Since Ursula K. Le Guin’s passing in January 2018, the sci-fi/fantasy and literary communities have paid tribute to the greatly-missed author in a variety of personal essays and other reminders of her impact not only on the genre, but on literature as a whole. But one of the more charming remembrances comes from The Paris Review’s Eat Your Words column, which has recreated key meals from The Left Hand of Darkness, complete with “sube-egg” porridge with Winter vegetables and hot beer.
Since the column’s inception late last year, writer Valerie Stivers has created poppy-seed pieroshki for Nikolai Gogol; tea cakes inspired in equal parts by Zora Neale Hurston and a soul food blogger; and a whole feast to match a fairy tale pariah’s ode to all of the foods he’d miss after being exiled from the kingdom. This month, Stivers draws on her first read of The Left Hand of Darkness, as a teenager taken with the love-story aspect of the novel. It’s fitting, then, that the recipes she dreams up, based on Genly Ai’s treacherous journey with his friend (or perhaps something more?) Estraven, seem to wink at the old adage that “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
Following Le Guin’s worldbuilding for Winter’s climate and vegetation, while taking advantage of New York City’s bounteous options both in Chinatown and at the weekly organic farmers markets, Stivers whips up fish cakes, “batter-fried sube-eggs,” gichy-michy nutrition bars… and hot beer.
Yes, hot beer. Stivers’ explanation into this particular aspect of the meal reveals both how much she continues to engage with Le Guin’s book and how many disparate sources influence Eat Your Words:
Overall, I found Winter’s low-food-chain ingredients easy to work with; they fit in well with our modern sustainability-oriented cooking, an approach Le Guin, a passionate environmentalist, would have welcomed. The sticking point was the drinks. The characters in The Left Hand of Darkness consume hot beer, which, Ai explains, may sound gross but “on a world where a common table implement is a little device with which you crack the ice that has formed on your drink between drafts, hot beer is a thing you come to appreciate.” Some research revealed that even on Earth, hot beer was common prior to refrigeration and often contained nutritious items like eggs or half-curdled cream. I tried several recipes that were uniformly undrinkable until coming up with an adaptation of something I read about in a Wall Street Journal story calling hot beer a trend. As improbable as it sounds, the results were wonderful, and I can only urge you all to try it. Remember, sometimes it’s nice to be speculative—in beers as well as in love and in fiction.
Read the entire column, complete with recipes and tantalizing photos of the final results, at The Paris Review.