The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook reveals how to make a real-life Squishee, Krusty Burger, Purple-filled Doughnut and more!
Food writer and Simpsons superfan Laurel Randolph on the joy and challenges of recreating dishes from the cartoon’s culinary scenes, why fictional food looks so delicious, and how Marge is the real hero of the show.
When you really think about it, so many of the most iconic Simpsons moments involve food. When Homer gives his pet lobster Pinchy a hot, fateful bath. When Bart and Milhouse go on a Squishee bender to the tune of Springfield, Springfield. When Homer becomes a food critic. Ooooh, floor pie. You don’t make friends with salad. I rest my case. What’s on the Simpsons’ plate is usually unhealthy – except for when it’s purple, because purple’s a fruit – but always looks delicious. How can cartoon food be so appetising?
It’s this phenomenon that food writer and recipe developer Laurel Randolph, a Simpsons obsessive, wanted to figure out with The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook. In the publication, Laurel brings to life dozens of dishes that have appeared on the show, from staples such as the Krusty Burger and Squishee, to niche morsels such as Ribwiches, Marge’s Patented Happy Cracker Snack Platter, Martin’s Raisin Roundies and Homer’s Whale of a Wife Cake. In doing so, she’s realised a personal dream, and in turn countless fans’ dreams, of experiencing what it might be like to live and dine in Springfield. “I’d been thinking about it for years,” Laurel tells It’s Nice That. “I always thought the doughnuts looked so good. Growing up, I wished I could get a Krusty Burger. I remember getting an Icey and knowing that a Squishee must have been better.”
The root of the success of The Simpsons is its (albeit ridiculous) portrayal of a relatable American family, which couldn’t be done without food. It’s intrinsic to family life. No matter the family, it’s often the dinner table (or a trip to Maccy D’s / Krusty Burger) that unites us. Laurel says The Simpsons, compared with other TV shows, is particularly food-centric for a number of reasons. Homer is arguably the lead character and his gluttony is the setup for countless hilarious scenarios. Also, behind the frames, Laurel says that while most writers’ rooms in LA are food-obsessed, The Simpsons’ one was acutely so. “In that writers’ room, clearly food was especially the focus and they just put that into the writing,” she says. “You can feel that love of food and love of funny food, it seeps into every episode.” Aptly the foreword for her book is written by former Simpsons writer and showrunner Bill Oakley, who not only wrote many of the episodes referenced by Laurel’s recipes, but has also spent the past few years carving himself a new vocation as a fast food reviewer on Instagram. He writes in the book that “non-stop eating was such an important part of working on the show… that’s why there are so many food jokes! It was a regular occurrence for a writer to order a whole pie for lunch, put it in the refrigerator, and slowly eat piece after piece throughout the afternoon for amusement.” He adds that when they weren’t eating they were “dreaming up new foods: TUBBB!, Uncle Jim’s Country Fillin’, the Strawberrito, Corn Nog, you name it,” often poking fun at the eating habits of Americans – themselves obviously included.
“When you’ve seen a world like that and you’ve spent so much time being part of it, it’s amazing to be on the other side of the screen. Food is an easy way to do that.”Laurel Randolph
Most animations are “really lazy with their food,” Laurel says, the characters shown “eating mush on their plate with a spoon – because it’s easier to draw!” Whereas in The Simpsons, the food is inseparable from the narrative, and as fundamental to the show’s universe as its architecture. So it’s no wonder fans are keen to try a real-life version of Homer’s Patented Space-Age Out-of-this-World Moon Waffles or even Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel, because it gets them closer to the action than anything else could. “People just like to be immersed in the thing they love,” Laurel says. “When you’ve seen a world like that and you’ve spent so much time being part of it, it’s amazing to be on the other side of the screen. Food is an easy way to do that. It’s an instant connection.”
