How Some of the World’s Most Famous Cheeses Are Made: Camembert, Brie, Gorgonzola & More

Attention cheese lovers!

Do you salivate at the thought of a Cheese Channel?

Careful what you wish for.

Food photographers employ all manner of disgusting tricks to make junky pancakes and fast food burgers look irresistibly mouthwatering.

Food Insiders’ Regional Eats tour of the Italian Gorgonzola-making process inside a venerable, family-owned Italian creamery is the inverse of that.

The finished product is worthy of a still life, but look out!

Despite the deliberately gentle motion of the custom-made machinery into which the milk is poured, getting there is a stomach churning prospect.

Personally, we don’t find the smell of that venerable, veined cheese offensive. The pungent aroma is practically music to our nose, stimulating the cilia at the tips of our sensory cells, alerting our tongue that a rare and favorite flavor is in range.

Nor is it a mold issue.

Marco Invernizzi, managing director of Trecate’s hundred-year-old Caseificio Si Invernizzi, exudes such deep respect for Penicillium roqueforti and the other particulars of Gorgonzola’s pedigree, it would surely be our honor to sample one of the 400 wheels his creamery produces every day.

Just give us a sec for the visuals of that grizzly birth video to fade from our memory.

With the exception of a close up on a faucet gushing milk into a bucket, the peek inside the Camembert-making process is a bit easier to stomach.

There are curds, but they’re contained.

The cheese at Le 5 Frères, a family farm in the village of Bermonville, is made by old fashioned means, ladling micro-organism-rich milk to which rennet has been added into perforated forms, that are topped off a total of five times in an hour.

The steamy temperatures inside the artisanal brie molding room at Seine-et-Marne’s 30 Arpents causes Food Insiders’ camera lens to fog, making for an impressionistic view, swagged in white.

Nearly 20 years ago, Mad Cow disease came close to wiping this operation out.

The current herd of friendly Holsteins were all born on 30 Arpents’ land. Each produces about 30 liters of milk (or slightly more than one daily wheel of brie de Meaux) per day.

Get the scoop on Swiss Emmentaler, Italy’s largest buffalo mozzarella balls, and other world cheese MVPs on Food Insider’s 87-video Cheese Insider playlist.

Related Content:

An Animated History of Cheese: 10,000 Years in Under Six Minutes

How to Break Open a Big Wheel of Parmesan Cheese: A Delightful, 15-Minute Primer

Does Playing Music for Cheese During the Aging Process Change Its Flavor? Researchers Find That Hip Hop Makes It Smellier, and Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Makes It Milder

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Explore the Roman Cookbook, De Re Coquinaria, the Oldest Known Cookbook in Existence

Western scholarship has had “a bias against studying sensual experience,” writes Reina Gattuso at Atlas Obscura, “the relic of an Enlightenment-era hierarchy that considered taste, touch, and flavor taboo topics for sober academic inquiry.” This does not mean, however, that cooking has been ignored by historians. Many a scholar has taken European cooking seriously, before recent food scholarship expanded the canon. For example, in a 1926 English translation of an ancient Roman cookbook, Joseph Dommers Vehling makes a strong case for the centrality of food scholarship.

“Anyone who would know something worth while about the private and public lives of the ancients,” writes Vehling, “should be well acquainted with their table.” Published as Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome (and available here at Project Gutenberg), it is, he says, the oldest known cookbook in existence.

The book, originally titled De Re Coquinaria, is attributed to Apicius and may date to the 1st century A.C.E., though the oldest surviving copy comes from the end of the Empire, sometime in the 5th century. As with most ancient texts, copied over centuries, redacted, amended, and edited, the original cookbook is shrouded in mystery.

The cookbook’s author, Apicius, could have been one of several “renowned gastronomers of old Rome” who bore the surname. But whichever “famous eater” was responsible, over 2000 years later the book has quite a lot to tell us about the Roman diet. (All of the illustrations here are by Vehling, who includes over two dozen examples of ancient practices and artifacts.)

Meat played an important role, and “cruel methods of slaughter were common.” But the kind of meat available seems to have changed during Apicius’s time:

With the increasing shortage of beef, with the increasing facilities for raising chicken and pork, a reversion to Apician methods of cookery and diet is not only probably but actually seems inevitable. The ancient bill of fare and the ancient methods of cookery were entirely guided by the supply of raw materials—precisely like ours. They had no great food stores nor very efficient marketing and transportation systems, food cold storage. They knew, however, to take care of what there was. They were good managers.

