Peeta Mellark's Five Favorite Things to Bake
001. Primrose Dots
Peeta Mellark is ninety-six years old and the most beloved person in the Coal Estate, which was once – a long time ago, now – known as District 12. He has a strong, spry gait for a man of his years due to the aid of a prosthetic leg (sometimes a child will ask him what happened to his real leg and he nips their nose affectionately and tells them, ‘You’ll learn in school when you’re older’) and a head of fluffy white hair. He’s kind to everyone and is always willing to listen.
Perhaps most importantly, he is the town baker.
His shop is the cornerstone of what once, a long time ago now, was called The Hob. Where there used to be dust and grit and back-alley deals there is now a cheerful, round, gray-brick bakery with bright yellow curtains and awnings. There are always loaves of hearty bread in the window, even though Peeta Mellark is known across Panem for his intricate pastries. Peeta Mellark believes in the old ways. In making things properly. In always thinking ahead and putting his best effort forward.
It’s something that people still appreciate, even though it’s not life or death, now. The wooden tables outside his shop are always filled with people, eating bread or little delicate cakes; some wear elaborate styles that encroach even on Old Capitol weirdness, others are the Coal Estate’s typical, ancient, never-ending poor. Peeta serves everyone with a smile. Peeta’s always liked people. Not persons, of course, and he was never naïve, but that was always the biggest difference between how Katniss fought and recovered from The Rebellion and how Peeta survived. And, of course, it was how they decided to torture Peeta – they made him hate people. Even the persons he loved best. He’s better now.
The reason why the wealthy from the Technology Center and New Capitol like the Mellark Bakery is because it’s almost quaint, with its Old District breads – Eleven, dark molasses and bran and rye in a moon shape, speckled with caraway and flax and crunch; Four, pale green and soft and sour with seaweed and buttermilk and the coarse salt of the sea – but it’s clear in the spirals of icing and swooping constructions in fondant on his wedding cakes that Peeta Mellark once observed a true master designer. Masters of Panem history would tell you that his name had been Cinna, and he was the true hero of the Rebellion, but most people never knew.
The reason why the Coal Estate love the Mellark Bakery is simple: there are very few people who live there who can still remember life before Peeta Mellark kept a basket of hundreds of Primrose Dots, pink and dainty, on the counter for children’s greedy, grateful fingers, and refused to take a single coin for them. Maybe a person can’t live on cookies alone, Peeta always said, But everyone deserves to have something nice sometimes in this world. Not everything needs to be about survival.
He refuses to tell anyone how to make the Primrose Dots. All anyone knows is that they’re fragrant with rosewater and dusted in sugar and they’re sweet, but not cloying. They’re as much a part of the Coal Estate’s past as The Rebellion is a part of Panem, but almost no one left alive knows that they’re named for the girl who, in her own sweet and simple way, started it all.
Peeta keeps the basket low enough for all of the children to reach, and they can take as many as they want, because thanks to Primrose and Cinna and Katniss and Peeta Mellark of Mellark Bakery, they will never have to put their names into the drawing for the Hunger Games.
002. Pain Au Chocolat
A man with gold-rimmed eyes discussed these with Peeta once, a very long time ago. Before everything, really. Just as it was all beginning. Before fire, before berries, before there was a mockingjay.
“Do you like anything about the Capitol?” he’d asked, kind, as he took Peeta’s measurements. He’d been a stocky boy back then. Lots of upper-arm from carrying flour.
“This morning they gave us hot chocolate,” Peeta had said, simple in his likes and dislikes and knowing, exactly, who he was back then. “It was too much to drink it, but it was wonderful on bread.” He’d blushed then, nattering on about bread to this willowy, Capitol-bred designer who’d been stuck with pitiful District 12.
Not so pitiful with Katniss, though. Maybe.
But Cinna had just smiled and circled the measuring tape around Peeta’s head, measuring for a headdress. “There used to be bread with pieces of chocolate in it. I forget what it was called, but it was from – It was in a language that doesn’t exist anymore. I learned it when I was very young. It feels like you’re talking around marbles to speak it.”
He had a smile that put Peeta at ease, because Peeta didn’t know poisonous smiles yet, and besides, Cinna was a good guy. The best.
“I’m a baker,” Peeta offered. “Not everyone in District 12 works in the mines.”
