This Folio Life: Selecting tales for The Folio Book of Food and Drink

Making a selection, or anthology, is ultimately an unsatisfying experience. Unless you are prepared to create some vast tome, you are forced by reason of length alone to abandon many wonderful extracts, poems, letters and entries to which you have already become attached. Each article must fight for its place and earn its position so you can be certain that those chosen are the best available. (Mind you, as soon as the selection is signed-off, dozens of fantastic contenders will inevitably present themselves.)

In the end a selection is made – though not everyone will agree with the outcome. That is half the fun. An anthology should be familiar enough to welcome cosy absorption but should throw in enough surprises to keep the reader both amused and delighted. I look forward to hearing which passages from our Folio Book of Food and Drink people feel worthy to be there, and which they feel have missed out.

For my own part, I am glad we included Mr Weller’s wonderful description of turning kittens into pies from The Pickwick Papers, but there was one other pie-piece that was in strong contention. It is the grisly discovery of the contents of Mrs Lovett’s pies from The String of Pearls, better known as Sweeney Todd:

‘How the waggish young lawyers’ clerks laughed as they smacked their lips, and sucked in the golopshious gravy of the pies, which, by the by, appeared to be all delicious veal this time, and Mrs Lovett worked the handle of the machine all the more vigorously. What an unusual trouble it seemed to be to wind up those forthcoming hundred pies! How she toiled, and how the people waited; but at length there came up the savoury steam, and then the tops of the pies were visible.

‘They came up upon a large tray, about six feet square, and the moment Mrs Lovett ceased turning the handle, and let a catch fall that prevented the platform receding again, to the astonishment and terror of everyone, away flew all the pies, tray and all, across the counter, and a man, who was lying crouched down in an exceedingly flat state under the tray, sprang to his feet.

‘Mrs Lovett shrieked, as well she might, and then she stood trembling, and looking as pale as death itself. It was the doomed cook from the cellars, who had adopted this mode of escape.

‘The throngs of persons in the shop looked petrified, and after Mrs Lovett’s shriek, there was an awful stillness for about a minute, and then the young man who officiated as cook spoke.

‘”Ladies and Gentlemen – I fear that what I am going to say will spoil your appetites; but the truth is beautiful at all times, and I have to state that Mrs Lovett’s pies are made of human flesh!”‘

Pie illustration from The Folio Book of Food and Drink

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