But vegetarians were also well-served. “Apicius certainly excels in the preparation of vegetable dishes (cf. his cabbage and asparagus) and in the utilization of parts of food materials that are today considered inferior.” This apparent need to use everything, and to sometimes heavily spice food to cover spoilage, may have led to an unusual Roman custom. As How Stuff Works puts it, “cooks then were revered if they could disguise a common food item so that diners had no idea what they were eating.”

As for the recipes themselves, well, any attempt to duplicate them will be at best a broad interpretation—a translation from ancient methods of cooking by smell, feel, and custom to the modern way of weights and measures. Consider the following recipe:




I foresee much frustrating trial and error (and many hopeful substitutions for things like lovage or rue or “satury”) for the cook who attempts this. Some foods that were plentifully available could cost hundreds now to prepare for a dinner party.


Vehling’s footnotes mostly deal with etymology and define unfamiliar terms (“laser root” is wild fennel), but they provide little practical insight for the cook. “Most of the Apician directions are vague, hastily jotted down, carelessly edited,” much of the terminology is obscure: “with the advent of the dark ages, it ceased to be a practical cookery book.” We learn, instead, about Roman ingredients and home economic practices, inseparable from Roman economics more generally, according to Vehling.

He makes a judgment of his own time even more relevant to ours: “Such atrocities as the willful destruction of huge quantities of food of every description on the one side and the starving multitudes on the other as seen today never occurred in antiquity.” Perhaps more current historians of antiquity would beg to differ, I wouldn’t know.

But if you’re just looking for a Roman recipe that you can make at home, might I suggest the Rose Wine?



You could probably go with red or white, though I’d hazard Apicius went with a fine vinum rubrum. This concoction, Vehling tells us in a helpful footnote, doubles as a laxative. Clever, those Romans. Read the full English translation of the ancient Roman cookbook here.

Related Content: 

Cook Real Recipes from Ancient Rome: Ostrich Ragoût, Roast Wild Boar, Nut Tarts & More

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dating Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

Watch a 4000-Year Old Babylonian Recipe for Stew, Found on a Cuneiform Tablet, Get Cooked by Researchers from Yale & Harvard

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

10,000 Vintage Recipe Books Are Now Digitized in The Internet Archive’s Cookbook & Home Economics Collection

“Early cookbooks were fit for kings,” writes Henry Notaker at The Atlantic. “The oldest published recipe collections” in the 15th and 16th centuries in Western Europe “emanated from the palaces of monarchs, princes, and grand señores.” Cookbooks were more than recipe collections—they were guides to court etiquette and sumptuous records of luxurious living. In ancient Rome, cookbooks functioned similarly, as the extravagant fourth century Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome demonstrates.

Written by Apicius, “Europe’s oldest [cookbook] and Rome’s only one in existence today”—as its first English translator described it—offers “a better way of knowing old Rome and antique private life.” It also offers keen insight into the development of heavily flavored dishes before the age of refrigeration. Apicus recommends that “cooks who needed to prepare birds with a ‘goatish smell’ should bathe them in a mixture of pepper, lovage, thyme, dry mint, sage, dates, honey, vinegar, broth, oil and mustard,” Melanie Radzicki McManus notes at How Stuff Works.

Early cookbooks communicated in “a folksy, imprecise manner until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s,” when standard (or metric) measurement became de rigueur. The first cookbook by an American, Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, placed British fine dining and lavish “Queen’s Cake” next to “johnny cake, federal pan cake, buckwheat cake, and Indian slapjack,” Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald write at Smithsonian, all recipes symbolizing “the plain, but well-run and bountiful American home.” With this book, “a dialogue on how to balance the sumptuous with the simple in American life had begun.”

Cookbooks are windows into history—markers of class and caste, documents of daily life, and snapshots of regional and cultural identity at particular moments in time. In 1950, the first cookbook written by a fictional lifestyle celebrity, Betty Crocker, debuted. It became “a national best-seller,” McManus writes. “It even sold more copies that year than the Bible.” The image of the perfect Stepford housewife may have been bigger than Jesus in the 50s, but Crocker’s career was decades in the making. She debuted in 1921, the year of publication for another, more humble recipe book: the Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church Ladies’ Aid Society of Chicago’s Pilgrim Cook Book.

