“The important thing is the spices. A man can live on packaged food from here ’til Judgment Day if he’s got enough rosemary.”
Those wise words were spoken by Shepherd Book in the very first episode of the cult classic sci-fi series Firefly. They also seem to form the basic idea behind all of the recipes in The Big Damn Cookbook, out September 24th from Titan Books and author Chelsea Monroe-Cassel: good old fashioned comfort food with a high concept twist.
The conceit of the book is that engineer Kaylee has gone around to the various crew members on Serenity (and some of the shady characters they’ve come across in their adventures) and asked them to contribute some of their favorite recipes for her to compile. It’s a cute premise that leads to fun little comments in the margins of the recipes, with the characters talking about why they like particular meals and how each one relates to life on Serenity.
This leads to recipes that are not only straight out of the series — like Mudder’s Milk and Fresh Bao, for instance — but that also feel like they genuinely fit the personalities and needs of the characters as we know them. Jane, naturally, prefers more homestyle fare, like jerky and casseroles. Kaylee tends to enjoy sweets, while Simon tends toward more elevated, gourmet meals, which are naturally downgraded to include more readily available ingredients — the fella is on the run from the Alliance, after all.
Sure, there are a few recipes in the book that are significantly more pedestrian than some of the other spacebound fare. Trail mix and spare ribs aren’t exactly the most exciting meals on display in the book, nor do they immediately scream “space adventure.” However, the commentary from the various crew members, detailing how they came to learn these recipes and what they use for substitutions on a long haul in the Black more than make up for the apparent normalcy of said dishes. For example, the “Shadow Spare Ribs” page details some of Malcolm Reynold’s childhood on the Reynolds’ ranch on the planet Shadow, something we never really get much of in the show beyond an offhand mention or two.
The recipes also include helpful captions to let you know which ones will require a bit more skill in the kitchen to pull off, with one of River’s more eccentric recipes being labeled as “Problematic” to make. It gives you a bit of an idea of the learning curve included in making these, while the book also includes helpful appendices that separate the various dishes by flavor and course. There are also suggestions included with many of the recipes on how they can be made vegetarian or more suited for the meat-eaters in the ‘Verse.
Yes, some of them feel a little needlessly complex, but the book successfully straddles the fine line between novelty and genuine guide. Many of the recipes feel right at home with the cultural melting pot of the Firefly universe, with traditionally western dishes incorporating Asian spices and techniques.
Quite a lot of care was put into this book, and the passion for the source material shines through in the character-specific notes on each recipe. The helpful bits of history for the different dishes and some of the colonies from which they hail are a wonderful touch, making this a treasure trove of knowledge about the ‘Verse, in addition to just being a damn good cookbook.