It was October when I was at a great Southern Pines, NC bookstore called The Country Bookshop with a coupon, so my choice of Cooking for Wizards, Warriors and Dragons by Thea James (co-author of the award-winning The Book Smugglers fanzine) was not just about enjoying fantasy books nor just about me having a project in the works that is similar to this book, but also about it being Halloween and so many of these recipes fit the mood of the autumn. Wizards. Warriors. Dragons. The fall is the time for imagination of a certain sort, amiright? The book was on display as a sort of recommended read. (It was just published in the summer of 2021). I had never seen it before, but it appealed to me and made me wonder about the project I was already working on. So I bought it.
Since then, I have seen it around. Apparently a cookbook is the sort of thing many fantasy fans would enjoy, or at least bookstores think that readers of fantasy would like it. Or maybe booksellers are just enamored by the book itself. I wouldn’t blame them. Though not particularly thick, the book is a pretty one (pretty being a strange choice here, but still). The cover is nice, but inside it’s a treasure trove of stylized, black and white illustrations scattered amidst pages full of graphics, patterns, epic borders, and appropriate font, not to mention that the pages are made (clearly just for fun) to look like old parchment. Is it a spell book? Is it the history of a secret, magical land? Or is it a cookbook? The designers behind this book really should win some sort of prize.
Each recipe (or set of recipes) has a brief introduction to tell you where the recipe was inspired from. Every recipe in the book is inspired by a specific bit of literature, and while that may excite you fantasy readers, there is of course a limited catalogue. Thea James wanted to include some up-and-coming writers as well as minority and women writers, so it’s not a recipe book for the classics. She did include some The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Fire and Ice, The Earthsea Cycle, and one or two small things for The Hobbit and The Once and Future King. Other than those obvious ones, though, less of the standards and more of the new and underrepresented. (I am reading the Daevabad series, which she includes.) There is an index that make finding these recipes easy. (Beware: some of them are only a drink recipe.)
I have tried some of the recipes by now, which were written my Isabel Minunni. (Strangely enough, Minunni is a cookbook author mainly for special diets (including Mediterranean and vegan (and pegan?)), and there’s not even a whiff of that here. There couldn’t be: these are mostly hearty, trail-life nourishing, often medieval foods from books that traditionally have hunting and roasting in them.) I have marked recipes to try from Rice, Pickles and Miso Soup, to A Soup to Keep the Wolf Away, from Roasted Pork Shoulder with Rice and Plantains, to Mixed Berry Bubbly Tarts. The recipes run the usual gamut from breakfast to dessert (including cocktails and feasts) and the more unusual gamut of European to Asian to Middle Eastern, from ancient or simple or traditional to more innovative and imaginative (as do the books used to inspire them). The recipes are not completely “true” to the books, as in they are often extrapolated from the text or even a play on words or ideas (like Mordor’s Lava Cake. Get it?). I imagine some cosplay types howling that they aren’t authentic enough.
I made A Simple Hunter’s Stew (inspired by The Farseer Trilogy) which my teens loved and I thought was a little boring. The recipes appear to work, though many of them are quite involved and also many of them are recipes which I already have and use (like coq au vin or shepherd’s pie or lemon poppyseed bundt cake with a (sometimes) new name). As far as planning a fantasy supper club or bibliophile event, you could use this cookbook, though I imagine it gets used more to peruse through or submit families to manic-eyed suppers with speeches on more usual nights. It makes a good coffee-table book, though it could help you wrap up an especially involved book club (which would have to include food cards and more food speeches). Whatever; it’s a beautiful and thoughtful book that might not be exactly what you expect and so both excite and (a little) disappoint (I’m a bibliophile and a foodie) at the same time. Still, worth the purchase for a fan of fantasy, I think.