When the residents of Bon Temps, Louisiana aren’t a) fraternising with vampires or b) being vampires, they’re busy in the kitchen. At least they are according to the new True Blood Cookbook, published to tie in with season five of the hit HBO series.
Bon Temps’ citizens are fictional, but that hasn’t stopped Sookie Stackhouse, Bill Compton, Sam Merlotte and other characters from the show from creating a recipe book filled with their ghoulish cocktails and Cajun cooking. True Blood: Eats, Drinks and Bites from Bon Temps is the latest in a long line of cookbooks inspired by TV dramas and sit-coms. But are these kinds of cookbooks anything more than memorabilia? Does anyone actually cook from them, and are the recipes any good?
“Readers aren’t dupes. There has to be something useful about these kinds of cookbooks for them to sell,” says Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller. Jones cites The Sopranos Family Cookbook as one of the best fictional TV tie-in cookbooks – selling a modest but respectable 16,000 copies in the UK, and a substantial 473,000 copies in the US to date. The Sopranos Family Cookbook and its follow-up Entertaining with The Sopranos were a hit because the show and the books have an obvious connection to a particular cuisine – Italian-American food. And the recipes work. My favourite Sopranos dish is pasta fagioli (or pasta fazool, as Tony Soprano would pronounce it) – an authentic, unctuous version of the Italian pasta and bean soup.
Food blogger Big Spud is another fan of The Sopranos Family Cookbook, citing Carmela Soprano’s basil lasagne as “rich and flavoursome”. And in perhaps the ultimate seal of approval, a friend’s Italian-American mother from New Jersey makes her famous baked ziti using … the recipe from The Sopranos Family Cookbook.
Cafe Nervosa: The Connoisseurs’ Cookbook was a more modest success, but is similarly loved by Frasier fans both as a collector’s item and a useful trove of cafe-style recipes. And Mad Men’s beautifully realised world of steak tartare and Old-Fashioneds in 60s Manhattan has spawned both an official and unofficial cookbook. It seems fictional tie-in cookbooks can work if they come from shows with a strong food theme.
Will the True Blood cookbook be a success? Soul food is in vogue on both sides of the Atlantic, and the book is filled with regional specialities like cornbread, hush puppies and gumbo. The recipes, written by Louisiana native Marcelle Bienvenu, are easy to follow and authentic but to maintain the fiction that the recipes come from the show’s characters, stylish food photography is ditched in favour of stills from the programme. Fun if you’re a fan, perhaps, but unlikely to make you hand over upwards of £15 otherwise.
“Cookbooks related to fictional TV shows don’t perform anywhere near as well as [books from] TV chefs and celebrity chefs,” says Laura Bonney of Amazon UK. Which is perhaps why The Doctor Who Cookbook, several Emmerdale recipe books, and The Coronation Street Cookbook are all out of print, despite the continued popularity of the programmes. The Doctor Who Cookbook is currently going for £35 on Amazon. So if you’re not a fan of the show in question, it might just be worth buying a tie-in cookbook in case it’s a valuable collectors’ item in 10 years’ time.
Do you own any fictional TV tie-in cookbooks, and which programmes do you think deserve a cookbook spin-off?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010