The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects



Life is busy for a lovely mermaid (and aren’t they all?). There’s riding seahorses through shimmering sea foam capped with frothy white waves, finding the perfect rock on which to display their fish-like tails sheathed in  iridescent spangles so they sparkle in the sunlight, combing their beautiful long locks and, of course, singing enticingly so that sailors forsake their duty and travel to their doom all to get a better look.

For mermaids as well as mermaid wannabees or just those who love reading about these mythical creatures, folklore expert Carolyn Turgeon introduces us to their world in her recently released The Mermaid Handbook: An Alluring Treasury of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects (Harper Design 2018; $35).

Turgeon, the editor-in-chief of Faerie Magazine, a quarterly print publication and author of several books including The Faerie Handbook, showcases all things mermaid by dividing her handbook into four sections. In “Fashion and Beauty” we learn techniques on creating mermaid hair—face it, haven’t you always wanted a reason to sprinkle glitter throughout your locks. Of course, then you need a mermaid mirror to admire yourself. Not to worry Turgeon includes directions.  “Arts and Culture” tells the stories of sirens in classic mythology and contains luscious reproductions of mermaid art and recounts tales of mermaid from around the world. Fair warning—mermaids aren’t always nice.


You don’t have to go down to the sea for the section on “Real Mermaids and Where to Find Them.” Here, Turgeon takes us to the advent of mermaids as entertainers starting with the story of Annette Kellerman who learned to swim like a fish in her native Australia to overcome rickets and bowed legs, eventually becoming strong enough to swim an average of 45 miles a week. So good at what she did, Kellerman began swimming for money at young age and by 1907 was performing as the Australian Mermaid throughout the United States in glass tanks and in 1916 starred in A Daughter of the Gods, the first movie to cost over a $1 million to make as well as the first one featuring a naked woman (don’t worry, her long mermaid hair covered the most private of parts).  Turgeon takes us into midcentury when there were a plethora of bars and restaurants with tanks for mermaids to perform in. Surprisingly, at least for me, not all of these have disappeared and some mermaid cocktail lounges are still in business including the Dive Bar in Sacramento, California, the Sip ‘N Dip Tiki Lounge in Great Falls, Montana and the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We also learn the stories of women who have made their livings as mermaids.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Of course, even a mermaid has to eat and the last section of Turgeon’s delightful book “Food, Entertaining and Stories of the Sea” includes recipes for the types of edibles a mermaid might nibble such as Savory Sesame Seed and Seaweed Cookies, Salmon Poke with Wild Rice, Pineapple and Macadamia Nuts and an assortment of sea-themed shaped cookies covered with royal icing. And because what mermaid wouldn’t want to set the perfect table to indulge in such delights, there are crafts to create seashell fortune party favors and shell cocktail glasses to sip such libations as Blue Sea Cocktails and Seductive Siren Cocktails (recipes included).  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Those wanting to indulge their inner mermaids can try the recipes below.

Honey Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing

8 ounces of unsalted butter

One and ½ granulated sugar

2 cups good quality honey

2 teaspoons baking powder

4 teaspoons ginger

4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoons salt

¼ cup cocoa powder, optional

3 large eggs

9 cups all-purpose flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten and mixed with 1 teaspoon water

Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium low heat. Add the sugar is still mostly dissolved, then pour in the honey and stir to combine. Cook until very hard and mixture is smooth, but did not boil. Remove from heat.

Sift together baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Add up to 1/3 cup cocoa powder, depending on color desired. Add to the warm butter mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Transfer the mixture to the ball of an electric mixer and add three eggs, beating until combined. Gradually adding flour, beating all the while.

When all the flour is absorbed, divided the dough in half and wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap.

Store in a cool place for at least 24 hours, or up to a week in the refrigerator. If the Joe is refrigerated bring it to room temperature before proceeding.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375°F. Unwrap the dough and place on a well-floured work surface. Knead flour into the dough until it is very smooth, pliable and not sticky. Roll up to ¼- inch thickness for small cookies, a little thicker for larger cookies.

Use cookie cutters to cut cookies into mermaid friendly shapes such as seahorses, shells and starfish.

Big six minutes, checking to see if any bubbles form. If they do, gently smooth with a spatula and continue to bake until done, about nine minutes total for medium cookies and up to 14 minutes for larger ones.  Remove to a wire rack and use a pastry brush to apply coat of the lightly beaten egg. Cool completely.

Decorate with Royal Icing (see recipe below).

Royal Icing

2 pounds of powdered sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

10 tablespoons liquid pasteurized egg whites

Combine powdered sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla and pasteurized egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat high speed with a paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Blue Sea Cocktail

1 ½ ounces white rum

1 ounce Blue Curaçao

½ ounce Suze or any aperitif

½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur

½ ounce simple syrup

Dash fresh lemon juice

Ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients in the shaker.

Shake until will chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass, on the rocks and serve immediately.

From The Mermaid Handbook by Carolyn Turgeon.






