Life is busy for a lovely mermaid. 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.
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).
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
DIRECTIONS: 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.
2 pounds of powdered sugar
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 tablespoons liquid pasteurized egg whites
DIRECTIONS: 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
DIRECTIONS: 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.