Well, here we go. I’m officially jumping on the “Hunger Games ” train. This review, however, is completely unofficial, and here are 3 reasons why:
- I’ve read the books, but haven’t seen the movie. Husby and son have, but I was too much of a wimp to go along;
- I haven’t tested the recipes (for cookbooks I’ve fully vetted, see my reviews page), so any judgements of culinary merit given herein are speculative;
- in fact, I may never have a chance to review this book officially, as mega-author Suzanne Collins is an old friend of my husband’s…conflict of interest alert!
With all those caveats out of the way, I have to say that the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook is a pleasant surprise. The headnotes and intro are sharp and clearly written by an avid fan. There’s a sprinkling of insightful literary analysis regarding the role of food in totalitarian culture, and a dash of food-symbolism commentary. Each recipe notes which chapter and book it references, which gives you an excuse to go get your copy and get sucked back in.
And the recipes? Well, they’re a mix of indulgent Capitol food and subsistence District food, as you’d expect.
Some recipes merely fill out a sketchy reference in the book with a conventional recipe; these tend to be fairly pedestrian: Hot and Crispy Hash Browns, French Bread from the Mellark Family Bakery, Parcel Day Applesauce. If the headnotes didn’t explain their origin in the books, these recipes would offer nothing you couldn’t find on the Internet or in mainstream cookbooks. Their association with the Hunger Games is purely conceptual.
On the other hand, some recipes clearly wouldn’t exist without the trilogy’s explicit mention: Grilled Tree Rat with Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce, Rue and Katniss’s Stir-Fried Milkweed Buds, Flowers, and Pods, and the Apple-Smoked Groosling, which is actually turkey.
How seriously are we to take the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook? Good question. Well, don’t look for any tips on skinning tree rat. And any ingredient list that starts with “1 (6 pound) beaver, cut into pieces” seems to me to be assuming a lot.
But I am willing to guess that over half of the recipes can be taken just as they come; the author is an East Coast caterer and writer, and her technique looks solid enough. The baking recipes in particular look like perfectly doable, normally edited recipes which ought to work in any home kitchen. I have firm plans to try Katniss’ favorite lamb stew with dried plums, which is the only specific food my son specifically requested while reading the books. (Remember, folks, dried plums are simply prunes! Don’t believe the hype!)
A final question: How faithful does a tie-in cookbook have to be, anyway? The Hunger Games trilogy is the act of a bold imagination, and I don’t see why this unofficial companion shouldn’t be as well. Indeed, the most jarring thing about the cookbook is the same as what’s jarring about the books and the film: the sense that true human misery (hunger, warfare, brutality) can at some level always become a source of entertainment. As consumers of The Hunger Games and its merchandise, we may be uncomfortably aware of that fact. But it doesn’t diminish our appetite.