By Katie V. Jones

After hosting several successful virtual programs together during the pandemic, Ann Bennett, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society and Ella Alonso, a librarian with the Laurel branch of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, wanted to try it in person. 

With the Laurel History Museum’s current exhibit, “What’s Cookin’ Laurel?” in mind, the two decided to combine their interests, literature and food, for the four-part series, “Foods of Fiction.”

“This is a lot of fun for me,” said Bennett, who can’t hide her enthusiasm for food. “I get to dive into my cookbook collection.”

Alonso gets to dive into literature and share her knowledge of the titles and authors of the four works they selected for the series.

“We’re on the same page,” said Alonso, of working with Bennett. “She has been doing so much with food, it made sense.”

With “The Rings of Power,” a new television series based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien which was recently released — and National Hobbit Day taking place on Sept. 22 — for their first presentation in September, Bennett and Alonso selected Tolkein’s “The Hobbit.”

Ann Bennett discussing the foods featured in “The Hobbit,” by J.R. R. Tolkein.
Photo Credit: Katie V. Jones

Though the story takes place in a make-believe world, its characters still enjoy food, the two explained, and much of what they ate is very similar to what was popular during England’s Victorian Era, from 1838 to 1901, when the author lived.

“It’s important to include the author’s background and the historical context,” said Bennett, noting that inventions like the gas stove, along with better methods for refrigeration and transporting food, provided new ingredients and cooking methods during the Victorian Era.

Ella Alonso during her presentation for Foods and Fiction about “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkein.
Photo Credit: Katie V. Jones

Alonso started the discussion with a brief synopsis of “The Hobbit ” and its main character, Bilbo Baggins, highlighting passages where the characters ate or entertained with foods such as seed cake, cold chicken, pickles and buttered scones.

“The sole reason British cuisine gets a bad rap is Mrs. Isabell Beeton,” said Bennett, referring to the author of the  popular cookbook of the time “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management.”

Beeton’s recipes were simple and featured colorful illustrations, Bennett said. It was a useful tool, too, for young housewives, as a memory aid for recipes that were not typically written down but shared verbally.

During their presentation, Bennett and Alonso shared recipes and provided pastries to sample that were related to the book. Bennett is already planning what to serve and talk about at “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving discussion on Oct. 19 

“‘Sleepy Hollow’ has great food references,” Bennett said. “Old New York has Dutch-American food. Ginger cakes. I might make a gingerbread cake.”

The series continues on Nov.16 with a discussion on “Twelfth Night,” by William Shakespeare, and a discussion of “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, on Dec. 14; both events will be at 6:30 p.m. All talks are free and take place at the Laurel branch of the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, at 507 7th Street.