As Ayun Halliday noted in an earlier post, this charming collection features recipes for “Blitz Torte, Cough Syrup, and Sauerkraut Candy,” and it’s only one of thousands of such examples at the Internet Archive’s Cookbook and Home Economics Collection, drawn from digitized special collections at UCLA, Berkeley, and the Prelinger Library. When we last checked in, the collection featured 3,000 cookbooks. It has grown since 2016 to a library of 10,600 vintage examples of homespun Americana, fine dining, and mass marketing.

Laugh at gag-inducing recipes of old; cringe at the pious advice given to women ostensibly anxious to please their husbands; and marvel at how various international and regional cuisines have been represented to unsuspecting American home cooks. (It’s hard to say whether the cover or the contents of a Chinese Cook Book in Plain English from 1917 seem more offensive.) Cookbooks of recipes from the American South are popular, as are covers featuring stereotypical “mammy” characters. A more respectful international example, 1952’s Luchow’s German Cookbook gives us “the story and the favorite dishes of America’s most famous German restaurant.”

There are guides to mushrooms and “commoner fungi, with special emphasis on the edible varieties”; collections of “things mother used to make” and, most practically, a cookbook for leftovers. And there is every other sort of cookbook and home ec. manual you could imagine. The archive is stuffed with helpful hints, rare ingredients, unexpected regional cookeries, and millions of minute details about the habits of these books’ first hungry readers.

Related Content:

The New York Times Makes 17,000 Tasty Recipes Available Online: Japanese, Italian, Thai & Much More

Archive of Handwritten Recipes (1600 – 1960) Will Teach You How to Stew a Calf’s Head and More

A Database of 5,000 Historical Cookbooks–Covering 1,000 Years of Food History–Is Now Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Database of 5,000 Historical Cookbooks–Covering 1,000 Years of Food History–Is Now Online

As you know if you’re a reader of this site, there are vast, interactive (and free!) scholarly databases online collecting just about every kind of artifact, from Bibles to bird calls, and yes, there are a significant number of cookbooks online, too. But proper searchable, historical databases of cookbooks seem to have appeared only lately. To my mind these might have been some of the first things to become available. How important is eating, after all, to virtually every part of our lives? The fact is, however, that scholars of food have had to invent the discipline largely from scratch.

“Western scholars had a bias against studying sensual experience,” writes Reina Gattuso at Atlas Obscura, “the relic of an Enlightenment-era hierarchy that considered taste, touch, and flavor taboo topics for sober academic inquiry. ‘It’s the baser sense,’ says Cathy Kaufman, a professor of food studies at the New School.” Kaufman sits on the board of The Sifter, a new massive, multi-lingual online database of historical recipe books. Another board member, sculptor Joe Wheaton, puts things more directly: “Food history has been a bit of an embarrassment to a lot of academics, because it involves women in the kitchen.”

Luckily for food scholars, the situation has changed dramatically. There are now over 2,000 historical Mexican cookbooks of all kinds online at the University of Texas San Antonio, for example. (The UTSA is busy curating and translating hundreds of those recipes into English for what they call a “series of mini-cookbooks.”)  And scholars of food history may have to be pulled away by force from The Sifter, a vast, ever-expanding Wikipedia-like archive of food research.

The database collects “over 5,000 authors and 5,000 works with details about the authors and about the contents of the works,” the site explains. “The central documents are cookbooks and other writings related to getting, preparing, and consuming food, and the activities associated with them, as well as writings about cultural and moral attitudes.” Like Wikipedia, users are invited to submit their own data, which can be edited by other users. Unlike the public encyclopedia, which we know has serious flaws, The Sifter is overseen by experts, and inspired by none other than the expert Julia Child herself, or at least by her library.

Although the Sifter does not contain actual texts or recipes, it does collect the bibliographic data of thousands of such books, a treasury for scholars, researchers, and historians. The primary force behind the project, Barbara Wheaton, was a neighbor of Julia Childs’ in the early 1960s and used Childs’ library and Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library Culinary Collection (where she is now an honorary curator) to become “one of the best-known scholars of culinary history.” Her story illustrates how a recent wealth of culinary scholarship did not just suddenly appear but has been germinating for decades. The Sifter is the result of “Wheaton’s 50 years of labor.”

