Skip to main content


Literary Meals Part 1: Cooking up a reading class

January 15, 2015 by Nora Nagy

One of my first cooking adventures was inspired by a picture book, and of course it was followed by some English course book pancake recipes. Then, as we moved on to some serious literature at school, we imagined what it’d be like to join our favourite fictional characters and cook some meals with them. Sometimes it was exactly the opposite (as in the case of Calypso, Chapter 4 in Ulysses by James Joyce), where we didn't really want to taste the odd dishes described, but loved talking about them.

How many people do you think have been inspired by Lewis Carroll to hold tea parties, or by Proust to make Madeleines? Maybe you wanted to make a Christmas meal inspired by Dickens? Have you ever thought of organizing a dinner party inspired by the stylish buffets of the 1920s à la The Great Gatsby?

Cooking and eating are culturally loaded themes that you can take advantage of in the English class, in a reading class or in your Book Club. Or just for fun, at home with your friends and family, you might want to try out some meals and drinks from your favourite novels. In 2014 a beautifully photographed album called Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried went viral on the Internet. It contains photographs of dishes inspired by literary classics. Of course research about the representation and significance of food in literature has always been a popular topic among literature and cultural studies students, and there have been other excellent publications on the topic. Check out this other title, Dinner with Mr Darcy, Recipes inspired by the novels of Jane Austen by Pen Vogler. Another delicious example is The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook by John Fisher.

You don't have to go far to look for some culinary activities as some of the most read literary classics are packed with memorable scenes and descriptions of meals. Go to your school library, or browse our Classic Red Readers and Blue Readers series, and you will find stories suitable for your classes.

We have collected the best examples with lesson tips for your A1-A2 level classes, but of course you can try them with a B1 level class, too.

How can your English class benefit from a nice meal?

  1. These scenes offer great vocabulary and structure learning opportunities (Think countable and uncountable nouns, units of measurement, instructions...)
  2. Let’s admit, cooking and eating are topics almost everyone likes talking about.
  3. These scenes create context that will support the learning process.
  4. You can learn about culture and history. A nicely laid breakfast or dinner table is a bit like a cultural and historical map of the nation and the era.
  5. A great resource for creative and group projects. You can either draw a meal, describe a meal or a cook a meal.

Activity and discussion ideas based on literary meals

Special dishes

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Level 3)

Activity tip: Read these passages from the reader. Find all the names of meals, and two verbs that describe how the meals are prepared.

Passage from A Christmas Carol, pages 52 and 53 in the Helbling Reader.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Level 2)

Activity tip: Ask your students to close their eyes and imagine the scene as you read it out to them. Then, without looking at the description, they should draw a picture from memory (you can reread as they draw). Compare the drawing with the text. At the end of the activity, ask your class to describe their dream dining room table with all the dishes they would love to see on it.

Passage and discussion box from Little Women, page 20 in the Helbling Reader.

Funny scenes

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Level 2)

Activity tip: Do a role play activity. Ask the students to read then act out the scene below in groups. Make sure they understand everything before they start. They can also lay the table in the style of the book. As they are doing the role play, ask them to imagine how different characters would eat, thereby getting them to think about each character's personality and behaviour.

"There were many empty places at the table  but when the Hatter and the Hare saw Alice, they shouted, ‘No room! No room!’ ‘There’s lots of room,’ Alice said, and she chose an armchair at the top of the table. ‘Have some wine!’ the March Hare said. ‘I can’t see any wine on the table,’ Alice replied. ‘There isn’t any,’ the Hare said. ‘Well, it’s rude of you to offer me some,’ Alice said, a little angrily."

(Passage from the Helbling Reader, page 47)

Anne of Green Gables - Anne Arrives by Lucy Maud Montgomery (Level 2)

Here Anne and her best friend, Diana drink currant wine, thinking they are drinking raspberry cordial. Students will love imagining their reactions.

Activity tip: Tell your students to research cordial recipes. Describe the scene: the colours, the way the table is set, the fruit and the drink.

Illustration from Anne of Green Gables - Anne Arrives by L. M. Montgomery. Illustrated by Arianna Operamolla. © Helbling Languages.


Blog Comments

Add new comment*

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
* Thanks for reading and leaving a comment. It will go online as soon as one of our administrators has checked it. Comments which are considered by the project team to be harassing or otherwise inappropriate, may not be published.