “For these things are given to serve you when all else fails,” the seekers are told when they set out on their journey. “The cakes will keep sweet for many, many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveller on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall men of Minas Tirith.”

Till recently, foods like Lembas and Butterbeer and Blood Pies belonged to the realm of fiction. But fantasy fans are a breed apart and determined to live the lives and eat the foods of their straggly-haired heroes. As a result, websites and a stack of bestselling cookbooks are busy experimenting with recipes that allow fantasy geeks to actually whip up a batch of Discworld Dwarf Bread or fried squirrel.

Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook: A Useful and Improving Almanac of Information Including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld features Discworld oddities like the Strawberry Wobbler. While on the pages of the The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, you can find raccoon in bacon drippings.

The Official Game of Thrones Cookbook — based on George RR Martin’s series — provides equally adventurous fare. Honey-spiced locusts, grilled rattlesnakes with a mustard sauce and jellied calves brains, all tried and tested. Understandably, the cookbook writers decided to steer clear of olives stuffed with maggots and a wedding pie with a hundred live doves cooked into it.

They did, however, feel compelled to include a recipe for Rabbit Stew.


Ingredients (Serves 4)

2 cups flour

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

6 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 large egg

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2/3 cup raisins (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 200oC.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. Cut the chilled butter into half-inch cubes and sprinkle them over the flour mixture.

4. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture is coarse — like tiny peas. In another bowl, stir together the buttermilk, egg and vanilla.

5. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour and stir to combine. If you are adding raisins, stir them in gently.

6. Flour your hands and pat the dough into an 8-inch circle on an ungreased baking sheet. With a knife, cut the dough into eight wedges (cut 3/4 of the way to the bottom of the dough, not the whole way).

7. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the wedges comes out clean.

8. Let cool for five minutes and cut into proper wedges. Serve warm with butter.


A Muggle version of a magical recipe

Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp water

6 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cider vinegar

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tsp rum

1 1/2 litre of cream soda


1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar and water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook till the sugar is dissolved.

2. Stir in the butter, salt, vinegar and 1/4 cup cream. Set aside to cool.

3. Once the mixture has cooled, stir in the rum.

4. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tbsp of the brown sugar mixture and the remaining cream. Use an electric mixer or beat until

just thickened, but not completely whipped.

5. To serve, divide the brown sugar mixture between four tall glasses (about 1/4 cup for each glass). Add 1/4 cup of cream

soda to each glass, then stir. Top up each glass with cream soda, then spoon the whipped topping over each.

( Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author of The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street)

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Published on May 23, 2014
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