Wheaton launched the site in July with the help of a team of scholars and her children, Joe and Catherine. The Sifter contains “more than a thousand years of European and U.S. cookbooks, from the medieval Latin De Re Culinaria, published in 800, to The Romance of Candy, a 1938 treatise on British sweets.” It also collects bibliographic data on cookbooks, in their original languages, from around the world. Wheaton hopes The Sifter will generate new areas of research into the history of what may be at once the most universal of all human activities and the most culturally, regionally, and historically particular. Perhaps a silver lining of so many years of scholarly neglect is that there is now so much work for food historians to do. Get started at The Sifter here.

via Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

An Archive of Handwritten Traditional Mexican Cookbooks Is Now Online

Historic Mexican Recipes Are Now Available as Free Digital Cookbooks: Get Started With Dessert

An Archive of 3,000 Vintage Cookbooks Lets You Travel Back Through Culinary Time

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock & Other Jazz Musicians Sell Whisky & Spirits in Classic Japanese TV Commercials

I like to think that, when the occasion arises, I can speak passable Japanese. But pride goeth before the fall, and I fell flat on my first attempt to order a whisky in Tokyo. To my request for a Suntory neat the bartender responded only with embarrassed incomprehension. I repeated myself, pushing my Japanified pronunciation to parodic limits: saaan-to-riii nee-to. At some point the man deciphered my linguistic flailing. “Ah,” he said, brightening, “suuu-to-raaay-to?” To think that I could have handled this situation with dignity had I but seen the Suntory commercial above, in which Herbie Hancock suggests having a drink “straight.”

Would even the maddest men of the American advertising industry countenance the idea of putting a jazz musician in a commercial? Japan thinks differently, however, and in its economic-bubble era of the 1970s and 80s thought more differently still.

At that time, Japanese television spots — at least those commissioned by sufficiently deep-pocketed companies — began featuring American celebrities like James Brown, Woody AllenNicolas Cage, Paul Newman, and Dennis Hopper. A 1979 Suntory ad that put Francis Ford Coppola alongside Akira Kurosawa would, a quarter-century on, inspire Coppola’s daughter Sofia to dramatize a similar East-meets-West commercial situation in her film Lost in Translation.

Of all the things American embraced (and repurposed) by Japan after its defeat in the Second World War, jazz music has maintained the most intensely enthusiastic fan base. Japanese-made jazz has long been a formidable genre of its own, just as Japanese-made whisky has long held its own with the Western varieties. But when the makers of Japanese whisky made an effort to sell their own product on television to the newly wealthy Japanese people, they looked to American jazzmen to give it a shot of authenticity. Having recruited Hancock to promote drinking their single-malt whisky at room temperature, Suntory got bassist Ron Carter as well as both Branford and Ellis Marsalis to promote drinking it hot.

Could the cultural association between jazz and whisky extend to other liquors? That was the gambit of a 1987 commercial featuring Miles Davis, recently investigated by InsideHook’s Aaron Goldfarb. Its product: shōchū, “a colorless, odorless, yet often challenging spirit typically distilled from rice (known as kome-jochu), barley (mugi-jochu) or sweet potatoes (imo-jochu).” Newly launched with an apparent intent to pitch that staid beverage to moneyed younger people, the brand VAN hired Davis to play a few notes on his trumpet, then take a sip of its shōchū and pronounce it a “miracle.” He also describes himself as “always on the vanguard,” hence, presumably, the name VAN (though its being reminiscent of VAN JACKET, the company that had earlier brought Ivy League style to the same target demographic, couldn’t have been unwelcome).

Though Davis’ brand of cool did its part for the success of Honda scooters and TDK cassette tapes, it proved not to be enough for VAN shōchū. The brand “was a big flop and had a very short life,” Goldfarb quotes an industry expert as saying, “probably because shōchū is so quintessentially Japanese, and a foreign-style shōchū just didn’t make sense to most.” Perhaps the commercial itself also lacked the pleasurable simplicity of Suntory’s many jazz-oriented spots, none of which turned out simpler or more pleasurable than the one with Sammy Davis Jr. performing a cappella just above. In the process of pouring himself a drink Davis plays the part of an entire jazz combo, using only his mouth and the objects at hand, including the ice in his glass. The concept wouldn’t have worked quite so well had he taken his Suntory neat — or rather, straight.

