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A Thanksgiving reading list about food.

Courtesy of Dalkey Archive

A list of the most memorable dishes in literature would have to include the famous macaroni pie in Guiseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, a dish so fragrant, so monumental, so stuffed with “chicken livers, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken, and truffles,” that the archpriest at the table barely has time to make the sign of the cross before he “plunge[s] in headfirst without a word.” Then there is the bouef en daube in To the Lighthouse, which in Virginia Woolf’s hands is not only the centerpiece of a sumptuous meal, but also a fraught measure of the hostess Mrs. Ramsay’s self-worth, a feeling that is undoubtedly familiar to many a home cook this evening. Or more triumphantly, there is the poulet à l’estragon of Jacques Pepin’s memoir The Apprentice, which signals the moment he comes into his own as a chef. Still a teenager, he singlehandedly makes the dish for a table of four, and has a life-changing realization when he peers into the dining room to see how things are going: “They were eating. Eating my food.”

But as I was putting the finishing touches earlier today on a heaping pile of freshly milled potatoes—i.e., stirring in an ungodly amount of warmed butter and milk—the one sentence fragment that kept repeating in my head was from William Gaddis’s A Frolic of His Own, a stream-of-consciousness insight into the nature of food that is perhaps more appropriate to this American feast day: “All really just different ways to eat butter, asparagus, artichokes, a baked potato...”