CWs: This interview discusses food in detail, the eating of food, the trust and lack of trust in food, contamination of food, and how food is used in the Gothic and horror genres to create destabilising and horrifying effects/affects. The transcript includes two videos, one a recorded free talk by Allie Pino on food and consumption in horror and the Gothic, and one a graphic trailer of new (2021) eco-horror film in the Welsh language, Gwledd/The Feast.
If you have anxieties or triggers around these topics, be advised this might be one to skip!
About Allie Pino
Alessandra Pino is an expert on the edible and the Gothic. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Westminster, London, researching food and anxiety with roots in Gothic literature. She has just submitted her thesis, Hunger and Meaning in the novels of Cristina García.
Alessandra was born in Hampstead, London, to an Italian mother and Venezuelan diplomat father, and grew up in several different countries. She holds university degrees in English Literature from Naples “L’Orientale” and in Translation Studies from Westminster. She worked with a Michelin-starred chef for nearly ten years before embarking on a career in advertising.
Teaming up with her co-writer Ella Buchan, an award-winning journalist, copywriter and branded content creator specialising in travel, food, wine and spirits, Allie is now working on the crowdfunded project A Gothic Cookbook, illustrated by Lee Henry. She brings to A Gothic Cookbook her deep academic knowledge, digging into food themes and motifs in a series of classic and contemporary novels from the 19th century to the present day.
A Gothic Cookbook
Written by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino, and with illustrations from Lee Henry, this literary inspired cookbook is composed of thirteen divinely delicious chapters, each focusing on a different story and discussing its edible motifs before bringing them to life – and to your table – with approachable, easy-to-follow recipes and hand-drawn illustrations.
There’s Dracula, which lulls protagonist Jonathan Harker into a false sense of security with cold cuts and a spicy, smoky, peppery stew. Frankenstein’s “monster” starts out as a benign vegetarian, while Mrs Poole’s overindulgence in Mother’s Ruin triggers Mr Rochester’s downfall in Jane Eyre – and a bitter tangerine signals a sharp, yet unheeded, warning against marriage and Manderley in Rebecca. Notice, too, how a ghostly presence craves sugar and burnt bread in Toni Morrison’s Beloved…
These compelling insights are accompanied by more than sixty recipes … Indulge in this interplay between supper and the supernatural, where you’ll learn to pick your desserts carefully: chocolate mousses foreshadow impending doom, yet the humble seed cake is a gesture of kindness.~ Unbound : A Gothic Cookbook by Ella Buchan and Alessandra Pino, illustrated by Lee Henry
Inspired by Alessandra’s academic studies into how food manifests itself on the pages of Gothic literature, and combining her knife-sharp analysis with Ella’s experience as a food writer and recipe developer, A Gothic Cookbook pays homage to the most appetising cuts of the genre, with even the most avid reader discovering eerie and edible delights.
Author Interview: Introduction
CMR: Hello and welcome back to Eldritch Girl, and I’m afraid my voice is still a little bit scratchy so apologies if I cough in the middle of it. But today we’ve got Alessandra Pino, also known as Allie, and it’s slightly different because Allie’s working on a Gothic cookbook which is a co-written endeavour with Ella Buchan. So we’re going to have a bit of a different form of author interview today. Allie, would you like to introduce yourself?
AP: Yes, I would thank you so much for having me on here, I’m so honoured. Yes, my name is Alessandra or Allie, and I’m actually in the process of finishing a PhD at the University of Westminster and I can’t wait, so that should be before the end of the year and that’s on food in the Gothic. I’m also a co-author of the Gothic Cookbook, as you mentioned, with my friend and food journalist Ella Buchan, and we’re crowdfunding the project through Unbound so perhaps we can give details at the end in case anyone would like to support or can spread the word to other Gothic literature enthusiasts.
AP: We have a little discount code as well. So we’ll share all of that, yes, so a Gothic cookbook is a really new and exciting project. There’ll be 13 chapters in the book, and each chapter will have a look at a different Gothic novel and what meals there are in the text, and how food is used. So the idea behind A Gothic Cookbook is that food has a lot more to offer than just being prop or an embellishment but it actually is able to develop its own story and can give the reader a strong insight into characters and the plot. So each chapter will have recipes inspired by the meals or ingredients or food items mentioned in the novels and we have Dracula, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Beloved, all of the big Gothic novels, and also perhaps lesser-known ones.
