INTERVIEW: Victoria Grace Elliott on Yummy: A History of Desserts
Released by Random House Graphic in November 2021, Yummy: A History of Desserts is a middle grade (MG)-oriented comic that explores the history, science, and recipes for sweets and pastries across the globe. With Yummy 2: A History of Tasty Experiments in production, we figured that there is no better time to help ourselves to this series. We recently caught up with Yummy creator Victoria Grace Elliott for a conversation about beautifully drawn pies, the great and terrible capitalist excesses of mid-century jello, and the art of cataloging an entire planet of tasty treats within a single beautiful volume.
As a dear friend of the POMEmag Coven, Victoria (virtually) sat down with us for an informal, casual chat about baking up the original Yummy and also gave us a sneak preview of some of the themes she’ll be tackling in Yummy 2. Come dig into all things Yummy with us & bon appetit!
CC Calanthe (CC): OK!!!
Victoria Grace Elliott (VGE): HI
CC: I am so excited to talk to you about Yummy today!!!!!!! the smash hit dessert sensation that is sweeping the nation!!!!!!!
VGE: LOLLL everyone loves DESSERTS and YUMMY
CC: so there is so so much I wanna talk to you about but I just want to start by asking you
(as a project management nerd who loves the details)
Yummy’s delicious treats span pretty much the entirety of human history across the globe — how did you kick off such a massive research undertaking?????
VGE: god honestly, it was a LOT of digging little holes
i started off finding some books that were good like, tent poles for the desserts i wanted to cover
but inevitably i’d hit a point where they wouldn’t cover mochi ice cream or A Whole Hemisphere and i’d start looking up more specific regions and desserts on various encyclopedias
so that’s how i found some history about desserts that were from other regions outside of Europe, where a lot of these books focused on almost entirely
which makes sense, but obviously that’s a very small part of the world!! so i tried to hone in and go from there–local articles, interviews, stuff like that helped flesh out the sections a LOT
CC: man so it seems like basically
VGE: I MEAN THERES A REASON PERI KEEPS GOING BACK TO HER CONSPIRACY BOARD
VGE: live footage of me working on the book
CC: inside the author’s research alcove
yeah!!! I think my fave part of Yummy honestly
I mean, aside from the gorgeous gorgeous desserts which u know i love
is just the in depth global research the book brings to the table ;D
thank you!! i really feel like there’s a lot i missed, but i did the best i could with like. the Austin library
CC: man seems like …. going into the bibliography of a bibliography
VGE: IT WAS
CC: that’s so cool
VGE: i would find sections of an encyclopedia article that were just referencing a book i had bought online
i was like “this sounds familiar….oh” LOL
that leads me to my next question … was there anything surprising that jumped out at you along the way?
I was surprised – though maybe more surprised than I should have been L O L – by how many delicious treats were pioneered by nuns
VGE: oh god yeah tons of stuff
YEAH NUNS…and like monks?? turns out when you have a lot of time in one big building and love Christian Patience you get a lot of stuff done
CC: i know monks brewed a lot of beer
VGE: apparently made a lot of cheeses too!
CC: my woodcuts clearly only showed me the bummer side of being a medieval monk / nun, none of the homebrew sourdough hangout stuff
VGE: i mean that one i kinda learned after working on the second book but i was also surprised
you weren’t getting the embellished manuscripts drawn by bored monks
CC: their hands were full of dough!!!
VGE: i feel like the most surprising stuff for me was a lot of the…tracing the ingredients and things to their origins or ancestors
so like the Islamic Golden Age was something completely new for me, learning about the extension of science and science theory going on at that time
and just like, where sugar came from and where cinnamon came from. i already knew about stuff like chocolate and vanilla but even sugar???? that one really confused me bc like…how did you have sweets before then???
and learning about how syrup was connected to ice cream in that way was really interesting
CC: yeah, as Yummy covers, honey is great but really different!
CC: so I wanna get back to where you mentioned the second book…………..
👀 👀 👀
VGE: YEAHHH (CHEERING FOR YUMMY 2)
CC: I have so many questions I want to ask you about Yummy 2 but I will show at least a little restraint L O L
one thing I wanna get into is that I have it on good authority (your twitter) that the full title of Yummy 2 is Yummy 2: A History of Tasty Experiments
VGE: yes!! that’s the second book
CC: What types of recipes will you be covering in Yummy 2?
…and were these (seemingly more savory) culinary experiments intended to contrast with the gorgeous Ghibli elegant treats of Yummy 1?
