Food writer Kate Young tells Ella Walker what it's like taking on the tastes of literary heroes.

Kate Young's food-writing career began with an innocuous slice of treacle tart (Harry Potter's fave), a side-order of homesickness and an all-consuming love of reading.

Having grown up in Brisbane, Australia, she moved to London to pursue a career as a theatre producer - but, finding herself heartsick for her family, she turned first to Hogwarts for comfort, and then to the oven.

"I've always found reading Harry Potter to be immensely comforting," she explains. "I'd never eaten treacle tart, but I remembered it was his favourite dessert, so I made one and was like, 'This is lovely!'"

She fed it to friends who, beguiled by the idea of eating the food inspired by, and found in, literature, encouraged her to start a blog. It was picked up by the Guardian and now, fewer than two years later, the result is The Little Library Cookbook.

Cooking the (literary) classics comes with a certain amount of responsibility

Kate admits she easily could have stuck to only creating versions of the food Harry, Ron and Hermione scoff, but couldn't shy away from tackling some of the most iconic literary food moments. Hence why you'll find recipes for Paddington Bear's beloved marmalade, the delicate fluted madeleines that define Proust's Swann's Way, and Bruce Bogtrotter's giant chocolate cake from Matilda.

"People do get attached, particularly to books they loved as children, that shape us and make us who we are," notes Kate, but she says it doesn't deter her from whisking fiction into the physical. "It is a thing that I think is affectionate, that I hope people and authors will take well. I'm in no way stomping on anyone's toes - it's essentially a fan service!"

Even making Edmund's pillowy-pink Turkish delight in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe didn't worry her. "It's just so time-consuming!" she admits. "It's as faithful as I can possibly make it, while being the thing I really want to eat."

There are a few things she wouldn't attempt though, like the huge pies for hundreds of people ("Well, mice,") in Brian Jacques' Redwall series. "I hate wasting food, and when it's made for the sake of being made."

Food is not about gimmickry

Fundamentally, she explains, the recipes in The Little Library Cookbook are not gimmicks. It's not about hosting themed parties and presenting food that looks accurate but tastes rotten.

"It's a real, usable cookbook," says Kate earnestly. "The recipes aren't the imaginary dishes in books - it's the treacle tart rather than fizzing whizbees." Although she did once invent hot honeycomb doughnuts that burst in the mouth, like the pop cakes from Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree.

"I hope people read it and go, 'That's a lovely story, but I would happily just make chicken and tarragon without needing to tell everyone it's from Anna Karenina'."

For Kate, the process always starts with reading. She rummages through her bag, Mary Poppins-style, and yanks out a tome, scruffy with wear and the pages concertinaed with folded corners. "Every time I find a mention of food, I turn down a page; so all my books are really dogeared," she says with a smile. "If I read a book that doesn't mention food, I'm like, 'What are they doing?!'

"So much of what we do centres around food," she muses. "There's something really interesting in the moments we come together and sit down and eat, and the conversations we have. I always find it quite weird when people don't eat in books."

However, she has grown slightly bored of the fact that seemingly every author is a fan of scones. "I'm like, 'Oh, for f***'s sake, I've had like 14 mentions of scones! Why aren't you eating something different?!'

"I mean, I'm not sick of scones, I love scones," she adds with a laugh, "but there's a reason loads of people in books cook them - they take 35 minutes from mixing the batter to getting them out of the oven." You'll be pleased to learn it's the "sweet and crumbly" scones from Michael Morpurgo's The Butterfly Lion that make the cut in the cookbook.

The kitchen is home

Kate comes from a family of cooks and doesn't remember ever not cooking: "Cooking is what we do and food is what we talk about."

So, you're planning dinner while eating breakfast?

"Yes! Well, we're planning dinner for four weeks' time while we're eating breakfast!"

Ask her about her death-row meal and she's off in a reverie. Today, she explains conspiratorially, it'd be "loads of oysters and a really cold gin martini, then I'd have steak, barely cooked at all, green salad, fries, peppercorn sauce, then I'd want a really perfect peach" - but tomorrow it could be a completely different order.

Cooking, she says, is her obsession: "Even if I'm really tired, I still like thinking about it - and then eating toast."


This is the ultimate autumn dish.

Who doesn't love a warming supper of toad-in-the-hole? All that crisp batter and succulent sausages.

The inspiration for food writer Kate Young's version comes from The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend: 'Nigel got thrown out of school dinners today for swearing at the toad-in-the-hole, he said it was 'all bleeding hole and no toad'.'


(Serves 4)


120g plain/all-purpose flour

3 eggs

Pinch of salt

300ml milk


2tbsp butter

1tbsp flavourless oil (or beef dripping if you have some)

8 fat sausages

5 stalks rosemary (optional)

10 sprigs thyme (optional)


1tbsp butter (or oil, if you prefer)

3 small red onions, sliced into semicircles

1tsp brown sugar

2tsp Worcestershire sauce

1tbsp plain/all-purpose flour

500ml beef stock

Salt and pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6. Tip the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre, crack in the eggs and whisk. Add the salt and then whisk in the milk until you have a smooth, runny batter. Set aside for 15 minutes, while you cook the sausages.

2. Add the fats to a pan, heat until bubbling and fry the sausages over a medium heat until they are cooked. Allow them to blacken and blister in places.

3. Scatter the herbs over the sausages, stalks and all. Pour the batter into the smoking hot pan, around the cooked sausages. It may spit a bit, so protect your arms with a tea towel. Put the tin straight into the hot oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, pulling it out when the batter is risen, crisp and browned it patches.

4. While the toad-in-the-hole is in the oven, make the gravy. Melt the butter in the saucepan and, once it is bubbling, add the onions. Cook for 10 minutes over a medium heat until softened.

5. Add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved into the butter. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce, and stir through. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat the onion. Pour in about 100ml of the stock and whisk until the sauce surrounding the onions is smooth. Add the rest of the liquid and bring to the boil, stirring with the wooden spoon until thick. Remove from the heat and warm again when you're ready to serve. Season to taste.

6. Remove the toad-in-the-hole from the oven and serve immediately. Make sure that everyone has plenty of crispy bits from the sides of the dish and a generous slug of the gravy.

The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young, photography Lean Timms, is published by Anima, an imprint of Head of Zeus, priced £25. Available now