So you know our choice is kind of based on various factors will so to do with mainly or what kind of food, there is, and does it exemplify this idea of Gothic food. So you can see for yourselves on the Unbound website as well, because there are some sample chapters to look at and some sample recipes, and illustrator Lee Henry has created some really wonderful drawings, which you can also see on the website.
And so yeah, so that’s what I’ve been doing really, and it kind of ties into my PhD in the sense that, through my PhD I’ve been looking at food, from a different angle so food as a symbol but like has it as a dangerous one, so what what kind of signals it can give us as a society to show us that things are not going very well.
It’s kind of the idea of food that’s a little bit different because we normally see food as being quite a joyous occasion of communicating our feelings of you know, with our loved ones around the table, but it’s not always like this, as we know.
Not in your writing!
CMR: [laughs with AP] Yeah! There are some interesting meals in The Crows… So what recipe are you working on right at the moment with the cookbook?
AP: So I’ve been actually focusing on Jane Eyre, researching some recipes by Hannah Glasse, who is an 18th century English cookery writer, and she wrote a book called The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, and it was published in 1747 so when we look at the recipes that we need to develop, and you know for the book purposes, we try and and keep it kind of in a similar time frame, or at least, how you know it could possibly have been at that time, because obviously in the novel itself there aren’t any recipes so everything is just a very vague guideline.
We want to try and make it as authentic as possible, so with Jane Eyre, for example, though Hannah Glasse’s recipe has 36 eggs in it, we will not be using 36 eggs. We will be using three eggs or six eggs, depending on how many people it’s for. So just things like that, like adapting the recipe to our current times is also important.
So yes, so it’s really great to kind of take a piece of writing from the novel and and choose you know the recipe that we want to develop. And one of these is a seed cake, and there’s actually a nice passage – if you want, I can read it in jane Eyre where they where they talk about this cake.
CMR: Go for it.
AP: Okay, so this passage… this passage I’m going to read comes just after Jane has been called out by the headmaster as a liar. And Jane is forced to stand on a stool without food or water: “Let her stand half an hour longer on that stool and let no one speak to her during the remainder of the day.” Poor Jane. So when she’s finally permitted to come off her throne of shame she dissolves into tears, and she finds herself befriended by the angelic Helen Burns. And then the two girls are invited into the quarters of the really kind teacher, Miss Temple, so she warms them by the fire and feeds their little bodies and spirits with toast, tea, and the fragrance seed cake.
And this is the passage:
Extract from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Having invited Helen and me to approach the table, and placed before each of us a cup of tea with one delicious but thin morsel of toast, she got up, unlocked a drawer, and taking from it a parcel wrapped in paper, disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seed-cake.
“I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you,” said she, “but as there is so little toast, you must have it now,” and she proceeded to cut slices with a generous hand.
We feasted that evening as on nectar and ambrosia; and not the least delight of the entertainment was the smile of gratification with which our hostess regarded us, as we satisfied our famished appetites on the delicate fare she liberally supplied.Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
AP: So that’s from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and it’s just one of one of the 13 novels that we have in that I’m really proud of.
CMR: You’re starting to develop that recipe as something that anyone can create and make, so do you have anything alongside that recipe, do you have that extract alongside it, or some commentary, like how would it be set out in the cookbook itself?
AP: So the book will have an essay that comes before five recipes, five to six recipes for each novel, and the essay will explain how food functions in that particular text as Gothic food, and then we’ll have, yes, 5-6 recipes per chapter.
CMR: Ooh okay, is that divided between sort of you know, savoury and sweet or…?
AP: Yes, it depends, because some novels are actually have have more sweet recipes than other novels so, for example, Beloved is very much a novel that has lots of sugary recipes in it obviously it’s sugar is quite central to the novel and then there are others that are more savoury, I would say Dracula is quite savoury, rather than sweet, yes.
CMR: Yeah I was just trying to think… I don’t think there’s a lot of dessert in Dracula. Very much like all the paprika chicken and goulash.
