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Novel Recipes

By Tom Nugent
Illustration by Wally Neibart

For lovers of good food who are also lovers of good books, one major literary question remains unanswered: Why didn't the giants of world literature take the trouble to set down a few of their favorite recipes, along with their immortal thoughts?

Couldn't Ernest Hemingway have left us--along with his classic novel The Sun Also Rises--his special recipe for, say, "Hemingway's Pan-Fried Mountain Trout in the Afternoon"... so that Papa's favorite dish could be enjoyed everywhere?

With apologies to four world-famous writers (Hemingway, William Faulkner, French novelist Marcel Proust, and contemporary American writer Joyce Carol Oates), here are "Classic Recipes" from four of the planet's most eloquent chefs. In the immortal phrase of Proust: Bon Appetit!


That was the summer when we ate the trout. There were leaves falling when we ate the trout. The leaves fell on the trout and lay on the trout. And there was dust, and the sound of many fishermen moving down the road toward the trout stream, and the sound of fishermen's feet, and leaves falling on the trout, and we ate the trout.

I did not look at Ruiz. Ruiz had been hit earlier in the day. Ruiz had been struck by a trout fly, and there was nothing to say to him. He sat in the leaves, and the blood ran down Ruiz and into the leaves.

"It is good trout," I said to Ruiz.

"Yes," said Ruiz, "it is good trout."

He did not move. I watched the leaves falling. "It is good trout," said Ruiz, "but it will not help my wound."

"No," I said. "It will not help your wound."

"It is my own fault," said Ruiz. "I cast my trout fly without truth, and it came back and struck me. It struck me because there was no truth in my hand."

He did not speak again. After a long time I looked over at Ruiz, and I saw that he was not eating his trout. I saw that his trout would go uneaten. Ruiz sat very still under the leaves. The blood ran down into the dust, and you could see that Ruiz would never eat his trout.

Then it grew cold. I finished my trout. I got up and walked through the dusty streets to the café and sat down at a table. I did not think of Ruiz, or of the trout he would not be eating.

And I wrote down, with much truth in my hand, the following recipe.

Hemingway's Pan-Fried Mountain Trout in the Afternoon--
from the novel Valiant Swimmers

Take two glistening rainbow trout from a cold mountain stream. After removing the heads, entrails, and scales, dip the valiant swimmers in cornmeal.

In a metal skillet that has seen too many campaigns, melt butter to a depth of 1/4 inch. Heat the butter, and drop the heroic battlers in it for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden-brown.

This recipe will serve 2--or even more, if diners expire before finishing.



Walking down the road, thinking, not so much that the war has been lost, with all our fine furious hopes blown and scattered like the merest summershot fireflies winking, glimmering down to the immemorial faded trumpeting, the darkness of a dusk that was not even dusk any longer, but only the memory of dusk, faint and dimming and yet somehow still discernible, monstrously elegant, that vision by which, against all the drumming furious bloodtide of a passion which could not, finally, even have been said to have ever existed except in the clangorous, reverberating silence of a few terrifically beating Confederate hearts, and that against all reason, against all good human earthly sense--thinking, no, not that it has all been lost, the bright banners flapping through goldshot autumn Natchez sunset, and the hollow muffled wailing of the bugles there in the furiously motionless stillness of one single afternoon in the courthouse square at Appomattox--thinking, not that, not lost, not ever lost, but kept, sustained against all hopeless odds and reasonable expectation, the legend, the code, the shining and gallant recipe for that which, ever after, would triumphantly, even transcendently endure:

Faulkner's Cracklin'-Broiled Pigs' Feet Vainglorious--
from the novel Valiant Recipes

In the smoldering, shattered ruins of a baronial mansion, find 2 pigs. Collect 6 of their feet. Wrap these tragic survivors in cheesecloth, and cover with boiling water. Boil them for 3 hours, after adding 1 sliced onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 sliced lemon, 3 bay leaves, 3 peppercorns, and 7 whole cloves.

