"Suddenly Promi caught a whiff of something warm and bubbling with nectarlike juices within a flaky, buttery crust. And sweet–so intensely sweet he'd never experienced anything like it before."
–Chapter 5, Atlantis Rising
There is a glorious ton of food in Atlantis Rising, whole scenes of it even. The food serves several purposes in the story, a couple being character and world building as well as overarching themes of nourishment and sacrifice. Aside from the infamous smackberry pie, some of the foods mentioned are pastry made with honeyed fillo dough and almonds (baklava, I'm assuming), steaming hot cinnamon buns, stolen spicy sausage, roast duck with honeyed cherry sauce, a fat lemon pie, and a whole chapter dedicated to magic forrest bounties like herb salad, hazelnut cream, fresh guava juice, and an assortment of succulent fruits. Not to mention the sweet beauties of the spirit world, like cakes on trees. What the what. Me. There. Take me. Please. I'm dizzy with contemplating all of this food. Mr. Barron, I heartily thank you.
ME: What prompted you to make food (the getting, eating, and making/providing of) such a prevalent theme in the story and such an integral part of Promi's character?
TAB: Food is important – both because it’s a great way to define a character and also because it’s a very important part of enjoying life! When I wrote about Promi feasting on that smackberry pie he’d stolen, with sweet purple juice dribbling down his chin, I could practically taste every delicious bite…and hope that my readers could, as well. If you know what Promi likes to eat – anything sweet – you already know something important about his personality. You can also predict how he’s going to react in certain situations where there’s a tempting treat nearby (even if he should be focused on something else more urgent). In addition, a writer’s primary job is to make the places and people of a story come alive for readers. A big part of doing that is engaging all the senses – including taste and smell, which are too often overlooked, but which are evocative and powerful.
Along with this smorgasbord in prose, the main character Promi keeps a journal within the pages and throughout the margins of a little, well-loved dessert cookbook. Also, each chapter of Atlantis Rising is headed by an appropriately themed journal entry, either from Promi's book or "her journal", many of which impart some sort of food-based wisdom.
"What makes an excellent pastry? It's part ingredients, part oven, and part baker. And of those, the one that matters most is the baker."
–Promi's Journal, Chapter 27, Atlantis Rising
Sacred Smackberry Pie (Mixed Berries w/ Baklava Crust)
2 Cups Blueberries
1 1/2 Cups Blackberries
1/4 Cup Raspberries
1/4 Cup Strawberries
2 tsp. Fresh Grated Orange Zest (meaning the skin, no white)
3/4 Cup Sugar (plus a little more for sprinkling on the crust)
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1 Roll of Fillo/Phyllo Dough Sheets, thawed (I used 9"x14" Athens brand.)
3/4 Cup Butter, melted
1/3 Cup Blanched & Skinned Almonds, finely ground
1/4 Cup Shelled Pistachios, finely ground
3 Tbsp. Graham Cracker Crumbs
1/4 tsp. Ground Cardamom
1/4 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Honey (plus more to drizzle on just before serving)
1. In a small bowl combine the ground nuts, graham crackers, & spices. Pour all of the filling ingredients into a med-large pot & let sit for a bit while you build the crust.
2. Unroll the fillo sheets & cover with a damp cloth when not in use. Brush the inside of your pie pan with melted butter. Lay 1 sheet of fillo into the pie pan, gently pressing the dough to the shape of the pan & letting the corners drape over the sides. Brush the dough, including the overhanging parts, with butter. Layer on another piece of fillo, turned so that the edges don't line up with the first sheet, & brush with butter. Continue to layer on fillo sheets, with butter brushed in between, offset in an almost sun ray pattern, to about 6 pieces. Brush on more butter & then sprinkle some nut mixture over the dough, enough to create a thin, even layer (about 4 Tbsp. or so). Drizzle half of the 1/4 cup of honey over the nut mixture & then layer with another piece of phyllo brushed with butter. Start the dough & butter process again, up to 4 sheets, & then do another layer of nut mixture (butter, nuts, honey). Do another layer of 6 sheets with butter in between. By now you should have quite the layerings of overhanging phyllo corners.
3. Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Bring the pot of berry filling to a boil over med-high heat, stirring occasionally until it thickens. Pour the filling into the pie crust & gently fold the overhanging corners of dough up & over to rest on the filling (see images in this post for reference). Brush the crust edges with butter & sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until the filling is bubbling & thick & the crust is golden brown. Remove & place on a cooling rack. Serve warm, or cool to room temperature & place in the fridge to solidify more (warming it right before serving). Drizzle honey over the pie or slice of pie before serving. I hope you enjoy & "I bless your eternal qualities"!
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