VGE: in terms of featured recipes, i think we have four in total for all but one chapter
because pizza and soda don’t get one lol, but the others are cheese, pickles, gooey butter cake (for easy food), and a jello treat with gummy worms
CC: yum yum yum yum
VGE: honestly some of this stuff i was more just curious about as i was working on the first one?? the easy food chapter is definitely like, Cursed Aesthetic but i’ve always loved Cold War type americana food for how Out There it got
so like, a lot of it is still ghibli pretty, just more in a cheese plate way
CC: ohh yes ohhhh yes can we talk about
can we talk about jello
VGE: I KNEW IT
OF COURSE LOL i mean i couldn’t cover jello in the first one!! and now i can talk about Aspic
CC: I am so excited to read the jello chapter for just, like, the bonkers way midcentury america approached jello as a whole ass food pyramid in and of itself
VGE: god it goes back even further than midcentury america which is the worst part
the era of jello with mayonnaise and eggs in it lasted A While
where did the jello era begin?
are we talking like, the dawn of refrigeration?
VGE: i feel like it begins sorta with industrialization
i mean honestly it goes back further?? but that’s more gelatin in soups and sweet stuff made similar to ice cream in molds
but the sweet version took FOREVER bc it was coming straight from the animal
by like the 1850s into the 1900s it was instant, that was the big game changer
they took out the meat flavor and went wild
CC: wow that never occurred to me
I guess in our modern era we’re pretty divorced from the meat part of gelatin
VGE: YEAH VERY MUCH SO
good protein content for this reason tho
CC: I mean I know that aspic is still a thing but I ONLY JUST LEARNED ABOUT IT
VGE: yeah i can’t fully knock like, meat gelatin and stuff people really love! but i CAN knock weird companies trying to make shit up to sell to people
like spaghetti-o gelatin and stuff LOL
CC: oh no
wow that’s worse than the sonic ketchup
VGE: its Bad but it was fun to draw LOL
CC: ahhhhhh I can’t wait to see it!!!
ok this is kind of a weird question
but as Yummy as a series has really broadened the scope of its food coverage through both books
what food was the absolute worst to draw
just, the hardest to pin down
VGE: KSJDFLS oh man this is a good question
i feel like the hardest for the first book was definitely pie, because i wanted to do a lot of pretty latticework on the crust and really get it to look like pie
but i feel like that’s not The Worst
i feel like, as much as i also kinda loved it, drawing a bunch of boxes and cans with labels and even soda bottles for the soda chapter in the new book
ugh those were fun but also just, a whole lot
CC: oh god i bet!
VGE: sometimes i got really into the lettering on like, philadelphia cream cheese
but then i’d have to draw the box again and again the rest of the chapter and they just get simpler when they’re not the focus LOL
i just couldn’t do it all the way through….ITS TOO MUCH
I can see how the cream cheese would be a huge pain in the butt
VGE: yeah, the cheese itself mwah, the box not as much
CC: but also, just to get back to those pies
the blueberry pie
CC: chef’s kiss
CC: 10/10 a++ drawn food
VGE: THANK U
i really thought about how blueberries look when cooked….they’re not very blue
and you want it GOOEY
CC: but for real, imo, most delicious looking food in Yummy 1: the egg tarts
VGE: that one came from the heart i love egg tarts so much
CC: they really are a perfect food
VGE: it may not be eVERYONE’s FAVORITE but i prefer when they have just the RIGHT amount of browning
CC: augh the texture when they have that right amount! so good!
VGE: yes TwT
another question i have been waiting to ask
What is the most horrible food you encountered (jello) during the research process (was it jello) (was it meat jello)
(do you have any reference photos for horrible meat jellos)
its not Quite this
but its This
VGE: HERE WE GO
this one is actually IN Yummy 2
but i hate the top thing so much
CC: don draper is going to hell for this
its like???????? WHY DID YOU MAKE A CAKE OUT OF SPAM, OLIVES, WHITE BREAD, MAYO??????
spam is good but this is Evil
CC: evil on every level
but especially to like: the average person’s digestive system
a 0% nutritional value food log
VGE: just imagining trying to cut into this and serve it at any occasion
getting mayonegg whipped cream all over your hands
CC: what a time to be alive (that was)
VGE: there’s a lot of good weird jello OF COURSE
CC: if you make this for a party you’re not getting invited to the other parties
VGE: NOT AT ALL
god im trying to remember what really cursed jello i included…i mean i have so many on pinterest that i just never drew
CC: do you have a cursed jello pinterest board
VGE: Yes I Do
CC: GOD BLESS
i feel like i drew a version of this
like a shrimp mousse jello
CC: this is like
the most evil version of that pie the granny made in kiki’s delivery service!!!
VGE: YES!!!!!! IT IS
CC: in that it is a fish cake you will most likely be afraid 2 eat
VGE: like i honestly can imagine a gelatin fish dip tasting pretty alright when you like, really get into it
you’re really hungry at a party and have a bunch of ritz
CC: yeah like the whole cheeseball is gone
but the pink color………..the olive eye
CC: GOD I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE
the devil really is in the details
VGE: GOTTA HAVE THE OLIVE EYE
yeah tbh trying to draw a lot of veggies suspended in jello In Perspective was a nightmare
i’m remembering now
CC: I’m sorry to bring you back into jello perspective hell
VGE: i drew something like this……..those radishes
this also does not look like the worst thing in the world After What I’ve Seen LOL
IT DOESNT SAY ITS IN A GOOD WAY!!!!!!!!
