Title/Author: John Saturnall’s Feast By Lawrence Norfolk
Genre: Historical Fiction
“Kings raise their Statues and Chruchmen build Cathedrals, A Cook leaves no Monument save Crumbs.”
John Saturnall’s Feast is the story of a boy who uses his natural cooking talent to rise from lowly peasant to world renowned cook. We start off before John ever enters the manor’s kitchens. He is a little boy that is tormented by the town bully because his mother is believed to be a witch.
They are eventually driven out of the town to hide within the ruins of an old Castle where John’s mother shares the secrets of the feast with him. The feast is a wonderfully allegory between the preservation of our food traditions and our current fast food, processed junk food obsessed society. Every chapter begins with a recipe from John Saturnall’s personal cookbook.
Amongst all of this we learn about a lovely, yet slightly weird, Lucretia is introduced to us. The way she is introduced to us is really odd and I still don’t quite understand it. She becomes the ultimate challenge for John as he has to entice her into eating. In the process she becomes a believer of keeping the feast as well and John’s loves interest.
John’s past eventually catches up with him as the new religious order comes in to push out the traditions of the people. John and his friend’s belief in keeping the feast is put to the test against some pretty nasty enemies.
Over all I liked the book but the overall theme and the feel of the book fell apart in the second half of the book. In the first half, it was a lovely story that paralleled a way of looking at food that is very near and dear to my heart. The way the author talked about cooking and keeping the feast was much like a love letter. However, towards the end it seemed to fall apart a bit as the author seemed to only want to focus on the romance as opposed to the main themes that it originally started with. Likewise, there are questions that the author left unanswered with certain characters.
As I said, I did enjoy reading this book. It was a pick for our Slow Food book club, which I recommend it for since it will give us some good discussion topics. We get together to discuss the book and make recipes based on what we read. I’ve actually decided to make some “forged” tarts, one made of mixed greens (kale, dandelion, beet and spinach) and another from mushrooms and white wine. We’ll see how they turn out, it’s a bit of an experiment.