The Paris Review

Cooking with Iris Murdoch

In Valerie Stivers’s Eat Your Words series, she cooks up recipes drawn from the works of various writers.

Some novels are so full of eccentric food and cooking instructions that it seems the best treatment of them would be to write a second book trying all the recipes. The Sea, the Sea, by the British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919–99), is one such novel. In its first pages, Charles Arrowby, a retired actor and theater director, veers from his description of the English coast, where he’s come to work on his memoirs, to discuss his lunch. I’m reproducing the following passage in full, since it’s exemplary of the book’s treatment of food.

It is after lunch and I shall now describe the house. For lunch, I may say, I ate and greatly enjoyed the following: anchovy paste on hot buttered toast, then baked beans and kidney beans with chopped celery, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil. (Really good olive oil is essential, the kind with a taste, I have brought a supply from London.) Green peppers would have been a happy addition only the village shop (about two miles pleasant walk) could not provide them … Then bananas and cream with white sugar. (Bananas should be cut, never mashed, and the cream should be thin.) Then hard water-biscuits with New Zealand butter and Wensleydale cheese. Of course I never touch foreign cheeses. Our cheeses are the best in the world. With this feast I drank most

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