Even though there are hundreds of kid-friendly cookbooks on the market, we only own one. Why? Because a). my kid usually loses interest in cooking after a few stirs and b). once you own a kids’ cookbook called Revolting Recipes… really, how can any other cookbook really compete with that? It’s just a glorious concept brought to life by one of the best children’s writers of all time.
If you asked me to rank my daughter’s favorite authors of all time, Roald Dahl would always be at the top of the list. (Though Kate DiCamillo, Adam Rex, and a few others would give him a run for his money.) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of the first books we ever read her – we used to read it to her to calm her down as a baby – and, since then, our library of Dahl books has just grown and grown. So far, we’ve read her Charlie, The Enormous Crocodile, The Witches, The Magic Finger, George’s Marvelous Medicine, and James and the Giant Peach, and she’s adored them all. And her first-grade teacher is currently reading her class The BFG, so my daughter is coming home every day breathlessly recounting what she’s heard and telling us endlessly how much she loves the book. (We’re probably venturing into Matilda next.)
There is a lot of food – crazy, extravagant food – running throughout Dahl’s works. There’s actually a terrific blog called Dahlicious that’s devoted to the “delicious and disgusting food of Roald Dahl.” To that end, towards the end of his life, Dahl worked with his wife Felicity to collect Revolting Recipes, a cookbook designed to bring to life some of Dahl’s crazier culinary creations. (Revolting Recipes was published four years after Dahl’s death in 1994. Before he died, Dahl assembled a list of all the foods from his various works and attached a note to his wife that read, “It’s a great idea, but God knows how you will do it.”) The recipes that Felicity Dahl and Josie Fison eventually put together are all accompanied by fantastic photographs by Jan Baldwin and original illustrations by longtime Dahl collaborator Quentin Blake, which make every dish look absolutely fantastic.
The recipes themselves are just as insane and inspired as the visuals. You can actually learn to make the Strawberry-Flavored Chocolate-Coated Fudge from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Chicken Soup from George’s Marvelous Medicine, or the Fresh Mudburgers from James and the Giant Peach. And those are some of the more normal recipes. In what other cookbook will you and your child be able to find instructions to make Stink Bugs’ Eggs, Mr. Twit’s Beard Food, Stickjaw for Talkative Parents, Lickable Wallpaper, or a refreshing glass of Frobscottle?
Even just reading these recipes aloud should be enough to inspire laughter from your kids, though, I’ll admit, some of these recipes actually sound really, really good. The description of the glaze for the Hansel and Gretel Spare Ribs literally makes my mouth water. I’m half-tempted to do a Julie & Julia-esque project where I try to cook through every recipe in Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes (the creator of Dahlicious has already attempted many of them), even though some of the recipes are surprisingly complex. Actually, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. One of the best things about Roald Dahl books is that they NEVER speak down to children, so I don’t know why I expected that his cookbook would.
Some kids’ cookbooks are extremely simplified, to the point where they almost insult your child’s intelligence. Revolting Recipes, on the other hand, assumes that whoever will be cooking these recipes can easily use a candy thermometer or a blackbird pastry funnel without too many explicit directions. Granted, that might make the recipes harder, but you’ve got to appreciate the confidence Dahl places in his audience.
So, first of all, go and read your kid as many Roald Dahl books as you can find. They’re amazing, vicious, funny, absurd, insightful, unflinching, surprisingly warm-hearted – they’re perfect books for kids. And, then, once you’ve introduced them to concepts like Crispy Wasp Stings on a Piece of Buttered Toast or Candy-Coated Pencils for Sucking in Class, pull out a copy of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes and blow their minds. Because reading about Roald Dahl food is one thing, but finding out that you can actually make Toffee-Apple Trees? That’s like finding your very own Golden Ticket in a Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight Wonka Bar.