By Hannah Lee
The next frontier for the savvy and hip gourmet, following up on farm-to-table locavorism, is to source your own food, through foraging and/or hunting. A timely guidebook for such culinary adventures is The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines, the ultimate in fan tribute to the wildly popular trilogy on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and now made into a film of the same name.
Baines is a chef and baker as well as one who’d studied creative writing at the University of Southern California with novelists and short-story writers Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle. She was working as an in-house caterer for a post-production sound company in New York — creating new recipes daily — while reading Collins’ books in her leisure and delighting in the refreshing character of Katniss Everdeen, a fierce, resourceful heroine so diametrically different from another protagonist of current young-adult fiction fame, Bella Swan, the clumsy and passive heroine of the Twilight Saga. Katniss is an inspiring role model, one who thrives under severe circumstances and who cannot be hurried into love by two different male heartthrobs.
The resulting cookbook pays tribute to the characters and settings of the trilogy, with more than 150 recipes for both the spare, survivalist fare of the residents of the 12 districts as well as the decadent cuisine of the denizens of the Capitol. There is a chapter on wild game and an appendix of edible wild plants, such as might appear in Katniss’s Family Herb book (from the second book, Catching Fire), including burdock, chickweed, evening primrose, and thistle. Caution: the poetical recipe titles and descriptive explanations (with source citations) would prove to be spoilers, if one has not read all three books.
A nifty “Tips from Your Sponsor” insert for each recipe shows the author’s professional training, giving helpful advice as such using dental floss to cut sticky cinnamon buns and wetting one’s hands before shaping balls of cookie dough. She notes that homemade whipped cream will not be stiff as what is sold in spray cans. These box inserts provide scientific explanations, substitutions, and historical notes (beans were used in casting votes in ancient Greece and Rome, with white bean to indicate “yes” and black beans for “no”). Medicinal uses are included, such as steeping pine needles for a tea as a cold or flu remedy and basil as mosquito repellant.
One big caveat is that the author does not list market information for the unusual ingredients not found at your local Acme or even Whole Foods. For her research, she relied on friends who do hunt, so she was able to add four squirrel recipes in her book, including Mr. Mellark’s favorite, fried squirrel.
This book was thoroughly engrossing. It has recipes for both the novice cook as well as the adventuresome gourmet. The chapters on wild game and foraged weeds could prove useful for Scout troops in search of fun projects for wilderness survival badges. Book club youths may prefer the more familiar baking projects. Note: most of the recipes are not kosher, but a savvy reader can easily identify (and substitute) the ones suitable for a kosher kitchen. There are even some recipes using quinoa and yucca that would be suitable for Pesach (Passover). So, if you’re a fan who hankers to try Katniss’s favorite lamb stew with dried plums, Peeta’s cheese buns, or Prim’s peppermint candies, this cookbook is for you.