Update: We tried the cookbook’s butter recipe, here.
The Troll Cookbook, a charming, fairytale-themed tome recently released by Dromedary Press, sums itself up nicely with this introductory quote from Ibsen’s Peer Gynt:
“Under the skies men have a common saying: ‘Man, to thyself be true!’ But here, amongst trolls, it runs, ‘Troll, to thyself be enough!’”
This book, less cookbook than a kitchen-centric meditation on troll sensibilities, captures the quote perfectly. Trolls, writes co-author Clint Marsh, are all about the sublime world of the natural landscape as it intersects with the cooking hearth. In this paradigm, no matter the outcome of your dish, the idea is to gain trust in yourself.
Yes, you too can make your own butter, your own old-fashioned plum pudding, even your own cooking spoon hewn from wood. The book will be your guide.
Find directions for all these — spoon included, among 180 or so others — along with short stories about trolls of yore, and essays on how trolls make the most of each season. These sections, each titled “Old Magic in the Summer/Winter/Spring/Fall” edge on woo-woo territory, yet like the book as a whole, seems to be in on its own joke. No mention of Internet trolls winks at you here, because while a sense of guile exists, The Troll Cookbook is all heart. Earnest, rustic heart. This same idea provides the basis for the quirky illustrations by co-author Karima Cammell, which show not lush examples of finished recipes, but trolls at work and play. They are un-uniform, craggy and strange. Mice and bugs populate the corners, in a delightful, Richard Scarry way. The ultimate effect is enchanting without the usual tricks of bright colors or sparkles.
What sparked your interest in trolls?
Cammell: One of the truths I’m always trying to tell, in my books and in my life in general, is that creativity and courage go hand in hand, so when Clint and I sat down to discuss ideas for co-authoring a book, we wanted to make it about creative courage. Not everyone thinks of themselves as a creative person, yet preparing food to eat is a creative act we engage in every day. It can take courage to break out from our food habits, especially if we want to eat more consciously.
Because everything Clint and I do has an element of whimsy or fantasy to it, we cast around for the perfect metaphor. When the concept of a cookbook written by trolls came to us, it was almost like one of the trolls had come up and whacked us on the head. It was so obvious! Just look at the folklore. In story after story, all around the world, trolls are constantly seeking out food and transforming it with their magic. Trolls are often scary in folktales, but as Clint and I read more closely, we found a real humanity under their monstrous exterior. Trolls can be generous, curious, and inventive with their food, and of course they are utterly fearless. They represent creative courage perfectly.
The book is divided by season. Why did you begin with winter?
Marsh: The cookbook is meant to be used year-round, helping people get in touch with the seasons that are particular to their part of the world. Winter was a natural starting point. Trolls can be found in cultures around the globe, but we tend to associate them with Scandinavia and other northern, snowy climates. Winter is snowy and cold, and the ground is bare. There’s relatively little food to be found outside, but everything is full of potential and there is plenty of preparation to do in the kitchen.
In the winter chapter, the trolls show us how to take stock of our kitchens, figuring out our staple foods and essential tools. Much of the chapter is about learning how to do more with less, focusing on objects and habits that forge a strong relationship between us and the food we eat. The book then takes us through spring, summer, and autumn, the themes of each season mirror our progress with troll cooking. When winter comes again everything starts over, but of course we’re wiser and more courageous each time.
Cammell: In my house the kitchen is the heart. It’s so much more than just a place to eat. The kitchen is where my husband Duncan and I discuss our day. Our kids work on their school projects at the table, and friends and family flow through. There are always a few food projects underway, everything is a process. More than ten years ago we clamped a hand-cranked grain mill to the kitchen counter. It’s still there, and we use it to grind flour for baking. Duncan is a sourdough fiend and a pizza dough expert, so his breads are usually in various states of readiness. We leave out bowls of apples and walnuts for snacking, and anything dropped on the floor gets gobbled up by the dogs. It’s all very troll.
Marsh: Life in an urban area means that space can be at a premium. My kitchen is small—tiny oven, tiny stovetop. This is where troll ingenuity pays off. I cook the basics at home, but a lot of the time I visit friends and neighbors to cook meals together. During the final months of our work on The Troll Cookbook, Karima and I shut ourselves into a woodland cabin and cooked nonstop for a week straight, trying different techniques, taking notes, and eating, eating, eating!
What has been the general reaction around trolls as the book’s theme?
Marsh: People like the whimsy of it. Sometimes people think it’s a joke — they’ll ask whether it’s a guide to cooking trolls. Once they start leafing through it, though, they really appreciate the depth and they get curious about troll cooking.
Cammell: The response has been positive everywhere. We’ve had a few professional chefs call The Troll Cookbook a refreshing read. The cookbook world is flooded with titles based on one technique or about a famous chef. The Troll Cookbook is about everyone and all the good things we can dream up in the kitchen.