Monday, February 24, 2014

Cooking in a science fiction universe

Serve it Forth: Cooking with Anne McCaffrey
Edited by Anne McCaffrey and John Gregory Betancourt
Warner Books, 1996

In honor of a great book group discussion of John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar*, I pulled out this gem. A recent purchase, I was immediately drawn into the conceit of a community cookbook by science fiction and fantasy writers. First thing I noticed in the introduction is that there is a previous volume! Cooking Out of This World, also edited by McCaffrey, was published in 1973 as a mass-market paperback. It was reprinted in 1992 in trade paper. The original is running in the $25 range, depending on condition, which isn't bad, but, alas, nowhere near the $400 figure McCaffrey quotes.

From what I gather, Serve it Forth uses the same approach as Cooking Out of This World: letting the writers submit whatever recipes they wanted with whatever formatting or style they chose. It makes for amusing and eclectic reading, though perhaps not good cooking.

There are some unifying themes. Cats feature prominently in the biographical head notes, as does a penchant for rural living.  There are seven recipes for chili! McCaffrey begins her introduction by noting the need for cheap and fast recipes for writers trying to produce work when the money is tight, so perhaps the chili is understandable, along with other casseroles, meatloaves, etc.

Although published in 1996, most of the contributors had been cooking for years, so their food reflects more of a '60-'70s aesthetic. Salt, sugar, and cholesterol were the bugaboo of the times, so there is more than usual mention of artificial sweeteners and no-fat products. There is ethnic cuisine, but little attempt at authenticity and those that do call for "exotic" ingredients do so with a cheerful "if you can find it."

The fun of the book is in the quirky recipe representations, rather than the food. Many of the anecdotes are longer than the recipes. There is wonderful poem by Terry A. Garey called "Spotting UFOs While Canning Tomatoes." There is a frightfully grim pair of recipes from Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon (Food and Food 2) that succinctly captures the mindset of people who clearly never think about food.

While I saw a few recipes with potential, in general, I was more horrified and amused than tempted to cook. For example, I will not be making:

Catalina Chicken
It's a whole chicken put in a crockpot with Catalina salad dressing. That's it. Shudder.

Tuna Lasagna
It's a regular American lasagna--pasta, ricotta, tomato sauce, cheese--and canned tuna. Why God, why?

Twenty-Four-Hour Fruit Salad
Vanilla pudding mix, whipped topping, canned oranges and pineapple, grapes and mini-marshmallows. I won't make it, but I won't deny snagging a bite or two of this type of thing at potlucks.

I might make:

Basque Potatoes with Wine
Potatoes, garlic, onion, crisped up with parsley and white wine. What's not to like? and I do love potatoes.

Chili Rellenos Zero-Gravity Quiche
Made with a masa harina crust. The filling is eggs, canned chiles, fresh jalapeno and cheese. Sounds like an easy brunch or supper dish.

So while definitely an entertaining book, not one I can recommend for the food.

*Oh yes! John Brunner is represented with two recipes: Lamb Sapphire, a mild Indian style curry, and Bacon Roly-Poly, a savory steamed pudding.