The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: Interview with Author Dinah Bucholz

Categories: The Verbal Nosh
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With Pottermania gearing up for perhaps it's last big hurrah with the release of the eighth and final film this Friday, a cookbook full of British favorites and wizard treats could not have been better timed. The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory - More than 150 Magical Recipes for Wizards and Non-Wizards Alike by Dinah Bucholz.

First off, why a Harry Potter cookbook?

That is a good question. It goes back to when I was really into the Harry Potter series, the sixth movie was about to come out and I was rereading the series. I was really into the food - it sounded so good but I really had no idea what most of it was. Treacle is Harry's favorite and it sounded really good but I had no idea what it was. The idea came to me in a flash. If there had been one of these books out there I would have been the first to buy. As soon as I got home I searched to see of there was one. There wasn't. So I said, "There has to be one!"
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"The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook"
Sugar Mice
On the cover, it states that this book is unofficial and unauthorized. How does that work exactly? Is Harry Potter considered public domain?
When I got the idea I thought I would have no trouble getting an agent so I was shocked when the rejections started pouring in. Most were forms so they didn't tell me why but some said it was a great idea but they were worried about copyright issues. But I knew there other books about Harry Potter. So my husband got me the email address of the author of one of them, George Beahm, and he responded right away with a lot of information. He said I should write a letter to the legal firm representing J.K. Rowling explaining my idea. They reviewed it and sent me back a letter saying it was legal as long as I put "unofficial" and let them read the manuscript first. So I sent that letter to the agents who had sent me personal responses and just like that I had an agent call me back. And they did review the manuscript and made some very minor changes.

Most of the recipes are traditional British fare that has been around forever. There must be a million subtle variations of shepherd's pie for instance. How did you decide on recipes for those?
I guess I used my creative license. I did look at a lot of classic British recipes and I read the histories for how the dish evolved. I tried to make the recipes as authentic as possible, then I went into the kitchen and cobbled together a recipe and I would tweak it until I was satisfied.

One of the best parts of the book for Potter fans, is how well researched it is. Every recipe and the little story that goes with it is cited, book and chapter - like Potter Gospel, really. It's like taking a culinary stroll through Harry's universe. Did you do all of the citing and research yourself?
I like that term Potter Gospel. I did a lot of research and I will not deny I found Wiki to be a good research tool. It was a lot of fun to discover a lot of neat food facts. You never think when you're eating a carrot the history it has. Trying to pick the most interesting facts to put in was difficult. I could have written three pages about carrots but that would not have been something to include in a children's cookbook.

So the book is meant for children then? Or Potter fans of any age?
It's for anyone who loves Harry Potter. It is being marketed for kids but I have to say some of the recipes aren't for kids to make. Some of them shouldn't be attempted at all by children - like the sugar recipes that require boiling the sugar. One of the reasons I did all that research was to make it an interesting book to read for Harry Potter fans, even the fans who are not into cooking. But I do think it's a great book to read for Harry Potter fans of all ages.

What's your family's favorite dish from the book?
My kids love the candy. They love the fudge which was my hardest recipe - the fudge and the toffee. I had never boiled sugar before. But they were basically happy with whatever came out of the pan. They also loved the Cornish pasties and the stews - they make great dinners. I have to say we all gained a little weight trying out the recipes.

I know from your website that you didn't include any recipes for creations that came purely from J.K. Rowling's imagination because of pesky copyright issues. But surely a diehard Harry Potter fan and cook such as yourself has tried to recreate them - maybe Butterbeer, probably the most iconic Harry Potter food?
The most negative reviews I've received was that there was no butterbeer recipe. After the book came out we tried to figure out a way to include them and I am so sorry we didn't think of this before the book was published. We decided to rename it. We're calling Butterscotch Brew and it's going to be in The Unofficial Harry Potter Sweet Shoppe Kit.

What are your plans for seeing the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 premiering July 15th? Will you be attending a midnight viewing or taking the kids the next day?
The day of is going to be a busy day for me, July 14. In the morning I have a brief cooking appearance on a the 10! Show, a local show in Philadelphia. Then in the afternoon I have a book signing again locally at a Barnes & Noble. And I'm not a night owl so I can't stay up [for the midnight showing]. I'm probably going to wait a week for the furor to die down and go see it with my husband at a nice, quiet theater.

This might seem a bit off topic, but in the acknowledgments you thank God before anyone else. A lot of religious people and groups have problems with Harry's wizard world. You clearly don't. Is that not even an issue for you?
I'm actually very religious, I'm an orthodox Jew - kosher observance and all that. So, very often people will ask me, "How did you write this book then?" I did hire someone to make the non-kosher recipes for me, Chef Chris Koch. I know there are people on the christian right who oppose it because of witchcraft. We're not concerned that our kids are going to read the books and want to be witches or wizards. That's so absurd. It's like reading books about people of another faith and thinking your kids are going to go off and join another religion. I always wonder, do these people allow their children to read fairy tales? I've never actually met anyone who felt that way, so I really think it's a very small fringe element.


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