** Spoiler alert **
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the first book in Jenny Han’s (no relation) bestselling romance trilogy. It is also a series of films with the first and second movie (P.S. I Still Love You) available on Netflix and the third movie (Always and Forever, Lara Jean) already filmed and set to release soon. The series follows a half-Korean, half-white high school-aged girl named Lara Jean Song Covey, an introverted, imaginative, and studious girl who enjoys scrapbooking, wearing vintage fashion, and baking. She often experiences such intense emotions that she doesn't know what else to do, and baking helps. So does writing letters to each of the boys she has loved in her life.
The catch is that she keeps the letters stored in a hatbox her late mother gave her, never intending to deliver them. She seals them in envelopes, addresses them to each person, and stashes them away. Writing her crushes letters they won’t read is her way of expressing her feelings and storing them away is coming to terms with them. But when the letters get mysteriously delivered to each of the boys one day, she finds herself forced to live out her fears and fantasies from the past, having encounters with three of the boys she has loved before: Peter Kavinsky, Josh Sanderson, and John Ambrose McClaren.
Lara Jean’s encounters with the boys she has loved are far from perfect in reality, but we can imagine how perfectly each recipe in the books line up with each character. For Lara Jean, the special people in her life—her family, friends, and potential significant others—have a special recipe that encapsulates how they are like as people. From old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies to Valentine’s Day cherry turnovers, there is always an occasion to bake for Lara Jean. Her recipes aren't just bursts of creativity sprinkled out over the course of the books. They are subtle, yet string together each character's traits through their favorite recipes in their own unique ways:
“The Christmas cookie bonanza starts December first. We drag out all of Mommy’s old cookbooks and cooking magazines and we spread them out on the living room floor and turn on the Charlie Brown Christmas album. No Christmas music is allowed in our house until December first. I don’t remember whose rule this is, but we abide by it. Kitty keeps a list of which cookies we’re definitely doing and which ones we’re maybe doing. There are a few perennials. My dad loves pecan crescents, so those are a must. Sugar cookies, because those are a given. Snickerdoodles for Kitty, molasses cookies for Margot, cowgirl cookies for me. White chocolate cranberry are Josh’s favorite.”
Lara Jean's collection of recipes bubble to the surface especially during Christmas. It brings out each character’s special recipe, each one itself a cause for celebration. Wondering which character you would be or looking for new holiday recipe ideas? Here are some descriptions of the recipes in To All the Boys I've Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You, and why they suit each character so well.
Cowgirl cookies - Lara Jean
Lara Jean, 16 years old, is an old soul, but also a hopeless romantic. She experiences her emotions to the fullest. Her adventures exploring old and new emotions with the boys she loved make her favorite cowgirl cookies a logical choice for her. The recipe consists not only of mixing butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, but creating a texture much like that of the rugged terrain Lara Jean navigates in her love stories. Cowgirl cookies recreate Lara Jean's adventures by bringing just the right amount of bumpy, chocolatey, and sweet with their oats, semisweet chocolate chips, and toasted walnuts.
Her delivered letters present her with a chance to leave her imagination and face reality, much like in baking where the mind is in the moment, the process of measuring, making dough, and baking. Cowgirl cookies make up one of the more laborious recipes of the bunch in terms of ingredients and steps, yet retain their simplicity, which points to a parallel in Lara Jean’s complex yet balanced character. Lara Jean’s patience, creativity, and habit of therapeutic baking show through this recipe.
Molasses Cookies - Margot
Cookies made of molasses are slightly sweet, warm, and soft. Margot, Lara Jean’s older sister, is mature, responsible, loving, and soft-hearted, exemplifying these qualities when she takes on her role as mother figure to her sisters. She follows the example of her real mother, Eve Song, who passed away when the three girls were still young. Margot is the only sister who remembers her mother clearly, and she, in turn, emulates the spirit of her mother. She is dependable and like a hug on a cold winter night, much like molasses cookies. With their cozy, spiced, drier-on-the-outside, softer-on-the-inside, fresh-out-of-the-oven scent and taste, molasses cookies capture Margot’s promise to her mother and her comforting presence.
Molasses cookies, with their almost honey-like sweetness, capture how Margot is like on the inside. She truly cares about her sisters and is like a unifying bond between them. She gives meaning to the phrase "Song sisters," a phrase increasingly used throughout the trilogy, because she makes sure the sisters are a family of their own, constantly looking out for each other. Whether this means ending her relationship with Josh—yes, she dated Josh Sanderson without knowing he was one of Lara Jean's crushes—or moving to Scotland to study anthropology in college (both of which she does unapologetically), she keeps the Song sisters together in the end.
Snickerdoodles - Kitty
Snickerdoodles are a no-nonsense type of cookie, just like Kitty, Lara Jean’s brutally honest and spunky younger sister. Kitty may appear non-confrontational and innocent at first, like a snickerdoodle's constant confusion for being a sugar cookie. But she proves herself to be outspoken, the most extroverted and energetic out of the Song sisters, and not afraid to speak her mind both in the books and the films. Kitty’s more Caucasian-rather-than-Asian-appearing hair and eyes are also like the hues of the cinnamon-coated cookie, and her personality matches the spicy, citrusy cinnamon kick of the treat and the sweetness within.
