When I was a child, my parents had a tradition that they would buy us one thing on our annual trip to Disneyland; the last thing we did before going home was hit the Emporium. Which had a book section. We seldom picked our treat from there, because you could get Disney books other places, but I think it’s significant that the one time I remember doing so, it was to buy The Mickey Mouse Cookbook. Which I still own. It’s a pretty decent children’s cookbook. Which in recent years I’ve discovered is consistently true of Disney. I know this because that long-ago childhood acquisition was merely the first in a long line of novelty cookbooks based on pop culture.
For the unfamiliar, yes, this is a thing. You take a known property—Game of Thrones or Firefly, for example. You then either find every mention of food in it or else come up with a bunch of foods that feel appropriate. Something akin to what Andrew Rea does in Binging With Babish, but focused on a single property. Things as varied as The Bridges of Madison County and World of Warcraft have had this treatment, sometimes more successfully than others.
Sometimes, a themed cookbook to whatever-it-is makes a lot of sense. I don’t like the “Cat Who” books by Lilian Jackson Braun for a lot of reasons, but it’s true that the cookbook for it is made up of recipes for foods the obnoxious foodie characters eat. The Little House cookbook is also a bit of a teaching tool—compare the food Laura grew up eating with the food Almanzo grew up eating, and you learn a great deal about their respective childhoods. (We’ll not get into the places where that’s Pa Ingalls to blame; that’s a different article for another day.) The Harry Potter cookbook, similarly, is an unofficial companion piece with a recipe for literally every food mentioned in the series.
Other times, it’s a little more surprising. Well you may ask what would appear in a Wheel of Fortune cookbook—the answer turns out to be “recipes from everyone who works on the show.” A cookbook just of Tiana’s recipes from The Princess and the Frog, okay, but a Disney Princess cookbook with Brave-themed pizza is a little weirder. (It’s made with pepperoni targets on it.) And The Necronomnomnom is downright bizarre, though I appreciate that half the book is themed to Lovecraft and the other half is the recipes put into more understandable terms.
Sometimes, the cookbooks are official merchandise of the property. Disney does a lot of these, with everything from Galaxy’s Edge to High School Musical. Sometimes, they’re based on properties from long ago—I’m not sure if Rex Stout was involved in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, but I know L. M. Montgomery was dead when the Anne of Green Gables one came out. Sometimes, they’re terrible; Fifty Shades of Chicken may have one or two decent recipes but put more thought into the joke than the execution. But anything by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel (who turns out to be married to a grad school friend of a friend?) is worth seeking out.
A thing I guess I should point out here is that I’m exclusively naming cookbooks in my collection. These days, about the only way I buy not-novelty cookbooks is when they’re by a contestant of The Great British Bake-Off—I have cookbooks from both Nadiya and Luis, and many more are on my wishlist. This is because I have enough so that there are no basic foods I need recipes for. But novelty cookbooks? This month, I bought The Unofficial TikTok Cookbook on discovering that it was even a thing. (To be fair to me, it was pretty cheap.) I don’t tend toward the celebrity cookbook—though I do own the one by Mandy Patinkin’s mom—but you make it a charity one themed to “friends of Miss Piggy,” and I’m there.
I freely admit that the whole thing is kind of bizarre, but is my collection really any weirder than that of my kids’ dentist, who has literally walled his personal office in shelves of Funko Pops? Cookbooks take up less space and are more useful. The pretzel recipe in The Unofficial Disney Parks Cookbook was pretty good, and while I do not, in the strictest sense, actually need a fifteenth pretzel recipe, there’s also an extraordinarily delicious cinnamon roll recipe that will definitely be added to my family’s options. And this summer, we’ll make frozen lemonade. Maybe the kids would like to try Dole Whip.