Pistols, pirate coats and eel ravioli
By Renee Schmutz-Sowards, BCPL circulation specialist
Although they say to never judge a book by its cover, in this reader’s case, it was the cover that made me reach impulsively for the book, shining bright like a diamond in the rough amongst a pile of dark, boring book covers on a “to-be-shelved” cart.
Illuminated by a vibrant teal background stands a rather voluptuous, red-headed she-pirate, hoisting a pistol and wearing an elaborate (which is a polite way of saying gaudy) ensemble consisting of purple velvet pants, a rich blue corset and gold sash, complete with an olive green pirate coat. Nestled in the arm of the she-pirate is who appears to be a tied up … chef? Finally, the title, written in wispy, ethereal white and appearing to emanate like gun smoke from the barrel of the recently fired pistol: Cinnamon and Gunpowderby Eli Brown. Now, with a cover like that how could I not take it home?
Brown’s novel combines extraordinary epicureanism and colorful characters in a surprisingly sweet romantic tale, set against the brutal and often shocking backdrop of the 19th Century world of pirates and privateers.
The book is written from the point of view of renowned Chef Owen Wedgwood, or in the form of his daily diary entries to be exact. Chef Wedgewood has had the misfortune of being kidnapped by the most feared of pirates, ruthless Mad Hannah Mabbot. On a whim, Mabbot decides rather than to kill the unfortunate chef, she shall keep him alive, providing that he cook for her a gourmet dinner every Sunday. If he fails to please her, well, let’s just say things will not pan out well for our poor chef.
As we read the diary entries of Chef Wedgwood and of his calamities at sea, we are introduced to the ship’s motley crew, including the mysterious twins Feng and Bai, learn the horrific details of the slave and opium trades, and come to know the personality of the intriguing Captain Mabbot. All the while, Chef Wedgewood desperately attempts to craft a gourmet menu from meager ingredients such as, “scattered weevils, garlic, lard, vinegar, limes, rum, and a villainous preserved mystery meat the sailors call ‘Mary Sweet.’”
Chef Wedgwood eventually triumphs, cooking up delicious Sunday fares. The author’s poetic descriptions of the meals would be well worth reading all on their own, even without the rest of the tale that has been woven around these mouthwatering meals. Altogether, in the spirit of the book, reading its pages is like drinking a well-crafted wine. The descriptions of the chef’s cuisine are delicate, like the tenderness of grapes, while the dark undertones of the plot are akin to the oaky undertones of a good red wine, and the vial acts of the pirates will surprise you like the vivacious zing of alcohol. Just don’t be surprised if, as with a good wine, you find yourself finishing the whole bottle, ahem, book, in one night.
To checkout out Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown or books about pirates, gourmet cuisine, and red wine, visit www.thebookplace.org or download the BCPL Mobile app.