Kitty knows what she wants and doesn’t let anything get in the way, but she is sweet and kind-hearted in her intentions at the end of the day. Snickerdoodles are also Kitty’s favorite for a reason; when Lara Jean and Kitty fight, Lara Jean makes her younger sister snickerdoodles to get back in her good graces. Kitty is essential to any cookie shop or bakery because she is essential to kickstarting Lara Jean’s relationship with Peter. Snickerdoodles, simply as what they are, show Kitty’s indispensable presence in any situation and her happy-go-lucky attitude.
White chocolate cranberry cookies — Josh
Like white chocolate cranberry cookies during Christmas time, Josh is reliable. He is the boy next door, literally and figuratively, and grew up with Lara Jean and her family. He is friendly, kind-hearted, and shy, knowing Lara Jean inside and out, and trying to see what’s best for her. White chocolate cranberry cookies are clean and crisp in taste while still carrying the sweetness essential to any cookie, and the pairing of white chocolate and cranberries is undoubtedly a classic choice.
While he dates Margot, oblivious to Lara Jean’s brewing feelings for him, and doesn’t exactly approve of Lara Jean’s relationship with Peter at first, Josh eventually sees the good in Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship. Josh’s recipe for Lara Jean’s Christmas celebration, a mix of the white chocolate and cranberries topped with hints of sea salt, are an ideal option especially for those cold winter nights or on a white Christmas. Although we could also joke that the hints of sea salt are like Josh's initially bitter feelings about Lara Jean and Peter's relationship. ;)
Fruitcake cookies — Peter
Peter Kavinsky is unpredictable and playful, just like the unexpected combination of a fruitcake and a cookie. As Lara Jean and Kitty discuss what treats they should make for the Christmas bonanza, they react with immediate disgust at Peter's suggestion of baking fruitcake cookies. Yet Peter, as a character, has a certain charm that makes him generally likeable to those he comes across directly despite preconceived ideas they might have about him. As Peter says, "When done right, fruitcake can be really good."
The recipe, called “the infamous fruitcake cookies” in the back of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before book, involves a variety of ingredients that normally wouldn’t be in cookies: dried figs, raisins, candied cherries, dried apricots, sherry, and lemon juice. Peter also brings up blueberries as fillings while the characters discuss Christmas treats for the bonanza in the book, adding to the spontaneity of the recipe and highlighting his freely messy, flamboyant personality. His spontaneous and unpredictable character traits contrast with Lara Jean's often planned restraint, but also line up with the free-flowing feelings she lets out in her letters. His choice to date Lara Jean, and initial reason why he started fake-dating her (to make his ex-girlfriend Gen jealous) make fruitcake a fitting treat for Peter.
Chocolate peanut butter cake (or cupcakes) — John Ambrose
Moving on to treats other than cookies and venturing outside the Christmas bonanza, Lara Jean bakes John Ambrose a cake with his name spelled out in Reese's Pieces as she recalls in P.S. I Still Love You. In the movie, the recipe is slightly different, with chocolate peanut butter cupcakes sprinkled with chocolate chips. She has a soft spot for John Ambrose as her other childhood love besides Peter, hence the decision to bake him a cake. The careful arrangement of the Reese's Pieces on the cake are like the connection Lara Jean and John Ambrose build up together from their childhood to their teenage years.
John Ambrose tells Lara Jean to bring his favorite recipe to the treehouse, a childhood meeting place for both of them. John Ambrose is easily Lara Jean’s other half, and even though he, as the secondary love interest, doesn’t end up in a relationship with her, his and Lara Jean’s personalities are like chocolate and peanut butter. The collision between chocolate and peanut butter is meant to be, like Lara Jean and John Ambrose's unique connection and compatibility (although I may be biased!). Even if they aren't boyfriend and girlfriend, they are two peas in a pod: simple, salty, and sweet, with contrasting flavors that complement each other all at once.
Pecan crescents - Dr. Covey
Lara Jean’s father is classy, maybe a bit old-fashioned, but caring, hence the choice of pecan crescents. Pecan crescents entail only 3-6 steps of creaming butter, sugar, vanilla, flour, and of course, pecans, then shaping dough into crescents, baking, and dusting with confectioners' sugar. The recipe is minimal in ingredients and steps much like Dr. Covey's life, where work and his daughters are the only main priorities.
He is hardworking and finds joy in the simple pleasures of life, like cooking and watching documentaries. He is not the type to rely on others for his own happiness, and is even a bit eccentric and nutty like the pecans in pecan crescents. The process of baking pecan crescents is like Dr. Covey's overall desire for simplicity and reluctance to change (even if it's a good change, like when Kitty tries to set him up with their neighbor Trina Rothschild).
Which character were you most like according to your favorite treat? Want to try the recipes? Look in the back of the To All the Boys I've Loved Before book for more!