CC: chaotic neutral
VGE: god im just scrolling pinterest is Rich with wildass ads from that era
people on flickr and pinterest cataloging these things
my mom gave me a really old 1950s/1960s home and garden magazine and it was FULL of this stuff
CC: that’s so wild
VGE: yeah here we go
it’s not just the grotesque use of the jello
but also all of the supplementary ingredients from like, the bottom shelf of the grocery store
no that’s def why i wanted to write the easy food chapter
it like became a snake eating its own tail
i’ve seen youtubers do some great stuff with premade food
like, add ingredients, break it down to make it something else entirely
but like, for some reason, middle white america was like “just smash it all together”
so instead of like, cooking, it became a bizarre combination of 4 boxed/canned ingredients
CC: yeah just dump your whole fridge in the stand mixer and see what happens
CC: so IDK if this is something you touch on in Yummy 2 or not but
do you know what changed? what led us out of the dark ages of mayo wedding cake for dinner every night?
VGE: oh yeah, i try to be subtle about it because i don’t want to be too obvious but i feel like it was definitely Capitalism and War
that’s the whole ethos of the chapter…it’s kind of exploring the obsession with focusing on “Nutrients” and “Clean Eating”
and how that sort of influenced people loving canned food made without human hands
and then after war, all the factories who started making canned food…..wanted to keep making canned food
anything industrialized became more and more important to sell since they had shifted
and then everyone just DOUBLED DOWN by midcentury
it was just a weird snowball of all those things i think
CC: so by doubled down, is it basically just like
trying to maintain wartime levels of canned food demand during postwar?
VGE: basically, yeah! you have changed your factory over to make this war food, but now you want to keep making money off this war food
CC: LOL wow
VGE: and even before the wars, stuff like campbells were pressuring grocery stores to carry them, selling recipe books, and putting recipes in magazines, etc etc
so to keep selling, mostly companies came up with ways to make their food into all these ads i’ve been showing you LOL
just make up recipes to try and sell stuff
CC: it looks like they were moving a lot of stuff that was right on the expiration date LOL
VGE: GOD LOL
but i mean, in the chapter i keep coming back to, some of it was good, and people kept making good stuff from all the weird stuff
CC: this just makes me think about how deeply food is tied into every aspect of our lives
oh man ive had so much like spiritual revelations about food while working on these two books
Have You Heard The Word About Pickles???
CC: no but please do tell (as u know, i love pickles)
just like. pickles have been around longer than written history
its wild…i dunno you do begin to appreciate how important food is
i think it’s easy to overlook or shrug off as not like, an Intellectual Pursuit in a lot of ways but its like, as important to us as sleeping
CC: also hate to tie things into ~ the economy ~ but like, deeply tied to the capitalist machine we all operate within L O L (sob)
CC: like, you look at that tower of mayo food and you can tell that there’s some sociopolitical economics deeply baked in too right
VGE: god yeah, that’s a big part of why i wanted to research the easy food chapter, too. it really hurt at times!! you’re dealing with a lot of human suffering when it comes to the aspects of it that were tied to the war and what happened after the war
oh god yeah
there’s definitely a vibe of superiority that led to that that….well you know where it comes from
CC: yeah for real
VGE: like We’re Advanced And Civilized and Eat Mayo In A Tower
CC: mayo is a superfood right
jello: the original acai berry
CC: I know we have covered a whole lot of ground today but I do have one more question for you before we wrap up!
I know you recently finished the art for Yummy 2. Do you know when (roughly) Part 2 will be out and into the world?
VGE: I don’t know when exactly but it’s slated to come out in 2023!! we still need to do edits and get the cover designed and all, but as soon as i know i will yell about it
CC: yay!!!! I can’t wait + I know I speak for everybody here @ POME hq when I say we can’t wait to spread the word once it’s out!
thanks for chatting with me about all of these foods!!
VGE: wahh thank you all so much!! i love POME and everything y’all do so i’m so happy to have been able to chat with you about my Yummy books!!
CC: ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
Find Yummy: A History of Desserts wherever books are sold! Check out Victoria’s Twitter or website to learn more about her work and stay tuned with what she’ll be working on next. Thanks again to Victoria for chatting with us today, and to Hanna Bahedry at Superfan Productions for review copy of Yummy!
If you’re hungry for more Yummy, we have a special treat for Ko-Fi monthly members — head on over for spicy historical poetry and a longer discussion with Victoria on food, culture, and politics. Check it out over on Ko-Fi here!