Related Content:

A 30-Minute Introduction to Japanese Jazz from the 1970s: Like Japanese Whisky, It’s Underrated, But Very High Quality

Watch Akira Kurosawa & Francis Ford Coppola in Japanese Whisky Ads from 1979: The Inspiration for Lost in Translation

The Best Commercial Ever? James Brown Sells Miso Soup (1992)

Nicolas Cage, Paul Newman & Dennis Hopper Bring Their American Style to Japanese Commercials

Woody Allen Lives the “Delicious Life” in Early-80s Japanese Commercials

Glorious Early 20th-Century Japanese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902-1954)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Recipes of Famous Artists: Dinners & Cocktails From Tolstoy, Miles Davis, Marilyn Monroe, David Lynch & Many More

Celebrities (those who are not professional celebrity chefs, that is) release cookbooks at an alarming rate. Do we imagine most of their recipes were actually curated by the person on the cover? Do we suppose that person has spent the countless hours in the kitchen required to become an authority on what the rest of us should eat? As in all things, it depends.

Stanley Tucci seems to have more than proven his mettle, releasing two well-loved cookbooks and earning praise from Mario Batali. But I’d also take a chance on Snoop Dogg’s From Crook to Cook, which includes 50 of his own recipes, such as “baked mac and cheese and fried Bologna sandwiches with chips.” How could you go wrong?

Many a celebrity cookbook aims for the fine-dining approach famous people are used to getting from personal chefs. But Snoop joins a long tradition of artists whose signature dishes are everyday comfort foods and holiday favorites. Whatever else he and Leo Tolstoy might find to talk about, for example (use your imagination), they would surely swap mac and cheese recipes.

Tolstoy’s recipe for mac and cheese is made on the stovetop, not baked, but it sounds delicious all the same, with its layers of Parmesan cheese. Far more complex meals, fit for Russian aristocrats, appear in The Cookbook, a collection of Tolstoy family recipes, though we can hardly imagine the Tolstoy family did much of the cooking themselves.

Not so with Miles Davis, who also uses Parmesan in a dish not usually known to feature the Italian cheese. His chili—or rather “Miles’s South Side Chicago Chili Mack”—sounds incredibly rich in a recipe published in 2007. “I could cook most of the French dishes,” Miles wrote in his autobiography, “and all the black American dishes.” His skills in the kitchen were well attested, though his personal recipe book has been lost.

Other celebrities like Marilyn Monroe also go with comforting old favorites. What appears in her recipe for turkey and stuffing (besides walnuts and no garlic… feel free to make substitutions…)? That’s right, Parmesan cheese. If there’s a pattern in this repetition, maybe it’s that the rest of us home cooks should do more with Parmesan cheese.

If you’re wondering what kind of cheese Ernest Hemingway puts on his favorite burger, the answer is none. Another celebrity cook who surely did a good bit of his own cooking, Hemingway asks a lot of those willing to take a chance on his burger recipe, which commingles India relish, capers, Beau Monde seasoning, Mei Yen Powder with garlic, green onions, egg, and red or white wine.

Despite such unusual toppings, a burger is still a burger—for millions of people the most comforting food they can imagine. Cracking open Salvador Dali’s 1973 cookbook reveals few dishes that are familiar, or actually edible or even legal. Dali formed ambitions to become a chef, he claimed, at the age of 6. Maybe that’s also when he came up with “Toffee with Pine Cones,” “Veal Cutlets Stuffed with Snails,” and “Thousand Year Old Eggs.”

None of these recipes have in mind the needs of the carb-conscious, or of vegetarians and vegans. But some creative reimagining could make them suitable for several kinds of modern diets. (In Hemingway’s case, a simple swap for any burger alternative might do the trick.) When it comes to cocktail recipes, alternatives are trickier.

If you don’t drink alcohol or eat meat, you’ll have little to gain from Leonard Cohen’s recipe for The Red Needle, which involves two ounces of tequila and should be served with Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. Likewise, I doubt there’s any vegan, low-sugar, non-alcoholic way to make Eudora Welty’s “Mother’s Eggnog” (which she also attributed to Charles Dickens).

Maybe celebrity cookbooks these days don’t contribute so much to the epidemic of heart disease and hypertension. But there’s something to be said for the authenticity of recipes from famous people of the past. They reflect dishes and drinks made with deep affection—for butter, cheese, carbs, salt, fat, and booze.

If it’s healthier fare you’re looking for, why not take a chance on Allen Ginsberg’s cold summer borscht? Or David Lynch’s easy quinoa recipe? Aleister Crowley’s recipe for a rice meant to be eaten with curry sounds delightful, though one can’t help but wonder at another lost recipe the infamous occultist once made for his fellow mountaineers on an expedition—a rice so spicy, he claimed, it made them “dash out of the tent after one mouthful and wallow in the snow, snapping at it like mad dogs.”

