AMC’s long-running series “Mad Men,” which airs its final episode on May 17, has been celebrated for getting the details right as it visualizes the glamour of 1960s Madison Avenue.
The show’s depiction of food and cocktails inspired Needham-based authors Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin to create “The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.” The wife-husband team researched how food is used in the series — from the cookbooks on a kitchen counter to a poolside cocktail — for their collection of 70 recipes that form a snapshot of the era.
This intersection of fictional characters and real-world cooking has connected with “Mad Men” fans. Other authors are doing the same thing. Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, 30, of Windsor, Vt., went into the kitchen for her take on recipes from the fictional continent of Westeros on “Game of Thrones.”
All of this takes dedication, watching the programs regularly, and studying what’s on them. For her “Mad Men” book, Gelman wanted to represent all the food, not just glamorous meals at Sardi’s or the Grand Central Oyster Bar. So she offers a weeknight casserole of turkey Tetrazzini with canned fried onions, the rumaki that Betty Draper prepared for her “Around the World” dinner party (chicken liver slices folded over water chestnuts and wrapped in bacon), and a Royal Hawaiian that Pete Campbell was likely sipping as he sat poolside. Gelman contacted Beverly Hills Hotel bar manager to come up with a rum, pineapple, and papaya juice drink served at the hotel’s Polo Lounge in the ’50s and ’60s.
When that kind of resource wasn’t available, Gelman used the historical cookbook collection at Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library and other sources. For a stuffed crown roast of pork that Joan Harris makes in her apartment, Gelman referred to “The Small Kitchen Cookbook” (1964). For Pete Campbell’s rib-eye, she drew on “The Madison Avenue Cookbook.” “The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook” and “Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook” were both spotted in the Drapers’ kitchen and became resources.
Gelman was first attracted to the intersection of food and fiction when she wrote “The Book Club Cookbook,” in which she and co-author Vicki Levy Krupp re-created historical recipes and invented new ones inspired by works of literature. Book clubs have long created themed menus.
In preparation for the final season of “Mad Men,” Gelman hosted a virtual finale party in which
45 bloggers were invited to capture favorite food
moments and post photos to her website. Victoria Kabakian, 32, of Cranston, R.I., who blogs at www.mission-food.com, was among the participants. “I wasn’t born in the ’60s, but I love that era. For older generations, they can watch and remember back. For younger generations, it’s wistful thoughts,” says the blogger. Kabakian, who attended both film and culinary school, looks for opportunities to combine her two interests and has also created recipes inspired by “Dexter” and “Psycho.”
The “Game of Thrones” book came about when Monroe-Cassel was looking for an iconic recipe to serve for a viewing party in 2011. “You could find a lemon cake recipe, but not a lemon cake that was plausibly from that world,” Monroe-Cassel says. A recent graduate of Boston University with a degree in classical history, she used an 18th-century recipe from the Bahamas to create her own “small, simple, rustic” cake.
From there, Monroe-Cassel and her partner in the venture, Sariann Lehrer, began developing other recipes, including beef and bacon pie and honeyed chicken, and blogged about them at www.innatthecrossroads.com. A few months into the project, the pair sent an e-mail to “Thrones” author George R.R. Martin and received his blessing to publish “A Feast of Ice & Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook.”
Monroe-Cassel describes her Westeros recipes as having a “weird fictional locavore approach” that matches the various kingdoms. All recipes are grounded in Martin’s descriptions. “Like lots of the other things from the books, it’s a richly detailed and thoroughly imagined world,” Monroe-Cassel says. “The recipes are based on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but if George Martin says they have hot peppers, then they have hot peppers.”
The cookbook author hears from readers about their experiences in the kitchen. “It’s the same reason some people do cosplay from shows or books or movies. That’s one way of connecting to it and understanding it on a more personal level. I think that food is a really terrific way to do that too,” she says.