A Gothic Cookbook
Teatime at Manderley (and other Gothic delights)
A guest post by Ella Buchan, co-author of A Gothic Cookbook—a recipe tome that celebrates food in Gothic literature
Tea is a serious business at Manderley. It begins with an immaculate, snow-white tablecloth, followed by a “monstrous” silver teapot and matching spirit kettle, perched over a flickering flame. A veritable catwalk of cakes, crumpets, scones, and sandwiches totters out next, each item preened to perfection.
This “stately little performance” is enacted daily at the estate, as deliciously described by Daphne du Maurier in her Gothic masterpiece, Rebecca:
“Those dripping crumpets, I can see them now. Tiny crisp wedges of toast, and piping-hot, floury scones. Sandwiches of unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured and quite delectable, and that very special gingerbread. Angel cake, that melted in the mouth, and his rather stodgier cousin, bursting with peel and raisins.”
As readers, we can see (and almost taste) each of the components du Maurier describes. There’s a menace to the ritual, which belittles our narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter, and heightens the chilly formality of Manderley. There’s mystery: what’s in those sandwiches? What happens to all this food which, it seems, is barely nibbled at? There’s a sense that something is off-kilter, that this is a world to which the narrator doesn’t belong. It makes us think, it makes us feel—and it makes us hungry!
This is what we’re aiming for with A Gothic Cookbook—celebrating the food and drink in Gothic literature, discussing its importance and, ultimately, bringing it to readers’ kitchens/tables/mouths/bellies.
I’m (Ella) a food and travel journalist, while my co-author and friend Alessandra (Allie) Pino is a PhD candidate at Westminster University, London. Her studies focus on food in Gothic tales, which always intrigued me. On Allie’s birthday one year ago, I wanted to get her a present that combined her loves of food and Gothic books, but couldn’t find much that wasn’t gimmicky. I settled for a beautiful, illustrated edition of Poe’s short stories and joked, “I couldn’t find a Gothic cookbook.”
Her reply—“let’s write one!”—sparked this project, and now we’re signed with crowdfunding publishers, Unbound, and well on our way to reaching our target to make the cookbook a reality.
My partner, Lee Henry, is a graphic designer and artist, so we cooked up the idea of creating an illustrated cookbook by throwing our assembled talents into the pot: Allie’s academic knowledge and insights, my writing and recipe development skills, and Lee’s draughtsmanship. We wanted it to look and feel similar to a classic Gothic novel, with a cloth-bound cover and intricate illustrations.
Essentially, A Gothic Cookbook is a mix of lively discussion about food and drink in Gothic literature and recipes so people can throw their own Dracula dinner party, Frankenstein feast, or Manderley afternoon tea. Each chapter focuses on a different novel or short story, explores the edible themes, and provides tried-and-tested recipes inspired by the particular tale.
There’s Paprika Hendl as eaten by Jonathan Harker in Dracula and a savoury bread pudding made with the ingredients of the shepherd’s breakfast that Frankenstein’s creature devours (he likes everything but the wine—we quite like the wine, which is used in a layer of caramelised onions). Then we have seed cake, given as a gesture of kindness in Jane Eyre, and “Chalk and Chocolate” mousses inspired by the “chalky undertaste” in Rosemary’s Baby (our recipe has layers of dark and white chocolate, topped with walnuts).
Toni Morrison’s Beloved will focus on “sweet things,” as craved by the ghost, while The Haunting of Hill House has peach shortcakes, paranormal picnic spreads, and spatchcock chicken with radish-top pesto (based on “a bird, and radishes from the garden”).
And so we return to Manderley, where it’s teatime once more… We started with a recipe for the “very special gingerbread,” which escalated into the entire Manderley afternoon tea spread. Yes, even the sandwiches, with a range of fillings that would have been served at tea in 1930s Britain.
We’ve interpreted the gingerbread as a loaf/cake style, as was often served as a teatime treat, and made it “very special” by adding a dash of rum and drizzling over a lemony icing, too.
We’ve tested this recipe over and over (not our toughest job), and it’s turned out beautifully every time: rich, moist, and bright with lemon and ginger. Hopefully it has you dreaming you went to Manderley… again.
That Very Special Gingerbread
Makes 1 medium loaf (around 10 slices)
For the cake
400g (2.5 cups) plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter
200g (1 cup) soft brown sugar
250g (9oz) black treacle or molasses
Zest 1/2 a lemon
2 medium eggs, beaten
50ml rum (or you can add 1 teaspoon rum flavouring or lemon extract)
For the lemon glaze
50g (1/3cup) icing sugar
Zest 1 lemon
Juice 1/2 lemon (plus a little more if needed)
Butter and line a medium loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas mark 4.
Add the butter, brown sugar and treacle to a small saucepan and melt over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is smooth and glossy (around 5 minutes). Tip: weigh the pan and re-set the scales to zero before measuring out the treacle. This will save you on mess/waste/washing up.
Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger into a large mixing bowl. Punch a well in the middle and pour in the buttery treacle mixture along with the rum (or extract) and lemon zest. Beat, using a wooden spoon, until combined. It’s hard work but it will look smooth and silky, like melted toffee, when it’s done.
Beat in the eggs, working quickly to avoid them scrambling (as the batter will still be warm).
Pour into the prepared tin and bake, testing after around 45 minutes with a wooden skewer. If it comes out almost clean (you still want a little stickiness), it’s done. If not, pop it back in for another 5–10 minutes, covering loosely with foil if it already looks brown enough (it should be the colour of toasted pecans).
Leave in the tin until cooled enough to touch, then tip onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, mix together icing sugar and lemon zest, then gradually add lemon juice until you have a smooth, slightly runny icing, adding more juice, if needed. (It gets runny quickly, so go slow!)
Once the loaf has cooled completely, drizzle over the icing. (If it pools around the loaf, don’t worry too much—it will thicken as it cools so you can scoop it up and smooth over the top.) Allow to set before slicing, to serve.
Read more about A Gothic Cookbook, the recipes within, and how you can help make it a cloth-bound reality HERE.
Rewards range from signed copies of the book to bespoke pet portraits and a beautiful, vintage-style cocktail booklet to accompany the main cookbook. Everyone who pledges gets their name printed in the first edition as a supporter, too.
And you can use the code REBECCA10 for 10% off crowdfunding pledges, up to £100, until midnight on August 30.