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An Eater's-Eye View Of Literature's Most Iconic Meals
Originally published on Fri August 1, 2014 8:53 am
In the opening pages of Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel Rebecca, the narrator lays out a feast for the imagination: "Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, flaky scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread." Of course, the reader can't actually see these treats — and that's where graphic designer Dinah Fried comes in.
Du Maurier's feast is just one of 50 tableaux collected in Fried's new book, Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals. It's full of photographs, all shot from above and each one of food — literary food, to be exact. From the watery gruel in Oliver Twist to a grilled mutton kidney in Ulysses to intricate "salads of harlequin designs" in The Great Gatsby, the book is a tribute to the tastes of authors and their readers.
Fried cooked all the meals, staged all the shots and took all the pictures. She joins NPR's Melissa Block to talk about the process and pitfalls of remaking these literary feasts.
On the toasted cheese in Heidi and the fork that tied the picture together
It's really one of my favorites in the book. That moment — reading it as a child, you know, the anticipation of watching her grandfather prepare this melted goat's milk cheese over toast and feeling so cared for — it's always stuck with me. ...
I found that fork at a flea market and I felt such victory. I thought, "This is perfect." It looked old and kind of worn, like he had used it for many years, so I felt like it was the perfect fork for that photo.
On the decision to shoot from above
Part of my want as a maker in creating these was to put myself in the position of the characters who were eating these meals. By shooting them from above, that was the closest I could come to a first-person perspective on the meal.
On the perils of pie and ice cream in shooting the meal from On the Road
I had to create it quite quickly because the ice cream would melt. I think I probably went through a few plates. But I wanted this photograph, naturally, to feel very American, as is the novel and apple pie and ice cream itself. So I went for a red diner place mat and wanted it to feel really classic and simple.
Once I had those elements in place, then it was about baking this pie, which was my first apple pie that I'd ever baked. I've never really been a baker. I'm more of an improvisational cook, and usually that doesn't work so well for baking. So I baked the pie, and I set it all up. Like I said, the ice cream was quick to melt. I think it's just the right amount melty in the photo. The pie was delicious.
On turning dirt into a dish from One Hundred Years of Solitude
I was interested in exploring what something that's not really appealing or delicious would look like, right up against a beautiful wedding cake or what have you. I wanted to make it look like a beautiful pile of earth, so it has lots of different elements. There are lots of little petals, which are in the book, and it's the prettiest pile of earth I could create.
On the fictitious dishes she's most proud of
It's the ones that I read when I was a child, because the way I read then — the way I think most people read then, and sometimes I still read now — you know, your imagination is ignited in such a special way. So the books that I read at that time — The Secret Garden, Heidi, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables — to me, there is a satisfaction in creating those photos that makes me proud and excited as a reader, the reader that I was then and I am now.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. That's a line from the Daphne du Maurier novel "Rebecca." And now, we can see them, too, stacked temptingly on a delicate plate, topped with a melting pad of butter with ripe figs and raspberries and a cup of tea along the side. It's one of 50 tableaux, photographs all shot from above, and each one of food, literary food.
From the watery gruel in "Oliver Twist" to a grilled mutton kidney in "Ulysses" to intricate salads of harlequin designs in "The Great Gatsby." The photographs and paragraphs that inspired them were found in the book "Fictitious Dishes," an album of literature's most memorable meals by graphic designer Dinah Fried.
She cooked the meals, staged the shots and took the pictures and she joins me now. Dinah, welcome to the program.
DINAH FRIED: Thank you. It's great to be here.
BLOCK: And I have to say I'm so happy that you included "Heidi" because as soon as I saw this picture you have of a toasted cheese sandwich, I was transported back to my childhood to a memory that I didn't even know I had of reading about that toasted cheese.
FRIED: Well, I'm glad you mentioned that one because it certainly has the same impact on me and it's really one of my favorites in the book.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The old man held a large piece of cheese on a long iron fork over the fire turning it round and round till it was toasted a nice golden yellow color on each side. Heidi watched all that was going on with eager curiosity.
