I first read ‘Hard Times’, by Mr. Charles Dickens himself, when I was in my second year of University. It remains one of the only books I can remember and fast became one of my favourite books of all time. But why?
Okay, so the first thing I should say is that ‘Hard Times’, from my experience, seems to be a very marmite-type of a book. Out of the hundreds of students in my University who were forced to read it, my friend and I were seemingly the only two who loved it. That wasn’t uncommon, as we often preferred books others hated and hated books others loved (which may honestly say something about our taste, more than anything), but the truth is that ‘Hard Times’, for us, was the best Dickens book we had ever read.
And back to that initial question, why? Why did we love it so much? Well, it’s for the same reason that C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite authors, the entire focus of the story is on the characters. At the core of the novel the message is fairly simple, ‘creativity is ultimately better than seeing everything in numbers’, and the plot is almost non-existent as, if you have read it you will know, nothing much happens… and what does happen takes its time.
But the characters? All caricatures, not dissimilar to Dickens other famous creations (I’m looking at you Scrooge), but used in such a way that you see depth, growth and a very real humanity behind their actions. Tom Senior is, as he says himself, interested in ‘Facts, Facts and Nothing but Facts’ but he is also a kind and generous man who takes in a child from a circus when her father leaves her behind. Bounderby is a pretentious, egotistic narcissist but he feels vulnerable about his past poorness and tries everything to overcompensate for this fact (although many of his actions do make you want to root against him).
So, when it came to creating a dish that represented the entirety of this great novel I knew that I had to focus on these complex sides, these human characteristics that Dickens imbued them with. I decided on a pudding, rather than a main course, mostly because it was easier to represent it in a pudding but also because I knew there was far more scope for creativity with a ‘Hard Times’ pudding.
The main body of the dish is a piece of patisserie inspired by desserts I have eaten previously in France. The flavours are very simple, basic, tried-and-tested; they’re flavours that traditionally go together and don’t take much creativity in the way of visualising. Vanilla, blackberry, orange– they all support each other and the flavours are balanced. They taste beautiful but they will never excite the taste-buds, just as facts will always be important but they will never change the world.
The ice-cream represents Sissy Jupe and the creative thinkers. Pineapple and cinnamon, a perfect match and made all the more exciting by the edition of cold custard and cream. They’re flavours that take their bare bones– eggs, sugar and milk– and elevate them to new heights. The ethos of ‘Hard Times’ and Dickens strongest message is exactly that: facts should be the foundation and creativity should be allowed to build on them. The coulis and the strawberry add much needed colour to an otherwise bland and grey dish/world.
The theory completed (including a grey and colourful contrasting colour scheme), the finished result:
For the discerning eyes, I added a reblochon of a failed (but very tasty) grey white chocolate glaze to the top. Was it perfect? In taste, yes. In look, no. But what better way is there to show the true meaning of ‘Hard Times’ than to have failures mixed with wins? There couldn’t be anything more human than that.
Thank you for reading.
The Literary Onion