Now drain the boiled and fate-doomed feet. Cut them in half, and roll them in butter, then cornmeal. Broil them for 15 minutes--and then serve with lemon wedges and a battered, rusting bugle.



In those days (how futile our efforts, once old age has brought, in the same manner by which autumn invariably brings to the green leaves and the windblown shoots of summer the dry, listless breezes which inexorably transform their luminous green to a withered brown, one's youth to a vacant and saddening termination, to recall those vanished days!) it was my custom, soon after retiring to bed, to take from beneath the coverlet (the same coverlet which had sheltered me throughout those days at my grandfather's summer estate, a coverlet which never failed to remind me, because of its musty, faintly decayed odor, and also because of its curious, irregularly woven texture, which felt like nothing so much as the hand of some woman one has loved, long ago, but who has with the passage of the years declined into a faded, ragged, threadbare infirmity, so that the hand which once gave such pleasure, such ecstasy, now conveys by its touch not passion, not aching desire, but only the faint, flickering presentiment of mortality's inevitable end, of times long lost, long forgotten, of my own dimming and rapidly vanishing past) a platter of chocolate chip cookies madeleine, and there, ringed about as I was by the thick, impenetrable darkness of that shuttered room, to discover in the aroma of these cookies, in their grainy, crumbly texture, in the delicate flavor which, melting instantly against the trembling palate, they brought to the passionately salivating mouth, the memory of those other cookies, the ones I had so greedily devoured at my grandfather's estate in the slow, drowsy, summer-filled days before this recipe was at last set down:

Marcel Proust's Chocolate Chip Cookies Madeleine--
from the novel A Remembrance of Snack-Times Past

Beat 1/2 cup butter until creamy. Add 6 tablespoons brown sugar and 6 tablespoons granulated sugar; beat mixture until creamy (or until you doze off into a nostalgic coma). Beat in 1 egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Sift and stir in 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of flour. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 cup chopped nuts, 1/2 cup chipped chocolate.

Drop the batter from a teaspoon, well apart, on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in an oven at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, while gazing mournfully out the kitchen window at the nodding, snow-shrouded evergreens of your grandfather's estate. Makes about 45 cookies (if savored fully, luxuriously, about a decade's worth).



Burning, burning . . .

Bobbie Sue, alone in the kitchen, alone again, now that Billy Bob has boarded the Greyhound for Natchez, thinking, don't need him, and never did! Bobbie Sue, a tall, thin girl with permanently startled eyes, tall in her rumpled flowerprint dress, thin as a polished jackknife, she cannot understand, has never been able to understand--

Burning, burning . . .

She began to hum a little tune. A snatch of song Momma-Linda had taught her, back in Talladega, back when Momma-Linda was still driving for the Demolition Derby, a big woman, huge-bottomed, singing as she piloted her smashed Chevy through the whirling dust, singing always the same little song: Don't come round no more, making those big love-eyes at me--

Burning, burning . . .

Still humming, dancing a little now, the tall girl in the sweat-stained dress bought nine years earlier at the Pascagoula County Fair--suddenly she stopped short!

Something was trying to tell her something!

Something was trying to warn her about something!

She whirled! She jerked upright! It was the burning! It was the burning!

"Bobbie Sue!" she actually screamed now, actually heard herself screaming over and over again, "your damn supper is on fire!" And the violence went through her, went through her like a butcher's flying cleaver. She would have to start again! Start from scratch! Start all over again, with the recipe!

"Bobbie Sue's Double-Fried Fiery Chicken Violence":
From the novel Fire in the Kitchen!

Smear half a dozen limp chicken pieces with a mixture of flour, cornmeal, and blazing-hot red pepper, while alternately humming country love songs and laughing hysterically.

In a scorching saucepan, sizzle 6 tablespoons of fat. Fling chicken into pan, and sear it until you begin to scream.

Turn frequently until golden, then season to taste--and serve at the point of a knife.

Tom Nugent, who resides in Michigan, is the author of Death at Buffalo Creek, W.W. Norton.

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