AP: The paprikash, yes. Yes, yeah absolutely, a bit meatier than other chapters, and other chapters will be more focused on… there’ll always be vegetarian options, by the way. So, yes they’re in — So yes, so for sure there’ll be a good mixture, but definitely always vegetarian options for those who don’t eat meat.
CMR: Well that’s really interesting. I mean Frankenstein I suppose already would have vegetarian recipes in it, because it isn’t the Creature vegetarian?
AP: Yes, there’s an acorn bread… This was the interesting thing, when I read Frankenstein I actually realized that the Creature was vegetarian with a very moving passage in it, where he wants to leave the meat for the humans, because he doesn’t feel worthy of it. And that really struck me because I hadn’t really noticed that previously, I only noticed it when I was looking for the food references in it, so I thought that was quite interesting but that’s quite central to the novel that the humanity versus monstrosity is signalled here by food. Meat versus vegetables, or acorns in this case so yeah. That was really interesting, so we’ll have mainly vegetarian recipes for that chapter, for example, yeah.
CMR: That’s fascinating I love that yeah I love that you can get a lot more out of it if you’re looking for particular things, especially looking through lenses of food. Yeah, just a really interesting concept, how did you come up with the concept to do a cookbook based on all of the Gothic novels?
AP: Yes. I think, well, the main idea was kind of obviously I – I do food and Gothic food for my PhD. But it was my birthday and Ella was looking for a present for me and she sent me a big Edgar Allan Poe, really beautifully bound, book, and I said this is so, this is so beautiful and she said, look I was actually looking for something which combined the Gothic with food, because I know that’s what you’re studying and that’s what you’re researching on, but I couldn’t find anything, and I said well why don’t we write one, so that’s literally how it started. It was on my birthday.
And, and we said no because there isn’t really a Gothic cookbook. Because yes, food in the Gothic isn’t something that people normally think, oh that goes together, but actually it does because food can be quite creepy in ways that we wouldn’t think, because we don’t expect it to be, so then suddenly when certain things are presented in a certain way and we realize then the the significance of it, and perhaps it’s more subconscious and it becomes subconscious realization.
So that’s what’s interesting about it, I think. It’s not something that leaps to the eye immediately, but it kind of creeps in very subtly. And I find that really, really good to read. On a second maybe third reading, when you’re looking for food. In fact lots of people say to me, now I notice food everywhere and I never noticed it before, but since you’ve been writing this book… yeah every story that I read you know, I look out for food now.
CMR: I didn’t at all until I heard your talk with Romancing the Gothic about food in horror, films and sort of that idea of you know that the family breaking down because if you… if you see a takeaway they’re not… they’re not being a proper family in the sense they’re not gathering around the table and they don’t have… so if pizza is around, then something bad is going to happen because, like that’s a sign of the family fractured, it’s not the ideal.
AP: Pizza equals danger, you know. Yeah… [it] equals normally a single parent family. It’s incredible, it’s like these food signals then become a language so it’s like a code. You see someone just putting a pizza on the table, the kids are grabbing the pizza, you know that person is a single parent a struggling single mother, you know, normally in a horror film, and something bad is about to happen.
And there are so many different variants of this, I think the House of the Devil is a film, I think from a couple of years ago and, again, you know this association between the pizza and the devil and the pizza to lure in young people and then let the devil in. So you know pizza is– has become an interesting symbol, and then you know it wasn’t like that before, so it’s quite… it’s really good to kind of analyse these more recent films and books that use food in this way.
…And trying to figure out why food is being used like this, you know, what is going on? Why is food being used to express this anxiety that then translates into these evil manifestations or supernatural manifestations, you know what does it all mean?
CMR: I think there’s a lot of anxiety as well around, especially in America, I think, around like the food industry and where the food is coming from and processed food and what’s in processed food and that all of that kind of stuff, but I think in the UK, to an extent as well, there was that you know that the whole kind of GMO scare and the conspiracy theories about genetically modified crops and all that kind of thing.
AP: And it comes down to trust and it comes down to you know, can we trust what we’re eating is what we’re eating what we think we’re eating, you know, is it what it says on the label is it something different. I think these are all things that we automatically… when we pick something up in the supermarket you just trust what’s on the box… But can we, because it’s been proven, time and time again that actually things are not as simple as that and often we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, and it’s the not knowing what goes on behind the scenes, is very much what we want to transmit through this cookbook.
