It’s the books you read as a child that always stick out in your memory. Even years later, you might recall a scene, a sentence or even an illustration from the novels you read as a kid, the ones that would shape your taste for years to come. Children’s novels often deal with both the banal and the fantastical in equal measure, both of which are interesting to children who have not yet explored much of the world.
Food, for instance, is a cornerstone of any children’s novel: from great feasts like Harry’s first meal at Hogwarts to queasy meals like the disgusting chocolate cake in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Below, we explore 10 unforgettable meals from kids’ books and their significance and cultural impact.
Roald Dahl’s books are an absolute smorgasbord of remarkable meals, from the aforementioned disgusting chocolate cake in Matilda to the snozzcumbers in The BFG. But in terms of quantity, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is stocked with food on every page: Everlasting Gobstoppers, Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum, Hair Toffee and Wonka Bars, to name some of the main candy featured in the book. Each introduces memorable scenes, whether it’s Violet turning blue or Charlie opening that winning chocolate bar. They also serve to reinforce the strange genius of Willy Wonka—who else, after all, could come up with Hair Toffee? Nowadays, of course, several of the candies mentioned in the book are real, including Everlasting Gobstoppers and Wonka Bars. They were so memorable they almost had to exist.
Continuing the theme of candy is the Harry Potter series. While the feasts at Hogwarts are always memorable, as are drinks like butterbeer and firewhisky, what truly stands out is the candy, with chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and pumpkin pasties being some of the most notable. The food is just one way to signify the wizarding world’s differences from the muggle world—even the sweets are different. And just like with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the candy slowly became a reality so that now you too can collect Chocolate Frog trading cards just like Harry.
As a kid, I was obsessed with Turkish delight. After all, it must have been pretty delicious if it made Edmund Pevensie betray his siblings. Turkish delight, which is a candy typically stuffed with dates or nuts and topped with powdered sugar, experienced a surge in popularity in the United Kingdom after the movie adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ book was released, although it didn’t take in America. Despite this, Turkish delight remains one of the most significant aspects of the book as the catalyst for Edmund’s betrayal.
There are plenty of striking food moments in the Pippi Longstocking books, but the scene in which she bakes pepperkakor, a type of Swedish cookie, stands out. The gigantic, 500-cookie batch of pepperkakor, much like the rest of the book, is the ultimate childhood fantasy: being able to have as many sweets as you want, with no one to stop you from rolling out the dough on the floor as Pippi does. Pepperkakor still remains a staple of Swedish sweets and for those without easy access to the stuff, you can even buy a box at Ikea, if you’re so inclined.
One of the most unforgettable scenes in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess is the moment when the formerly-rich, currently-impoverished Sara Crewe finds a sixpence and uses it to buy buns for herself. Sara, who is starving, in an act of goodwill instead gives them away to someone she believes needs them even more. This moment is the pinnacle of Sara’s character, who once believed she would not be a good person were it not for her wealth. In this, the giving away of food she desperately needs, she proves once and for all that she truly is a princess in every sense of the word.
While green eggs and ham never caught on in real life (except for a few novelty recipes online), there’s no denying that Dr. Seuss’ most famous concoction is emblazoned on the minds of kids and adults anywhere. “Green eggs and ham” now serves as pop culture shorthand for things we just do not want to try, Sam. It’s also one of the most iconic of Seuss’ stories.
The Mortmain family in I Capture the Castle is completely broke. Despite living in a castle, they subsist on barely any food, can no longer pay their only employee (who instead pays them) and constantly re-dye their clothing to keep it looking fresh. So when the Cotton brothers arrive from America flush with money and become the new owners of the castle, it is clear why the Mortmains would like to impress them. Embarrassingly enough, they do this with a ham that the Cottons gifted to them, using it as the centerpiece for a dinner in which they try to set up the eldest Mortmain daughter, Rose, with one of the brothers. The scene is distinct thanks to the sheer boldness of the Mortmains, who use everything at their disposal (including food) to seem as if they’re not in the dire position they are.
Maurice Sendak’s most controversial book, In the Night Kitchen, is all about the baking of a cake and a boy stuck in its batter. Sendak once again combines the joy and terror of childhood in this dangerous and delicious scenario. Unfortunately, the book is still known more for its controversy surrounding nudity rather than its depth (or even the cake). The book was also, according to Sendak, a bleak Holocaust metaphor, with the three bakers attempting to bake the boy sporting Hitler-esque mustaches as they cart him off to the oven.
Nothing stood out to me as a kid like Harriet’s tomato and mayo sandwiches. Harriet, the titular spy, eats these for lunch every day to the disapproval of her nanny, who thinks she needs to try something new. In a book all about the daily upheavals of being a child (such is life when you’re a spy and your journal full of rude musings is discovered), including the losses and gains of friendship, the sandwich serves as a constant, much as food does in real life, especially for young kids.
Raspberry cordial is made of raspberries, sugar and lemon. What it does not contain is wine. That’s a lesson Anne learns the hard way when she mistakes currant wine for raspberry cordial and famously gets drunk on the red stuff. As Anne says: “I didn’t know raspberry cordial was so nice.” Us, too, Anne. Fans of the books often recall this scene as one of the most unforgettable and the internet abounds with Green Gables-inspired raspberry cordial recipes.