Liz Milner penned this review.
When I think of the books I loved as child, I get hungry. There was Pooh lapping up honey and cream teas, Mary Poppins handing out magical gingerbread while Frodo chowed down on mushrooms and lembas. Food surely is an integral part of children’s literature. After all, where would Cinderella be without her pumpkin coach? Would Alice in Wonderland be half as memorable without the magic mushrooms and the strange bottles labeled “Drink Me?”
Fairy Tale Feasts presents 20 classic fairy tales from around the world masterfully told by ace word slinger Jane Yolen. The tales are accompanied by recipes written by her daughter, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and illustrations by Philippe Béha. The book includes fairytales from European, African-American, Ashkenazi Jewish, Arabic, Turkish and Chinese cultures. Sidebars give quick facts regarding the stories and the foods mentioned in them.
The stories and recipes are divided into five categories, Breakfasts, Lunches, Soups, Dinners and Desserts. Each recipe relates to the story it follows: Cinderella’s pumpkin coach has been refashioned into pumpkin tartlets, Snow White’s poisoned apple has been transmogrified into a healthy baked apple dessert, and Jack-in-the-Beanstalk’s magic beans have morphed into a picnic casserole. Some of the recipes, such as Goat Cheese Sandwiches, and Mashed Turnips, seem targeted at adult palates. Most of the recipes, though, are time-honored kid-pleasers such as pancakes, french toast, cinnamon bread, lemon chicken and chocolate mousse.
Kids will have a hard time wresting this children’s cookbook from their parents, because much of the book seems designed to enchant adult readers. Philippe Béha’s brightly colored illustrations possess a happy, manic energy that makes me nostalgic for Jay Ward’s “Fractured Fairy Tales.” The pictures are also witty: The painting for the Jewish tale “The Magic Cave,” for example, is a Chagall-infused swirl of green goats, red imps and a black devil.
The book’s sidebars present a great cornucopia of food history, and most tales are identified according to their Aarne-Thompson tale type index number and compared to similar tales from other cultures. [One petty quibble: the sidebars are placed alongside the tale and tend to lead the eye away from the story and into the commentary; I found this very distracting and would have preferred having the commentary after the story.]
The one drawback of the book is that it assumes a mode of family life that for many of us has become no more than a beautiful fairy tale — that there will be a responsible and responsive adult available to oversee the child’s cooking. There is no discussion of kitchen safety for kids or introduction to common kitchen terms and utensils. Many of today’s children, I fear, learn to cook as I did — as a hungry latchkey kid who nearly burned the house down. The recipes in this book also hearken back to a time when butter, heavy cream, mayonnaise, and white flour were eaten without question or guilt. Since obesity in kids is a growing (pun intended) concern, some discussion of healthful food choices would have been desirable.
Fairy Tale Feasts is a delightful book that seems the product of a simpler time.
(Crocodile Books, 2006)