INTERVIEW: Victoria Grace Elliott on Yummy: A History of Desserts

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!!!

SO

VICTORIA

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

so Elizabeth David’s Harvest of the Cold Months, [Michael] Krondl’s Sweet Invention

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

Mochi ice cream featured in Yummy 1

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

Pepe Silva conspiracy theory meme

but pies

VGE: EXTREMELY

CC: LMAO

VGE: I MEAN THERES A REASON PERI KEEPS GOING BACK TO HER CONSPIRACY BOARD

Peri, one of the sprites from Yummy, consults her conspiracy board teasing out the mysteries behind the origins of the cookie.

CC: YESSSSS

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

VGE: heheheh

thank you!! i really feel like there’s a lot i missed, but i did the best i could with like. the Austin library

lkdsjfldf

GOD

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

CC: AMAZING

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

thanks, nuns!!!

Historic nuns in Yummy 1 inventing a proto-donut dessert called Nun's Farts

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

LOLL

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!

VGE: YEAH

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

BUT

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

CC: OMG

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

CC: LOL

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

victoria

VGE: YEAH

CC: chef’s kiss

VGE: YEAH????

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

The Yummy sprites about to dig into some beautiful, gooey blueberry pie (with a side of vanilla ice cream)

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

Delectable, perfect egg tart from Yummy 1

CC: SO

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)

VGE: 

Cover of July 1955 Household magazine, featuring a grotesque gelatin and...ham??? layer cake monstrosity

VGE:

its not Quite this

but its This

CC: LMAO

VGE: 

Midcentury ad for "SPAM-dandy Spamwiches" - including another grotesque loaf and a spam sub

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

VGE: HAHAHAHA

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

VGE: 

Gelatin-based tuna fish mold ad, courtesy of A1 Steak Sauce

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

“real cool!”

VGE: LKJSDFLSD

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

Another midcentury Jell-o ad featuring a lemon jello and turnip (????) salad

CC: I’m sorry to bring you back into jello perspective hell

LEMON FLAVOR

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

CC: 

screenshot from lemon Jell-o ad above - text reading "There's no easier way to wow your family"

VGE: SKLDFJLSDf

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

Midcentury tuna salad gelatin ad for an "Easy new Souffle" -- "Monterey Souffle Salad"

CC: like:

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

VGE: YEAH

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

VGE: YEAH

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

VGE: YEAH

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)

VGE: ksjdflsjdf

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)

VGE: YEAH

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

VGE: LKSDJflsd

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!

CC Calanthe

CC Calanthe

If you prick your finger and write “Cat Fancy” on your mirror during a harvest moon, CC will appear behind you and make you put human clothes on your pets. CC is Head Crone in Charge at POMEgranate Magazine, as well as the co-host of Moon Podcast Power MAKE UP!!
POMEgranate Magazine