Library Review: The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

Cookbooks are a weird business. How can you tell when one is good? Is it because the recipes are new and innovative or because the directions actually make sense? It gets even weirder when cookbooks are inspired by works of fantasy. But that didn’t stop The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook from seeing print.

Long time readers of Castles and Cooks know we’ve dabbled in our own Harry Potter inspired recipes, like Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer. So when I received this book as a gift, I was quite excited to open it up and discover what secrets it held – especially in comparison to my own recipes! Would their Butterbeer be similar to mine or a completely different take?

That’s when the first realization of this book sunk in: this book takes almost every mention of food from the Harry Potter series and has recipes for them. But that includes the most mundane and muggle recipes, like mashed parsnips, buttered peas and fried eggs with bacon. These aren’t the recipes I’m after – how would you cook a blast-ended skrewet? Or what about all those fantastical ice cream flavors at Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour? Hell, one of the recipes is just crispy fried bacon. While another recipe is a gammon of bacon and another is scrambled eggs with bacon. I love bacon, but how many different times do I need to see it?

That isn’t to say the book is completely out of place though. For American fans of the books, it’s great to get more details about various classic English fare. Little side bars in the books outline some interesting concepts, like that a rasher of bacon is one piece while a gammon is two. The recipe for the Knickerbocker Glory helps explain what Dudley was devouring (an absurd amalgam of jello, ice cream and pudding) and the recipe for Petunia’s pudding that Dobby smashed sounds delicious. Even stuff like custard creams are explained (they’re sandwich cookies).

But with these great recipes comes a cost: this book has no images. The pages are a beautiful parchment style with a deep maroon ink, but none of the recipes come with photos or reference line drawings. For some of the more elaborate recipes, an indicator of the intended outcome would be greatly appreciated.

In a lot of ways, this book is a great walkthrough of the more day to day English recipes. Reading about fried tomatoes, steak and kidney pudding or a variety of British pies is a nice change of pace. There are a handful of recipes that are great too, like pumpkin juice and a variety of treats from Honeydukes like fizzy sherbet pouches, sugar mice and coconut ice.

These recipes though still don’t make up for the fact that there are some major omissions for Harry Potter fans. Butterbeer is completely absent from the book (along with Fire Whiskey, but I understand that one). Other recipes feel like a stretch like Kreacher’s French Onion Soup or the recipe for banana fritters which was used as a password to get into Gryffindor Tower once in The Goblet of Fire.

At the end, this book leaves me feeling a bit disappointed. The recipes are all clear, concise and well written which is always a plus, but the variety of them seems to be reaching. This isn’t a cookbook about the Wizarding World, this is a cookbook about all the food items that showed up in the Harry Potter series. As a companion book, it gives some great insight but for Harry Potter fans, there just isn’t enough.

Maybe it is a victim of simply being an unofficial cookbook, so the author couldn’t get permission to replicate some recipes but without those recipes, this book just feels like a Dementor got to it before I did. There’s just no soul in it and that’s a real shame.