You know the recipes will be wholesome lovely traditional recipes that we can all make in the comfort of our own homes, there’s no creepy stuff going on there, but the idea behind you know this food in Horror and Gothic food is this, is that you know normally we can’t always trust what we see and it’s not as simple as just serving something and everyone being happy about it. What goes on in the kitchen behind closed doors is something that perhaps people that are eating that food have no idea about.
And so, and we see glimpses of this in horror films, and sometimes often I have to say things that are microwavable or sugar, or pizza as we’ve said, are specifically really connected to evil. So yeah maybe people can look out for that. It’s interesting now because when I say this, and people will spot this more and more in films, and you know things that they haven’t noticed before.
CMR: [pause] Yeah and I think it’s… I mean I was thinking about horror films where that’s specifically linked to cannibalism, and like like the accidental…. I was thinking about The Hatching that we watched, do you remember? I don’t want to spoil that for anyone, the whole idea of what’s going on in a butcher’s shop that you don’t know about, like what is in the pies, like Sweeney Todd sort of thing, and what’s in your sausages and… or who, indeed. And I’m thinking about those kinds of dystopian grindhouse films where you’ve got the diners that feed customers to other customers in beef patties and that sort of thing. So… yeah I was just thinking about that then.
AP: Yeah and I think you know, if you buy a pie in a shop and you don’t know what’s in it really, but you still feel full, you still perhaps share it with a friend and feel happy after that interaction. You can test it no problem, you know, the meat that we have. We assume it’s beef, but sometimes we’ve seen that, by accident, it has been another type, maybe horsemeat or some other meat.
CMR: I was just thinking about the horsemeat scandal, yeah.
AP: So nothing bad, ultimately, and sometimes I feel like it’s in our minds, you know what’s bad. You know we wouldn’t eat a pie that’s made of any other meat than what we are expecting it to be, perhaps chicken or beef, but really if we do then what? Because we’ve still eaten it, and perhaps it hasn’t even tasted any different with you know some gravy on it, so really it’s about what we think and imagine. Imagination is more important, you know, in that case, I think.
Things are not what they seem some time, even with food. But more about what it represents culturally and a pie is a pie and it’s in it’s case, it’s covered, and I think that’s a good symbol for what we eat and culturally how we feel when we eat, so you know.
It’s meant to be something nice, it’s meant to be something pleasant and an opportunity to relax as well. You know it’s like a, it’s like a pause now in a break in our day. And it’s not seeing so much as it has to be nutritious, it’s more like we’re having a break now, and often we eat. Having a break and watching something on TV so it’s a double break, and then we’re doing something else on top, maybe looking at our laptops as well, so we’re combining all these relaxing moments together and it becomes just an interruption of our day and then we get on with other things.
You know the function of food, which was a moment of bonding with other people, very often now it’s quite alone when we eat normally, so we see that as well, in a lot of films, it has to be something quick or fast.
CMR: Yeah that’s really interesting. I was just thinking about how food is a backdrop for important dialogue, or for scenes or something like that, where it’s basically reduced to… I guess… what’s the theatre term for it, business, isn’t it, it’s just like do with your hands, while… Like, how do you get two characters to have a conversation about something – well, you could put them in a coffee shop with coffee and cake, or something where you have, you know, even in a cinema they’ll be eating snacks, so they’ll be watching the TV potentially with some sort of food item.
It’s just a way of getting something to do in that situation and then like you can tell a lot about characters by whether they like sweet or savoury things, or whether they’re vegetarian, whether they’re vegan, whether they you know whether that impacts how they interact with people in a scene or.
AP: And whether they want to make a statement through that, because often someone who’s vegan or vegetarian will want to distinguish themselves from their friends and they make a point of saying I’m not going to eat that because I’m – you know, so, what does that mean, as well, from a political standpoint?
And yes you’re right people go to the cinema, perhaps they have food and it’s nearly as a prop in that case, you know you have popcorn you’re having a good time, so you have… But what if there’s an eye in the popcorn?