See many more recipes from famous artists at the links below.

Related Content:

Dessert Recipes of Iconic Thinkers: Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake, George Orwell’s Christmas Pudding, Alice B. Toklas’ Hashish Fudge & More

The Recipes of Iconic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Marquis de Sade & More

Pablo Picasso’s Two Favorite Recipes: Eel Stew & Omelette Tortilla Niçoise

Ernest Hemingway’s Summer Camping Recipes

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Dessert Recipes of Iconic Thinkers: Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake, George Orwell’s Christmas Pudding, Alice B. Toklas’ Hashish Fudge & More

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Of all the desserts to attain cultural relevance over the past century, can any hope to touch Alice B. Toklas’ famous hashish fudge? Calling for such ingredients as black peppercorns, shelled almonds, dried figs, and most vital of all Cannabis sativa, the recipe first appeared in 1954’s The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. (Toklas would read the recipe aloud on the radio in the early 1960s, a time when the fudge’s key ingredient had become an object of much more intense public interest.) More than a how-to on Toklas’ favorite dishes, the book is also a kind of memoir, including recollections of her life with Gertrude Stein — herself the author of the ostensible Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

This puts us in the realm of serious literature where sweets, you might assume, are scarcely to be found. But baking constituted a part of the creative process of no less a literary mind than Emily Dickinson, whose handwritten recipe for coconut cake appears above.

That same sheet of a paper’s reverse side, which you can see in our earlier post about it, bears the first lines of her poem “The Things that never can come back, are several.” Dickinson also, as we’ve previously posted here on Open Culture, had her very own recipes for gingerbread, donuts, and something requiring five pounds of raisins called “black cake.”

It may seem obvious that women like Toklas and Dickinson, born and raised in the 19th century, would have been expected to learn this sort of thing. But a fair few of the literary men of generations past knew something of their way around the kitchen as well. George Orwell, for instance, wrote an essay on “British cookery,” early in which he states that “in general, British people prefer sweet things to spicy things.” While describing “sweet dishes and confectionery – cakes, puddings, jams, biscuits and sweet sauces” as the “glory of British cookery,” he admits that “the national addiction to sugar has not done the British palate any good.” And so he includes the recipe for a Christmas pudding which, subtle by that standard, calls for only half a pound of the stuff.

Born a generation after Orwell, Roald Dahl made no secret of his own sugar-addicted British palate. In his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Dahl had “dazzled young readers with visions of Cavity-Filling Caramels, Everlasting Gobstoppers, and snozzberry-flavored wallpaper,” writes Open Culture’s own Ayun Halliday. But his own candy of choice was “the more pedestrian Kit-Kat bar. In addition to savoring one daily (a luxury little Charlie Bucket could but dream of, prior to winning that most golden of tickets) he invented a frozen confection called ‘Kit-Kat Pudding,'” whose simple recipe is as follows: “Stack as many Kit-Kats as you like into a tower, using whipped cream for mortar, then shove the entire thing into the freezer, and leave it there until solid.”

If you’re looking for a slightly more challenging dessert that still comes with a cultural figure’s imprimatur, you might give Normal Rockwell’s favorite oatmeal cookies a try. Going deeper into American history, we’ve also got Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for ice cream, the taste for which he picked up while living in France in the 1780s. That same country’s cuisine also inspired Ernest Hemingway’s fruit pie, meant for summer-camping with one’s pals: “If your pals are Frenchmen,” Hemingway adds, “they will kiss you.” Alas, if anyone has determined the exact recipe for the most famous dessert in all of French literature, Marcel Proust’s memory-triggering madeleines, they haven’t released it to the hungry public.

Related Content:

The Recipes of Iconic Authors: Jane Austen, Sylvia Plath, Roald Dahl, the Marquis de Sade & More

Ernest Hemingway’s Summer Camping Recipes

82 Vintage Cookbooks, Free to Download, Offer a Fascinating Illustrated Look at Culinary and Cultural History

Historic Mexican Recipes Are Now Available as Free Digital Cookbooks: Get Started With Dessert

Wagashi: Peruse a Digitized, Centuries-Old Catalogue of Traditional Japanese Candies

Animated Noir: Key Lime Pie

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

More in this category... »