Cooking with the Faeries

lavender-shortbread-cookies_lrg-0015-credit-sara-ghedina-e1518153286780.jpgTo me, fairies have always been about the holiday season—think the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker Suite ballet and Tinkerbell, the blonde-haired imp who wore a green outfit with matching translucent green wings in the 1904 play Peter Pan and knew how to handle a wand and pixie dust—both a job requirement. Imagine then my delight when my friend Lily Lopate sent me a copy ofThe Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium of Literature Lore, Art, Recipes and Projects by Carol Turgeon with Grace Nuth and the Editors of Faerie Magazine (Harper Design 2017; $35). And yes, there is a Faerie Magazine.

This beautifully illustrated book containing all things faerie (the archaic literary spelling) is divided into chapter including Flora & Fauna with such headings as “A Select List of Fairy World Inhabitants” and their history, a “Fairy Herb and Flower Almanac,” as well as instructions on making such fairy necessities as houses, furniture, pressed flowers, and terrariums. In the section on Fashion & Beauty we learn about such style icons as Morgan Le Fay, Titania of the Fairy Realm and La Belle Dame Sans-Mercy—a woman with eyes that mesmerized helpless, handsome men (way to go, La Belle, we say).  The Fashion & Beauty chapter gives us the low down on fairy couture including fairy shoes which are totally inappropriate for walking particularly the ones with five-inch heels made of flowers. It also contains directions on how to make a fairy crown—a clothing item no one should be without.

It isn’t easy being a fairy. You have to get up early to gather the right beauty ingredients. After all, according to Samuel Pepys, the great 17th century diarist, his wife was a big believer in maintaining her looks in a faerie manner by collecting early morning May dew. Another requirement is being able to make fairy dust. That’s what Tinkerbell used to get Peter Pan to fly. You wouldn’t want to be without it.

Want to hang with the faeries? The authors tell about how to find fairy portals and pathways. You’ll need to read the chapter, but we can give some hints. Look for a strange circle of mushrooms (those are fairy rings), bridges (but be careful of the trolls, country crossroads are good places to run into fairies (but devils hang out there too) and natural portals like ocean cliffs and tangled branches with an open center in the middle.

Of course, what interested me the most was fairy food. As one might expect, fairies love parties and the authors show us how to host a Midsummer Night’s Dream Garden Party. Fairies main ingredient when it comes to cooking seems to be edible flowers. Their menus consist of such goodies as Flower Lollipops, Honey Ricotta Tart with Lavender Scented Crust, Candied Violets and Lavender Shortbread Cookies.

Faeries also love tea parties—ones with lots of flowers in pastel colors of pink, lavender, violet, pale blues and even moss. What to eat at such a party? Fairy Tea Cakes and flower teas.

Frosted cranberries (1)Candied Violets

40 fresh violets, pesticide free, with stems intact

1 egg white

1 cup superfine sugar

Special Equipment:

Fine-tipped paintbrush, preferably new

Small sharp scissors

Place a wire rack over a parchment-lined baking sheet and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy.

Holding a violet by the stem, dip the paintbrush in the egg white and carefully coat each petal, front and back.

Sprinkle the superfine sugar over the violet and shake off any excess. Sprinkle again until the whole flower is lightly coated.

Gently place the violet on the drying rack. Repeat with theremaining flowers.

Allow the violets to dry for 24 hours, then use the scissors to cut off the stems. Candied violets may be stored in an airtight container for up to eight weeks.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon dried lavender, pesticide-free

1 stick plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons whole milk (optional)

½ cup sanding sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the sugar and lavender in a food processor and pulse to achieve a fine texture.

In a large bowl, combine the lavender sugar, butter, and salt. Use the electric hand mixer to cream the ingredients until light and fluffy.

Gradually add the flour, mixing until the dough comes together. If it’s too crumbly, lightly wet your hands with water and knead the dough in the bowl untilthe flour is completely absorbed, and the dough is smooth.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a ½-inch thickness.

Use a cookie cutter to cut out the dough. Transfer the cookies to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

If desired, use the pastry brush to lightly coat each cookie with milk, then sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Transfer cookies to the oven and bakefor approximately 25 minutes, rotating the pan once, until the cookies are golden brown.

The cookies will be very soft when you remove them from the oven, but will set once cool. Allow them to cool completely on the baking sheet before transferring them to a plate.

Frosted Cranberries

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ cups granulated sugar, plus 1 cup for dusting

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

2 cups fresh cranberries

In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves. Cook over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

Remove from heat and cool for 15 minutes before stirring in the cranberries. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, set a wire rack over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the berries onto the rack and set aside for 1 hour. Meanwhile, line another baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the remaining 1 cup sugar in a shallow dish. Working in small batches, roll the cranberries in the sugar until they are completely coated, then transfer to the clean parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure berries are in a single layer and not touching each other.

Allow to stand at room temperature for about 1 hour or until dry. Frosted cranberries may be stored in an airtight container for several days.

The above recipes are from the book: THE FAERIE HANDBOOK by Carolyn Turgeon and the editors of Faerie Magazine. Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Turgeon. Reprinted courtesy of Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.