AP: You know that thing that you’re reaching into a bag of popcorn and then you’re taking out something like an eye or there’s a tooth in your soup, you know all these things they’re meant to be disquieting, like creates a sense of unpleasantness.
AP: And it’s often done through food because food is something that is outside of us, that we put… we trust it enough to place it inside of us. And to make it essentially become part of us, and that’s something we do nearly automatically now but it’s quite a weird process if you think about it, how you break it down.
The amount of trust that we put in something – you wouldn’t put anything externally into your mouth and yet you do with food, even though it’s prepared by people that you don’t necessarily know.
CMR: Yeah the distance between where your food comes from and then getting to you and, like you, don’t have … You know it’s not like where it’s a farm and you’re kind of producing the food yourself you’ve hand-reared the animals you’ve hand-grown the crops, you know exactly how it was grown, or you know, and then you sell it at market and people know you and they know you. It’s not like that anymore, like there’s all of this distance in the food chain and people just don’t know how things are grown. They don’t know people personally anymore.
AP: And people don’t have time to find out. They have to trust the system and actually Sydney Mintz who wrote Sweetness and Power talks about this distance between sites of production and then sites where that food is sold, and there’s a kind of there’s such a separation between the two.
And it normally obviously coincides that the sites of production are in the global South and then we have the West, where that food arrives, and there is such a distance between those two poles that he calls it ‘the mystery’, it becomes a mystery, and we just trust that void. There’s nothing there. And the people who make that food, they don’t exist. Because, if you could envision what they went through when producing that, in what manner, it would probably be quite difficult to eat what they produce and consume it in our everyday lives that we lead, where we don’t really we don’t really have time to think about that. So then that void is the the Gothicness of food, I think, is the darkness of food as well.
CMR: What do you – I mean you have two short stories that are coming out in two anthologies, so fiction as well, do you find yourself consciously playing with food in those sorts of ways in your writing or do you find yourself writing about other kinds of themes?
AP: Yeah that’s a great question, I don’t really – in these two short stories there isn’t any food. I don’t tend to purposely put food in my stories, I don’t know why, but they might be that the background in you know in a restaurant or somewhere where food is produced and I worked for a long time in a restaurant so, it’s kind of a second home to me in that sense, so I would have I would often – I will often write about that, but no there’s… Probably more to do with the with the thesis that I’m writing, which is about cultural memory and the idea that our present interacts constantly with the past or ideas that we have in the past, but also what’s interesting is how the media put forward ideas of the past and how they play a big role in how we view our present, even down to us individually, you know so.
So museums interest me a lot, and one of the short stories, which will be in Spooky by Association, which… I’m not sure when that’s coming out, but this is, yes, it’s a lot to do with that, because museums today are very different, so they used to be show-places for accumulated objects, and now they’re really sites where you can interact, and there’s an interaction between the personal and collective identities and between memory and history.
And you can go somewhere, and you can press buttons and you can, you know climb into things, and it’s all – it’s very different from how it used to be even 20 years ago when I was a child and yeah, 30 years ago I should say, when I was a child, so I think our interpretation of history and how that comes forward in a museum is really, really interesting to me so sometimes I’ll explore themes to do with that and one of my stories is about that actually (in Spooky by Association).
And then there’s another story in HorrifiedMagazine.co.uk and it’s in a folk horror anthology. And this story is called ‘The Strange Occurrences At Sunnywell Care Home’, and I was actually inspired by a talk that was given at Romancing the Gothic by – her Twitter name is @AnatomicalCat, her actual name escapes me right now…
CMR: It’s Cat Irving.
AP: Cat Irving! Thank you. Great talk, where she mentioned Dippel’s oil, that kind of inspired me to look into that a little bit more, and how it was used during World War Two. And then I started researching on this and it’s a nitrogenous by-product of the destructive distillation of bones, and it was used for a time as a chemical warfare harassing agents during World War Two, and so I use this in a story to kind of again emphasize that there are really destructive things and events that have happened in the past, that sometimes can come back without us even realizing or without us wanting them to, but they just reappear because memory is a bit like that and it’s uncontrollable.