“Every episode has multiple references to food or you see multiple foods, it’s kind of wild how much there is”Laurel Randolph
Laurel grew up watching the show as part of a generation for whom The Simpsons was risque and banned by lots of parents, including her own, mainly because on merchandise ten-year-old Bart was depicted saying curse words like “Hell” and “Damn” and “Eat My Shorts”. Nevertheless she still watched it “secretly in the den with the volume turned down and sitting right in front of the TV so no one could hear” and continued to watch into her college years, and adult life. Early on, though, she noticed that “there is a tonne of food” in the show, and began to make mental notes of recurring foods. “Then when you start watching with that in mind it’s just like an explosion. Every episode has multiple references to food or you see multiple foods, it’s kind of wild how much there is,” she says.
Having built a career as a food writer, Laurel pitched a column for Paste magazine’s food section wherein she would create a recipe from a Simpsons episode once a month. The editor went for it, and it did well for a couple of years until the magazine retired the food section. After a couple of years break, Laurel says she missed it, so started a blog and an Instagram called The Joy of Cooking Milhouse, starting with all the existing recipes then gradually adding more. She began to build a “very large” spreadsheet, where every time she watched an episode she would add the food reference she’d spotted. Quickly, she created an encyclopaedic list of The Simpsons most memorable foodstuffs. The challenge then became editing them down. “This book has 75 recipes but it could easily be a much longer book. But it could also be a really weird book because it would have seven doughnut recipes in it, or nuts and gum.” So Laurel curated it, polling her Instagram followers for fan favourites, picking out key dishes and moments, and also trying to make a balanced cookbook “which is tricky because they don’t eat balanced foods” covering breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks and drinks (for example the Flaming Moe), and a broad range of Simpsons series.
As for actually writing the recipes, that required countless hours of experimentation, trial and error, and lots of helpful recipe testers. Describing her process, Laurel says she started out with a vision for each dish and tried to create it in her kitchen, iterating to make it look like the cartoon version and taste how it does in the story, while keeping in mind that the process should be easy for chefs at home to follow. Once she thought she’d nailed it – which was often the first time around, though some like the Nacho Hat took many trips back to the chopping board – she asked friends and other chefs to try out the recipes themselves and give feedback.
Then came the issue of how to illustrate the book. Laurel and her agent had been trying to make the project a reality for years, and after talks with Disney Publishing and The Simpsons writers, red tape got in the way of it being an official Simpsons cookbook. So Laurel signed a deal with Adams Media, which had experience in the legalities of unofficial cookbooks (Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey, for example) and helped navigate the project to publication. One of the loopholes was avoiding any imagery from The Simpsons, so Laurel says they had to be “creative” in how they designed it – “not just pictures of Homer drooling”. Using fun illustrations by Priscilla Yuen, a distinctively Simpsons-esque typeface, a colour scheme heavy on the yellow, and photographs by Harper Point that depict some of the most delicious final dishes in all their glory, the book is a loving tribute to the show and Laurel’s dream project. “My voice is very much in there,” she adds, on the benefits of going “unofficial”.
“Marge is the hero of The Simpsons – but that’s always been obvious. I think about her often when I’m in the kitchen.”Laurel Randolph
“It’s definitely a fan cookbook,” she summarises. “I didn’t see any point, and I hate cookbooks – or any books in general – that are for a property that clearly feel generic, like they’re trying to fit more than one audience. There’s just one audience for this book and that’s okay with me.” A lifelong Simpsons fan, our final question to Laurel is whether doing the book has given her a new perspective on it. “Since writing the book I relate more and more to Marge,” she says. “She has to feed everyone and they just shovel it in their mouth, and I’m like Marge is the hero of The Simpsons – but that’s always been obvious. I think about her often when I’m in the kitchen.” Meanwhile, the spreadsheet continues to grow, and Laurel’s love for the residents of 742 Evergreen Terrace shows no sign of waning. “We still put the show on all the time and I’m not tired of them, I don’t think I ever will be. I guess we’ll find out; ask me when I’m 80 or something.”
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The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook (Copyright © Adams Media, 2021)