FRIED: Reading it as a child, you know, the anticipation of watching her grandfather prepare this melted goat's milk cheese over toast and feeling so cared for, it's one that's always stuck with me.
BLOCK: And he toasts that cheese on a fork over the fire, which is just such a great image to think about.
FRIED: Yeah, and I found that fork at a flea market and I felt such victory because I thought, this is perfect. It looked old and kind of worn, like he had used it for many years, so I felt like it was the perfect fork for that photo.
BLOCK: Let's talk about another fictitious dish. This one is from Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: But I had to get going and stop moaning so I picked up my bag, said so long to the old hotel keeper sitting by his spittoon and went to eat. I ate apple pie and ice cream. It was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa. The pie bigger, the ice cream, richer.
BLOCK: And Dinah, talk a little bit about your tableaux and how you created this meal.
FRIED: I had to create it quite quickly because the ice cream would melt. But I wanted this photograph, naturally, to feel very American, as is the novel and apple pie and ice cream itself. So I went for a red diner place mat and wanted it to feel really classic and simple. Then it was about baking this pie, which was my first apple pie that I'd ever baked.
FRIED: Ever. I've never really been a baker. So I set it all up and, like I said, the ice cream was quick to melt. And I think it's just the right amount melty in the photo.
BLOCK: Yeah, and the pie looks like it came out really well.
FRIED: The pie was delicious.
BLOCK: We should explain that this is not a cookbook. There aren't recipes in the book. It's the photographs of these meals and then the paragraphs that inspired them. And I am really intrigued by your image of this festival of things made from bananas. And it all springs from a paragraph in "Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Banana omelets, banana sandwiches, banana casseroles, mashed bananas molded into the shape of a British lion rampant, blended with eggs into batter for French toast, tall...
BLOCK: Dinah, I'm seeing in your picture, a banana sandwich, banana bread, banana omelet. I don't think I'm seeing the British lion rampant.
FRIED: It's not for lack of trying. That was something I spent a sort of, I would say, embarrassingly long time trying to achieve and it was just never recognizable. I thought it would be too confusing in the photo to have this sort of mush of bananas...
BLOCK: That looked like a lion.
FRIED: Look like a silhouette of a lion with its, you know, up on its back legs.
BLOCK: It works in Thomas Pynchon's mind, clearly.
BLOCK: You also have some fun in the book kind of stretching the boundaries of fictitious dishes because we see, in one picture, a handful of pills next to a sink, right? You're embodying Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls." And then, there's a passage from "One Hundred Years of Solitude," from Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: She went back to eating earth. The first time she did it almost out of curiosity, sure that the bad taste would be the best cure for the temptation. And, in fact, she could not bear the earth in her mouth, but she persevered, overcome by the growing anxiety and little by little, she was getting back her ancestral appetite.
BLOCK: Did you compose the dirt? I mean, did you try to think hard about what would be in that pile of earth?
FRIED: Yeah, I wanted to make it look like a beautiful pile of earth, so it has lots of different elements. There are some yellow petals, which are mentioned in the book, and it's the prettiest pile of earth I could create.
BLOCK: Yeah, I think so. If you're going to eat earth, you'd want to eat this little pile right here.
FRIED: Yeah, exactly.
BLOCK: Is there one of these fictitious dishes, the food in the photograph, that you're especially proud of, that you think you really got just right?
FRIED: You know, it's the ones that I read when I was a child, because the way I read - I think most people read then, and sometimes I still read now, but, you know, your imagination is ignited in such a special way. So the books that I read at that time, "The Secret Garden," "Heidi," "Little Women," "Anne of Green Gables," to me, there is a satisfaction in creating those photos that makes me sort of proud and excited as a reader, the reader that I was then and I am now.
BLOCK: That's Dinah Fried. Her book is "Fictitious Dishes: An Album of Literature's Most Memorable Meals." Dinah, thanks so much.
FRIED: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.