And I find that no two memories can never be the same, and I think this overlaps with my idea of food that you can cook the same dish over and over again, but essentially will never be the same as the last time that you cooked it. There’s always something slightly different right you can’t guarantee that anything can be ever exactly the same and it’s the same with memory So for me, these two concepts overlap.
CMR: That’s really fascinating. Yeah. And that’s Horrified Magazine’s eBook Folk Horror, isn’t it, that’s just come out so that’s already available for this month?
AP: Yes, from this month.
CMR: So yeah so people can buy it from from now basically! With your A Gothic Cookbook when is that slated to… I mean I know that’s being crowdfunded do you have a kind of idea of when, is it a case of just when you hit all of your pledges?
AP: So when we hit all of our pledges we will have about… yes, there will be about three months from then and then so we foresee that if everything goes well – and we’re nearly at 60% so that’s really exciting – so perhaps by the end of the year, we can reach you know we can be fully funded and then it will be out kind of for next year springtime perhaps. So we’re really, really excited about that and, hopefully, people will pledge towards it now that it’s spooky season as well.
CMR: I definitely… I pledged the gin and tonic one, because I really wanted that one. I think that was limited, wasn’t it, I don’t know if you’ve got any left. I had to get in there.
AP: Well done, some are limited, but yes, we have cocktail booklets and hardback signed hardbacks and we have lots of different rewards. And we’ll be adding some more on after we hit 60%, we’ll add on a very interesting one based on Rebecca this time by Daphne Du Maurier. So it’s exciting, yes.
FEATURED PLEDGE: Tea With Mrs Danvers
The authors of A Gothic Cookbook will dress up as Mrs Danvers from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and bring afternoon tea to you and your friends, family, colleagues or book group.We’ll prepare the entire spread described in the novel and served each day, at half past four, at Manderley, from the “dripping crumpets”, scones and “sandwiches of a mysterious nature” to the angel cake, its “rather stodgier cousin” (a fruit-laced pound cake) and “that very special gingerbread”. And we’ll bring it to your home or a location of your choice.~ £150 + shipping, limited pledge available as of the time this transcript was published (01/11/21)
*The spread is enough to serve 10-12 people (or you will have plenty of leftovers – and we will offer storage tips!).
*We will travel, on a mutually convenient day and time, to: Greater London, Greater Manchester, Co Durham, North Yorkshire, Northumberland, or Tyne & Wear. Pledge level limited to 3.
Signed first edition hardback
A digital/downloadable Manderley afternoon tea recipe booklet
Your name (or group’s name) in the back of the book
CMR: Oh that’s really cool I really hope that people will pledge some more because you’re so close to getting it out there. I’m really excited for it, I’m looking forward to it.
AP: Might be the world’s first ever Gothic Cookbook, so it is very exciting, I’m very proud.
CMR: And just remind us again where you can where you can find that and if you’ve got any discount codes for it.
AP: Yes, so it’s Unbound.com A Gothic Cookbook if you look that up, and you can pledge there, and we have a special discount code which is GothicPod10.
CMR: P for Parrot, O for Oscar, D for Dog – GothicPod.
AP: GothicPod10, one zero, the number.
CMR: Perfect, I’ll put that in the transcript so people can find it on the blog. I’m really excited I really hope that you get a load of pledges and it does really well. It’s suck a good idea. So do you have anything else coming up after the Gothic cookbook?
AP: Yes, well, I’ve started doing some research into food and romance novels, and erotic writing, so we’ll see how that develops, and what that turns into, I think.
CMR: Oh that’s really exciting! Is that going to be some modern stuff?
CMR: …or are you looking at older Gothic romance, or?
AP: Yeh, I mean, it could be a mixture of the two, some more traditional romance and then, more modern, you know, erotic romance. Some names that come to mind are for example Lara Kinsey, and just other books that have a more modern take on what romance looks like nowadays. Yes, and the food that is used in those books. So we’ll see.
CMR: Well, that’s really exciting! Thank you for sharing that, I’m looking forward to that as well now. Thank you very much for coming on and talking about your project and about your fiction and about Gothic food and so yeah I’m so happy you could do this.
AP: Thank you for allowing me to do that, it’s a bit of a niche topic so it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.
CMR: Oh no, you’re welcome, I’ve really enjoyed it.