Martian madness

In the early 1970s, at Betsy Ballantine’s request, Anne McCaffrey coordinated a large number of science fiction authors in the publication of a cookbook, Cooking Out of This World. With a title and a cohort like that, one would logically expect a certain degree of science fiction-like cuisine within.

Instead, the book is largely a collection of minimalist or at least easy-and-inexpensive recipes, designed for the starving and cash-poor author or college student rather than as a science fictional exploration of food in its own right. There is, for example, a total lack of food pill recipes, that staple of unappetizing futures. None of the names of dishes are totally made up words.

At best, the recipes are named allusively rather than literally. A “tortilla saucer” is a minor fancy, since tortillas are approximately saucer shaped to begin with. “Deadline stew” is almost self-explanatory. “Cosmic minestrone” is a copious amount of minestrone made with earthly ingredients. Most of the recipes are named literally, such as “Fish steamed in wine”. As a general rule, I’m all in favor of clear labeling; but the lack of coinages is striking in a book written by science fiction authors, and makes me interested in knowing how typical this is or is not of fictional food in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

“Martian madness”, by Bob Shaw, is one of the few exceptions. It is not obvious to me, at least, what it is from its name alone. (Although I can safely say it’s not an iPhone app.) It is a dessert confection of crushed digestive biscuits, buttery chocolate sauce, rum, candied cherries, and icing, designed to look vaguely like Mars (cherries) surrounded by two dots of icing (moons) in space. It’s also so full of calories that its eater is better off in the fractional gravity of Mars than the heavier gravity of Earth after he or she has eaten it.

The other exceptions in the cookbook are mostly written by Ursula Le Guin, and tied to books I have not yet read. A sequel to the 1973 cookbook, Serve it Forth, was published in 1996.

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*© S. Worthen 2009