Mikey Burton (Illustration). ALAMY (1-8, 10-13). CORBIS (9)
Mikey Burton (Illustration). ALAMY (1-8, 10-13). CORBIS (9)

The Dishes 16 Writers Would Bring to a Literary Potluck

Mikey Burton (Illustration). ALAMY (1-8, 10-13). CORBIS (9)
Mikey Burton (Illustration). ALAMY (1-8, 10-13). CORBIS (9)

A version of this story originally appeared in print in the November 2014 issue of mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

We combed the archives to discover some of our favorite authors’ favorite recipes.

1. EDGAR ALLAN POE: Eggnog

Poe loved a stiff drink, and his family’s brandy-spiked nog recipe has been passed down since 1790. As a student at West Point, Poe boldly carried brandy with him everywhere. After the school’s infamous “Eggnog Riots,” just thinking about booze meant arrest and expulsion.

7 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
5 cups whole milk, divided
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups brandy
1/4 cup rum
Nutmeg

1. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar, whisking until thick and pale. Set aside.

2. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. In a small saucepan, warm 3 cups milk over low heat. Whisk 1 cup warm milk into yolk mixture. Add this back to the milk in the pan, stirring over low heat until combined and thickened. Remove from heat and quickly stir in cream.

3. Place saucepan in prepared ice bath. Stir occasionally until chilled, then add brandy, rum, and remaining 2 cups milk.

4. Pour eggnog into glasses. In a medium bowl with a handheld mixer, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Spoon egg whites over eggnog, and top with grated nutmeg.

2. RAY BRADBURY: Pizza Soup

A true starving artist, Bradbury had only $8 in the bank when he got married. He saved dough by hacking tomato soup recipes. He loved it so much, he requested his ashes be buried in a Campbell’s can on Mars. His recipe calls for a can of tomato soup plus one pound of crackers.

1 can Campbell's tomato soup
1 quart of milk
1 pound of crackers

Heat soup, keep adding milk. Crunch crackers constantly into mix until you get what looks like a liquid pizza.

3. ERNEST HEMINGWAY: Hamburgers

Oddly, “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger” recipe was found in the JFK presidential library. Turns out Hem was a burger snob who liked to baste his meat in wine. “There is no reason why [it] has to turn out gray, greasy, paper-thin, and tasteless,” lectured Papa.

You can add all sorts of goodies and flavors to the ground beef—minced mushrooms, cocktail sauce, minced garlic and onion, ground almonds, a big dollop of Piccalilli, or whatever your eye lights on. Papa prefers this combination.

Ingredients

1lb. ground lean beef
2 cloves, minced garlic
2 little green onions, finely chopped
parsley
1 heaping teaspoon, India relish
2 tablespoons, capers
1 heaping teaspoon, Spice Islands Sage
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Mei Yen Pepper
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten in a cup with a fork
About 1/3 cup dry red or white wine
1 tablespoon cooking oil

What to do

Break up the meat with a fork and scatter the garlic, onion and dry seasonings over it, then mix them into the meat with a fork or your fingers. Let the bowl of meat sit out of the icebox for ten or fifteen minutes while you set the table and make the salad. Add the relish, capers, everything else including wine and let the meat sit, quietly marinating, for another ten minutes if possible.

Now make four fat, juicy patties with your hands. The patties should be an inch thick, and soft in texture but not runny. Have the oil in your frying pan hot but not smoking when you drop the patties and then turn the heat down and fry the burgers about four minutes. Take the pan off the burner and turn the heat high again. Flip the burgers over , put the pan back on the hot fire, then after one minute, turn the heat down again and cook another three minutes. Both sides of the burgers should be crispy brown and the middle pink and juicy.

4. ALLEN GINSBERG: Cold Vegetarian Borscht

The Beat poet loved to cook soup—in the sink. Ginsberg made soup so often, he hung a small rack outside his loft window to let his big 12-gallon stockpot cool. He didn’t need it for his summery borscht, which is served cold and, coincidentally, full of beets.

Dozen beets cleaned & chopped to bite size salad-size Strips
Stems & leaves also chopped like salad lettuce
All boiled together lightly salted to make a bright red soup,
with beets now soft – boil an hour or more
Add Sugar & Lemon Juice to make the red liquid
sweet & sour like Lemonade

Chill 4 gallon(s) of beet liquid -

Serve with
(1) Sour Cream on table
(2) Boiled small or halved potato
on the side
(i.e. so hot potatoes don’t heat the
cold soup prematurely)
(3) Spring salad on table to put into
cold red liquid
1) Onions – sliced (spring onions)
2) Tomatoes – sliced bite-sized
3) Lettuce – ditto
4) Cucumbers – ditto
5) a few radishes
__________________________________
Suitable for Summer Dinner

5. PEARL S. BUCK: Sweet and Sour Fish

Buck grew up in China and considered Asian cookery the world’s best. As a child, she had meals with Chinese servants instead of eating American fare with her family, an experience that inspired her to write the Oriental Cookbook in 1972.

6. VLADIMIR NABOKOV: Eggs à la Nabocoque

Nabokov’s most painful rejection came when his literary recipe was left out of Maxime de la Falaise’s cookbook: If a cracked egg in “water (now bubbling like mad) starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff like a medium in an old-fashioned séance, fish it out.”

