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Photographing Literature's Famous Food Scenes

A confession: I've read Jack Kerouac's On the Road, but I can't tell you much about it. Yes, I know he's on a road trip. But beyond that, I don't recall any of the characters or anything they do or what the point was. What I do remember is that he described some truly great food. In fact, I liked those sections of the book so much that when I read them, I apparently felt the need to scribble them down, word for word, in a notebook.

On the Road isn't the only example of this. I remember the hoecakes and the maple snow candy from Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. My favorite scene from Roald Dahl's Boy is in the candy shop. The details of meals and food and eating always stay with me long after the plotlines have faded.

So when I saw a series of photographs by Dinah Fried being passed around Tumblr, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit. Her "Fictitious Dishes" re-create the food scenes from a range of books, largely classics like Moby Dick and The Bell Jar.

"For me as a reader, and in life as well, I remember the eating scenes in books," Fried says on the phone. "They really bring me to an emotional place in the character and the book."

Fried has 10 photos in her collection so far, five of which she's sharing here on The Picture Show for the first time. Some of the scenes are of iconic literary meals — the gruel from Oliver Twist and the tea party from Alice in Wonderland.

Others, like the scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, are a bit less literal. The open-faced sandwiches pictured aren't actually described in the book. But, says Fried, that type of sandwich was mentioned so many times that she felt she had to re-create them somehow.

She does take some liberties with her photos. The layouts are of her own design, and not all of the details are 100 percent true to the text. Take, for instance, the cheese sandwich from The Catcher in the Rye. "I know it's a Swiss cheese sandwich," she says. "But I didn't use Swiss cheese because I wanted the color to pop. The designer in me wanted the cheese to be more orange."

The designer in her is also always on the hunt for the right props. Most of them are snagged from people's kitchens and found on visits to flea markets and thrift stores. Sometimes Fried has the food scene in mind but can't proceed until she has the right prop. That was the case with Moby Dick. She knew her dad had a pewter beer stein that she absolutely had to have. He'd long forgotten about it, but, until they found it, she couldn't take the photo.

Sometimes a particularly good find will spark her creativity. The discovery of a three-pronged toasting fork reminded Fried of a scene in Heidi, and she felt compelled to re-create the meal of toasted cheese eaten by Heidi and her grandfather. And there are a few things in her collection that she hasn't yet used, like a 1960s coffee carafe with gold star bursts.

Often, the literary passages that Fried draws on don't have a description of a specific place or setting, so the goal with her photos is to create the atmosphere of a particular scene.

"I'm interested in creating something that evokes an emotional feeling for myself and others," she explains. "I wanted to see how other people who had read the books would connect on that level."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Krantz