Review: 'The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook' Friday 09 December, 2011
By Savanna New, Hunger Games Fireside Chat
If you’re like me (and most Hunger Games fans), when you first read Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, you probably found yourself wiping away just as many droplets of drool from your face as you did tears. Not because of Finnick’s abs – though I imagine those are pretty drool-worthy as well – but because of all the vividly described breakfasts, lunches, and dinners coloring the pages of an otherwise very stark story. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, after experiencing the books for the first time: “Gee, for a series all about hunger, there sure is a lot of food!” But it makes sense. Katniss comes from a place where no one ever has enough food on the table and where death by starvation is not uncommon; of course meals are going to be a focal point for her.
I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about Emily Ansara Baines’ Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, mostly because I’d been told by trustworthy sources that the unofficial cookbooks for both Harry Potter and Twilight (not by Baines) left a lot to be desired. As excited as I was about the prospect of learning how to bake like Peeta, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. However, after interviewing Baines (pictured above) on Episode 32 of Hunger Games Fireside Chat and discovering just how passionate she is about not only cooking but The Hunger Games as well, I realized that the culinary delights of Panem were in very good hands.
What I like most about The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook is how insanely thorough it is. Literally every crumb of food in the series is included, even if it was only briefly mentioned in passing (like Tigris’s fig cookies). From the sumptuous delicacies of the Capitol (Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums) to the more humble fare of District 12 (The Everdeen Family’s Dandelion Salad of Hope), there are over 150 recipes to choose from and nothing appears to have been left out. There’s even a chapter devoted to wild game for more adventurous chefs and an edible plants guide in the book’s Appendix.
Not a whiz in the kitchen but dying to try District 4′s Seaweed Bread? Don’t be afraid! All of Baines’ recipes are written in a very easy-to-follow, straightforward manner that I think will make this cookbook accessible to everyone. Each recipe also includes Tips from Your Sponsor that contain helpful hints about preparation and alternative ingredients (in case you don’t have any venison on hand, for example).
I simply couldn’t write this review without testing out a couple of Baines’ recipes myself, so I did! As much as I wanted to channel my inner Cinna and taste Orange You Glad I’m Not Chicken, I’m a vegetarian, so I selected a couple of tasty-looking meatless treats to sample: Mrs. Everdeen’s Breakfast of Mush and Honey, Goat Cheese, and Apple Tarts from the Mellark Family Bakery.
Despite its slightly unpleasant name, I actually found Mrs. Everdeen’s Breakfast Mush to be quite tasty! It’s made with polenta, which was – as Baines informs us in the tip that comes with this recipe – a peasant food in ancient Rome equivalent to “gruel” or “porridge.” Given the near-constant references to ancient Rome that are threaded throughout the Hunger Games trilogy, I can’t help but wonder if polenta was what Suzanne Collins had in mind when she described the rough tessera grain.
The mush was a cinch to make and proved to be a very satisfying breakfast. No, the Everdeens probably didn’t always have access to some of the ingredients used – like brown sugar and blueberries – but you could surely leave them out if you wanted your mush to be less appetizing and more “authentic.” You could also use goat’s milk instead of cow’s, since we know that the Everdeens usually had goat’s milk on hand because of Lady.
As for the Honey, Goat Cheese, and Apple Tarts, they were absolutely delicious and also very simple to make. Baines’ recipe calls for frozen puff pastry shells, but you can absolutely make your own dough if you feel like using the frozen equivalent is cheating (since the Mellarks surely made their dough from scratch). Since I had never made tarts before, I unashamedly purchased pre-made, frozen shells. Why torture myself? I couldn’t find the suggested Pink Lady or Cortland apples at my local grocery store, so I used Honeycrisps (another good baking apple) instead. Yum!