I was really surprised by Heather's selection for the latest Cook the Books Club. I'd seen the movie The Hunger Games but not read the book, and frankly I had been pretty disappointed by the movie. I found Katniss unsympathetic and the only character I really liked was Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, and that was mostly because he is very attractive. Aside from one of the characters being a baker, there wasn't really anything in the movie that indicated that the book would have any foody interest at all.
How wrong I was. The book is much, much better than the movie and packed full of foody interest (in between children murdering each other in a televised spectacle). I think part of the problem with the film is that the book is written in the first person and a lot of it is stuff that is happening in Katniss's head. So a great long passage of her thinking about why she needs to control her emotions and what she needs to do to survive in the Hunger Games is translated on screen as a flat affect. I think it probably needed some narration or something to convey more of Katniss's rich internal process and much more likeable character.
The food in The Hunger Games is really interesting. Along with the descriptions of the clothes, the contrast in food types and availability are the clearest indications of the chasm between District 12 and The Capitol. In the Capitol there is abundance and variety, in District 12 starvation is never far away for most people. The difference between the tributes from the wealthy Districts and the poorer ones is also highlighted in terms of their nutrition - in The Hunger Games, to be well-fed is to have the strength to survive.
While I was very interested in the lamb stew that Katniss considers the best thing about the Capitol, I decided that I really wanted to do something with stale bread, inspired by Peeta. Katniss thinks that Peeta, being a baker, has had a much easier life than her, but she gradually discovers that his family mostly lives on stale bread and the squirrels she sells them. So, stale bread (in its most perfect form, toast) it had to be.
In order to have stale bread, I started with fresh bread. A lot of mass-produced bread goes mouldy before it goes stale, because of the additives in it, so I made a variation on Dan Lepard's milk bread, which I have made before. This time, I added a small proportion of rye flour, and some powdered buttermilk, and used skim milk as the liquid. This was an absolutely gorgeous loaf of bread. Ever so slightly sweet, ever so slightly tangy, soft and with a gentle nuttyness from the rye. Eaten fresh it was delicious, but it really came into its own a couple of days later when thickly sliced and toasted.
|Persimmon - looking slightly battered and bruised but sweetly jellied inside.|
Toast on its own isn't very interesting, so I had to decide what to put on it. That question was answered by a previous Cook the Books selection, Untangling My Chopsticks. In it, Victoria Abbott Riccardi talks about smearing persimmon flesh on her toast as a sort of instant jam. I thought that sounded exotic enough to be a treat from The Capitol, but I wanted to also make it something that Katniss would find familiar and comforting, so I spread my toast with soft goats cheese before scooping the flesh from a ripe persimmon and spreading it on.
I know goats cheese is a controversial ingredient. I know a lot of people don't like it. But for me, the combination of warm, crunchy toast, cool, salty, creamy cheese and sweet, fragrant persimmon was absolutely delicious. I ended up eating the rest of the loaf this way (spread over several days).