On this date in 1897 Bram Stoker’s Dracula was first published. I first read the book when I was 11 years old. I bought a used copy from a book stall near Adelaide train station on one of my Saturday jaunts. It cost the equivalent of about 25 cents in today’s money. I started reading it on the train on the way home, and could not put it down until I was finished. At the time I found the style of the writing rather strange, but engaging. I suspect that very few people nowadays actually read the book, but know the basics from movies and such. This is a pity. Even the attempt at sticking to the original in the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more or less of a flop in my estimation. Someone should tell casting directors to stop hiring Keanu Reeves for serious roles (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is more his speed). In any case, despite the title, the movie did not follow the book particularly closely.
Stoker’s original is what is known as an epistolary novel, that is, the plot moves forward via letters back and forth between key characters, journal entries, newspaper articles and such. The beginning and the end, however, are conventional prose fiction. I won’t go into details about the plot because I would spoil it for you if you get inspired to read it – which I strongly urge you to do. Some of the specifics of Stoker’s original conception of Dracula now floating around in folklore are close to accurate. For example, Dracula does indeed go after beautiful young women, but he does not kill them with a single bite. Rather he drains their blood slowly over weeks. As the process progresses he and his victim become mystically attached to one another, able to communicate telepathically. The veiled eroticism is patent to a modern reader.
Although Stoker’s novel is now iconic, it was by no means the first novel about vampires. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871 Carmilla, about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman, and by Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood, a long (667,000 words), inconsistent, and tedious “penny dreadful” serial published between 1845 and 1847 by James Malcolm Rymer. Many of the images of a vampire adopted by Stoker – fangs, two puncture wounds, hypnotic powers, superhuman strength – come from Rymer. But his vampire usually appears as a normal human most of the time, and has no fear of garlic or the daylight. Vampirism comes over him in fits, and he despises himself when he is a vampire (a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character).
The image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, was created by John Polidori in The Vampyre (1819), during the summer spent with Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Lord Byron in 1816. The Lyceum Theatre, where Stoker worked between 1878 and 1898, was headed by the actor-manager Henry Irving, who was Stoker’s real-life inspiration for Dracula’s mannerisms and whom Stoker hoped would play Dracula in a stage version. Although Irving never did agree to do a stage version (which Stoker eventually wrote and produced), Dracula’s dramatic sweeping gestures and gentlemanly mannerisms drew their inspiration from Irving. It was Stoker’s synthesis of these elements from different sources that created the stereotypical vampire we know today.
What else could I produce for recipes but garlic dishes? Not dishes with garlic in them, but dishes where garlic is the headline star. You get a two-fer today: a garlic sauce from Transylvania, and a garlic soup. The garlic sauce is a modern recipe and I have no idea what its roots are. It is superb, though, especially with grilled meats such as lamb or beef. Grill the meat until it is nearly ready, then spread the sauce thickly on top of it while still on the grill to warm through and suffuse the meat. Or you can serve the sauce chilled at the table for guests to help themselves. The combination of roasted and plain garlic cloves makes the flavor of the soup complex, and using 44 cloves of garlic in total makes it robust. I recommend making the soup the day before and refrigerating over night for the flavors to marry and mature.
Mujdei De Usturoi, Transylvanian Garlic Sauce
1 head garlic, broken into cloves and peeled
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp kosher salt or table salt
½ cup sour cream
black pepper to taste
Use a mortar and pestle to crush the garlic and salt together into a paste. You can also use a garlic press and then mash the garlic to a paste in a bowl with the back of a spoon. (Or you can use a mini blender or food processor and process, in which case you would add the garlic and oil together.)
Put the garlic paste into a small bowl, and add the oil. Whip with a fork until it becomes fluffy. Add the sour cream and continue to whip until all of the garlic is incorporated. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
18 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 1/4 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 26 garlic cloves in a small glass baking dish. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake until the garlic is golden brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze the garlic between your fingertips to separate the meat from the skin. Discard the skin and put the garlic in a small bowl.
Melt the butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook until the onions are translucent but have not taken on color, about 6 minutes. Add the roasted garlic and 18 raw garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock. Cover and simmer until the garlic is very tender, about 20 minutes.
Purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth (working in batches if necessary). Return the soup to the saucepan, add the cream and bring to simmer. Remove from the heat.
Season with salt and pepper.
Divide the grated cheese among 4 bowls and ladle the soup over it. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon wedge into each bowl and serve.