Ode to Brian Jacques: A Redwall Feast
Reading the Redwall books are some of my earliest and greatest memories — sitting in a beanbag chair in the Woods Hole Public Library and getting lost in Redwall Abbey sipping on October Ale. The best part of his books was undoubtedly the gluttonous detail on food. His descriptions of the Redwall feasts are, in my mind, some of the greatest food writing out there, and they are some of my earliest and best memories of food.
When I was 10 I got to see Brian Jacques speak at a local bookstore down the street from where I lived. It is probably indicative of my personality as a child (and my love of his books) that seeing him speak at a bookstore was one of my all time childhood highs. Dozens and dozens of children sat at his feet, in awe of the man that created the Redwall world for us to live in. Though I don’t remember the whole talk, one question will forever be vividly etched in my mind. A little boy sitting behind me timidly raised his hand and, in a voice fearful of the answer, asked Mr. Jacques if he was going to stop writing the Redwall books. I remember gasping with horror at this point at the realization that this man could conceivably stop writing at any moment, could throw down his pen and decree an end to the world he had made for us. The horror was palpable. But Mr. Jacques only smiled and said, “I’ll make you a promise. I will keep writing books, as long as you keep reading them.” The whole room heaved a sigh of relief.
I haven’t read a Redwall book in ages, but I was wandering through a store just after Christmas (the Rhode Island School of Design Museum Store, of all places), and caught sight of a book out of the corner of my eye — the Redwall Cookbook. I clearly had to buy it immediately. My parents seemed bemused as we drove home and I sat in the back seat of the car, flipping through the pages and reminiscing about the feasts of Redwall Abbey, happy as a kid in a beanbag chair.
I knew last night I wanted to honor Brian Jacques’ memory with one of the dishes I remembered well from the books, Mole’s Favourite Deeper’n'Ever Turnip’n'Tater’n'Beetroot Pie. So here is my ode to you, Brian Jacques, in food. Thank you for filling my childhood with books and mystery and adventure and food, and for inspiring a lifelong love of each.
Mole’s Favourite Deeper’n'Ever Turnip’n'Tater’n'Beetroot Pie
Adapted the teensiest bit from the Redwall Cookbook
1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound (4 medium) carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound turnips or rutabaga, peeled and chopped*
6 tbs. butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Pickled beets, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Place peeled and chopped potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, and salt. Place the chopped carrots and turnips together in another saucepan, cover with water, and salt. Boil vegetables until soft, about 15 minutes.
2. Drain the vegetables separately, then return them to their pans and add 3 tbs. butter to each. Mash the vegetables until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
3. In a deep casserole dish, spread alternating layers of the mashed vegetables. Roughen the top with a fork.
4. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15 minutes.
5. Serve with pickled beets!
*Note: I could not find turnips, of all things, in the store. I had some celeriac in my veggie drawer, so I used that instead. I felt a little bad substituting one of the eponymous ingredients, but this recipe is all about the root vegetables at heart (because of the moles, you know), so really any root veggies will do.