Pastry's Conspiracy

In _The Last Unicorn _nothing is quite what it seems. Great monsters are puffed up from the aspirations of common animals with a bit of magical trickery, and a unicorn goes about unrecognized as anything more than a white mare. The book’s tangle of seeming and being is much like what one encounters when one tries to unravel tasting and eating.

Food may be elevated to the snobby heights of having a “palette” because at some level it is a bare necessity. As animals, to live is to eat. There’s no getting around that. But we may sculpt food and manipulate it into dreams that could otherwise not be dreamt. Eggs may, for instance, be separated and whipped into sugary clouds. This is pastry.

The whole object of pastry, it seems to me, is to create something unreal. With pastry we may believe briefly that hunger and nourishment do not exist, and that beauty and taste are everything. Defined this way pastry comes to include not all desserts, but things such as ice cream, candy, and, liminally, some forms of haute cuisine, decorative bento boxes, and even molded gelatine. It is a strain of magic in cookery. In a purely imagined history it began as delights for jaded court royalty and eventually expanding to industrially produced Hostess cakes.  The empire of pastry has wriggled its way into the fabric of many lives and has necessitated enormous quantities of sugar plantations. Unlike the Illuminati, there is no one to cackle at bringing abstractions into the world. There is no pastry sorcerer* triumphantly grinning and wringing his hands. Pastry is its own sorcerer, its own cabal and its own cult leader, and it has no more control over its destiny than those that do its bidding.

The meringue is a meagre beast, yet as beautiful and powerful as it is full of air.

13 January 2011