“Boil water in a saucepan (bubbles mean it is boiling!). Take two eggs (for one person) out of the refrigerator. Hold them under the hot tap water to make them ready for what awaits them.

Place each in a pan, one after the other, and let them slip soundlessly into the (boiling) water. Consult your wristwatch. Stand over them with a spoon preventing them (they are apt to roll) from knocking against the damned side of the pan.

If, however, an egg cracks in the water (now bubbling like mad) and starts to disgorge a cloud of white stuff like a medium in an old fashioned seance, fish it out and throw it away. Take another and be more careful.

After 200 seconds have passed, or, say, 240 (taking interruptions into account), start scooping the eggs out. Place them, round end up, in two egg cups. With a small spoon tap-tap in a circle and then pry open the lid of the shell. Have some salt and buttered bread (white) ready. Eat.

V.N.
November 18, 1972

7. MARY SHELLEY: Kale

Before kale was the superfood we massaged, blended, and blogged about, it was simply Mary Shelley’s favorite veggie. Since her husband, the poet Percy, had such bad eating habits—sometimes he’d work so hard he’d forget to eat—Mary kept a well-stocked garden so the bard would get his greens.

8. FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: Lemon Risotto

Nietzsche avoided restaurants because he tended to gorge himself, so he asked his housemaid to teach him how to make risotto. Of course, being Nietzsche, he remained skeptical. “A diet consistent primarily of rice leads to the use of opium and narcotics,” he wrote.

9. HARPER LEE: Crackling Bread

Ask the Pulitzer-winning author why the South lost the Civil War and she may blame the soldiers’ hankering for crackling bread, a mix of cornmeal and pork rinds. “Some historians say this recipe alone fell the Confederacy,” Lee wrote. Understandable, considering her recipe begins: “First, catch your pig.”

Then ship it to the abattoir nearest you. Bake what they send back. Remove the solid fat and throw the rest away. Fry fat, drain off liquid grease, and combine the residue (called "cracklings") with 1 1/2 cups water-ground white meal, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 egg, 1 cup milk. Bake in very hot oven until brown (about 15 minutes). Result: one pan crackling bread serving 6. Total cost: About $250, depending upon size of pig. Some historians say by this recipe alone fell the Confederacy.

10. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD: Turkey Leftovers

In his private papers, Fitzgerald listed 13 uses for leftover Thanksgiving turkey. These included a vermouth bird cocktail, a side of monkey meat, and dishes stuffed with mothballs, stewed in washing machines, and blown up with bicycle pumps.

11. EMILY DICKINSON: Gingerbread

When the Dickinson family cook quit, Emily began baking their daily bread. The poet’s baked goods won awards, and she was known for lowering baskets full of gingerbread down from her window to children below. She also jotted poetry on the back of food wrappers, like proto-Snapple facts.

1 quart flour
½ cup butter
½ cup cream
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
Make up with molasses [ PDF]

12. JOHN STEINBECK: Posole

Steinbeck liked to eat local. In England, he’d hunt for dandelion greens. In California, he made butter and cheese with the milk from his own personal cow. In New York, he fished for dinner. But traveling on the road, Steinbeck ate like a college freshman. His posole recipe is simply a “can of chili and a can of hominy.”

13. EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY: Blueberry Pie

When life hands you blueberries, make pie. The Pulitzer winner’s childhood chore was to pick blueberries at her uncle’s farm, and decades later, she’d buy a 635-acre blueberry farm called Steepletop, writing The King’s Henchman under a hut in the berry pasture.

14. LEO TOLSTOY: Macaroni and Cheese

The Tolstoy family's cookbook was filled with instructions for how to make everything from stuffed dumplings to spiced mushrooms to Anke pie, which was named after a friend of the family who gave Leo’s mother-in-law the recipe. (Leo’s son Ilya wrote in his memoirs that “all festive occasions, big holidays and name days were always and invariably celebrated with Anke Pie.") The Tolstoys also enjoyed a good mac and cheese:

Bring water to a boil, add salt, then add macaroni and leave boiling on light fire until half tender; drain water through a colander, add butter and start putting macaroni back into the pot in layers – layer of macaroni, some grated Parmesan and some vegetable sauce, macaroni again and so on until you run out of macaroni. Put the pot on the edge of the stove, cover with a lid and let it rest in light fire until the macaroni are soft and tender. Shake the pot occasionally to prevent them from burning.

15. Alice B. Toklas: Mushroom Sandwiches

OK, so it’s not her infamous Haschich Fudge. Still, in her 1954 cookbook, Gertrude Stein’s partner noted that “Mushroom sandwiches have been my specialty for years.” She offers two versions, the second of which makes "a delicious sandwich that tastes like chicken. A Frenchman can say no more."

16. Sylvia Plath: Tomato Soup Cake

Sylvia Plath loved to bake. In 1957, she wrote in her journal that “[i]nstead of studying Locke, I go make an apple pie, or study The Joy of Cooking, reading it like a rare novel." She often wrote as she baked, penning "Death & Co." while she made her specialty, tomato soup cake.


Image credit: Mikey Burton (Illustration)

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10 Facts About Aspirin
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Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

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Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.

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