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The Alchemaster’s Apprentice


“Cooking is alchemy and alchemy is cooking”

It’s such a shame that the books of Walter Moers haven’t become as popular as the Hunger Games or Twilight, because they are just as magical and just as imaginative. I thought I’d give you a literary taste of one of his greatest creations – and one of his tastiest!

If Walter Moers was a chef – he would be a cross between Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsey and Willy Wonka. A German author of some marvelously bonkers and beautifully crafted children’s books (Rumo, The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebeard, The City of Dreaming Books and The Alchemaster’s Apprentice) – Moers is a truly culinary genius on the page.

If you’ve read his book on “The City of Dreaming Books” you’ll be familiar with demonic Bee Bread and Midnight Oil Espresso. But Moers really flexes his taste-buds and lets his gastronomic juices explode in “The Alchemaster’s Apprentice.

BooksGhoolion a malevolent alchemaster in the town of Malaisea rescues a starving Crat called Echo – in exchange for his body fat! Fat that the alchemaster uses for his alchemistic creations and preserving foul odors and beasties. Blurgh!! But Echo’s type of fat will actually bring him immortality. But, in return, Ghoolion will serve up this half-dead skin and bones Crat with some of the most delicious sounding food in the whole of the literary universe.

“The first course consisted of a tiny little dumpling afloat in a bowl of clear, orange-tinted broth….’Saffronised essence of tomato,’ Ghoolion said softly. ‘It’s obtained by skinning the finest sun-ripened tomatoes and placing them in a cloth suspended over a bowl. For the next three days, terrestrial gravity alone ensures that the tomato pulp deposits it liquor in the bowl, filtered through the clean linen drop by drop. That’s how one extracts the essential flavour – the very soul of the fruit. Then add some salt, a few grains of sugar and a dozen threads of saffron – precisely a dozen, mark you! – and simmer over a low flame for one whole day. The broth must never boil, or it will dissipate the soul of the tomato and taste of nothing at all….

‘Now for the dumpling. The meat it contains comes from salmon living in the most limpid rivers in Zamonia, the ones that flow into the Muchwater Marshes.  Their waters are extremely dangerous – so clear that many people fail to see them until they’ve already fallen in and are drowning. As for the salmon, they’re reputed to be so happy, you can hear them laughing when the moon is full and they leap up the rapids in a vain attempt to reach it. They feed on nothing but little freshwater crayfish, which are considered a delicacy in themselves….they taste fruity, almost sweet, and give off an aroma of apricots.’

‘I mash up the salmon meat,’ he went on, ‘season it with a pinch of salt and some herbs, add some miniscule cubes of candied onion, mould the mixture into a dumpling and roll it up in a sheet of rice paper no thicker than a puff of breath on a frosty windowpane. Then I suspend the dumpling on a string above a gently simmering saucepan full of delicious Blue Tea. The salmon dumpling dangles in the pale blue steam for the space of exactly seven thousand heartbeats, then it’s a point. I remove it from the rice paper, submerge it in the essence of tomato and it’s ready! Go on, try it.’ (p27)

Fish ball soupTry Rick Stein’s Thai Fish Cakes  recipe for something vaguely resembling Ghoolion’s fish dumplings.

Ghoolion’s gastronomic creations continue throughout the book.

“Poached turbot on a sea of milk, noodles baked in gold leaf, catfish and buttered shrimps, gurnard with twelve sauces, spider crab in paprika and brown sugar, grouse livers with essence of morel, pigeons in aspic, Midgard rabbits’ tongues in lavender sauce, stuffed marshhogs’ tails on a bed of blue cabbage, wishbone meat in lemon-balm jelly, chilled sea-slug soup with shaved crayfish tails.” (p32)

CratAs you get more and more involved in Echo’s marvellous tale, you learn about Caseinians – people who eat nothing but cheese. But no ordinary cheese.

“Gloomberg Gorgonzola? A smidgen of Cape Coldfinger Camembert? A Bookholm Blue? Some creamy goat’s cheese from the Impic Alps? A slice of Murkholmian Mumblecheek? A tasty Florinthian Slithercurd, which melts on the tongue like butter when ripe? Or would you prefer something more powerful, for instance a Double Magma from the slopes of Mount Molehill, which is rolled in volcanic ash? ” (p253)

I’ve always meant to try Heston’s stringy cheese fondue recipe…a dish that delivers an almost impossible stringiness that can stretch around your living room. If only I had some Double Magma to add to it!

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One thought on “The Alchemaster’s Apprentice

  1. That soup sounds divine and like something they’d serve in fancy-schmancy restuarants or something a Top Chef contender would cook up

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