And Cinna stopped working and sat down across from Peeta, a blazing sort of ‘aha!’ look in his gold-rimmed eyes. “Tell me about your District 12. Tell me absolutely everything about how District 12 really is.”
And Cinna sent Portia to find them more hot chocolate and soft, slightly sour white bread to dunk, and Peeta told Cinna about District 12. About the division with the Seam, and how that accounts for Katniss and he looking so different to each other, when most of the other poorer Districts are all similar in color and stature and size. About the Hob, and how everyone is a barterer in District 12 – but it still isn’t enough that there’s a single family without tesserae – and how Katniss gives the families with young, hungry children meat free of charge. He told Cinna about Greasy Sae and how she’s older than dirt, and how her simple daughter smiled when his father sneaks her butter cookies when Peeta’s mother wasn’t looking. He told about the first day of school and how Katniss sang a song, and how that had been what happened in the last generation, too. Things in District 12 didn’t change easily.
He told Cinna how Katniss is so fierce with her bow and arrow and her traps, and she’s just – she’s deadly to the bone, and Peeta thought that Katniss could win if the sponsors gave her a chance.
And Cinna sat quietly, listening. Eating bread and chocolate. And when Peeta finished, Cinna knew one thing for certain about Peeta Mellark:
He was on fire for Katniss Everdeen, and from how the boy told it, she blazed brighter than anyone else in Panem ever could.
And Cinna, the designer with the most piteous district, knew one thing about District 12:
Its blazing-bright girl was who all of Panem had been waiting for.
003. Redberry Crumble
She was Peeta’s only kill in the Hunger Games.
She was Peeta’s only kill, and it was an accident, and no one blames him. Anyone too young to have seen The Games – and that’s most people now; people in the Coal Estate are still too poor to live long, but it’s better, always better every year – was shocked when they studied The Rebellion in school and found out that Peeta Mellark had ever killed anyone at all.
Sometimes they would go straight to the bakery after that day, in little shy groups of three or four, and ask him,
But how did you feel when she died?
And Peeta Mellark, the baker, with his white hair and pink, smooth, apple cheeks, would take another rack of Redberry Crumble out of the oven, bubbling sweet almost-fuchsia and brown sugar crust and a shy little group of six or eight eyes would covetously look to it as it settled on the shining wire rack.
“It makes me feel better every day that you children have to ask, because you will never have to know.”
004. Wedding Cake
Frosting, the final refuge of the dying.
It was ten years before Peeta could attempt a cake after Finnick –
Well. After Finnick. That says it all, really. It was ten years that there was a world After Finnick before Peeta could frost another cake.
He started small, about three years after the rebellion, when he realized that Primrose Dots couldn’t be the only sweetness in the new Coal Estate (then, still The Remains of District 12) forever. He made sugar cookies and glazed them with simple chocolate icing on one side, half-dipped; little black-and-white moons. He shakily piped cockeyed sunflowers on chewy cookies made with sweet-sticky dried dates and pecans; those had been Haymitch’s favorite in his last years before he died. He made red-frosted cherry-chocolate bars for Finnick’s son and green-iced almond cookies for Annie; she liked everything to be green if it could be, like Finnick’s eyes. Her son looked more like her than his father.
Annie kissed his cheek, her lips a little green and gritty, and Peeta knew that meant she was thanking him for remembering and that it was okay to think of the world as something besides After Finnick.
A few months later, a beautiful dark-skinned boy wearing almost-rags and timid eyes walked into Mellark Bakery, and said that he was the brother of Rue, from the 74th Hunger Games, and he was getting married. He wanted his wedding cake to be covered in flowers.
Peeta sculpted white treelilies out of rough, almond-meal sugar to hold a shape like they were raising their heads toward the sun. He spent hours perfecting the purples of magnoliolae and gemweed. The top tier was a single spray of yellow light; lantanabloom and virvascum and buttercups. The inside of the cake was white and airy and decadent in its simplicity, filled with custard cream and stewed cinnamon-spice peach, the fruits of the trees in the Orchard Estate (which had been District 11 until the year before).
After that, Peeta Mellark of the Mellark Bakery in the Coal Estate had something of a second (or maybe continued) bout of celebrity. Every bride, groom, or spoiled child in Panem seemed to want a Mellark cake, crafted so well it looked alive.
He wouldn’t make a cake covered entirely in white, violet, and yellow flowers again. Not for any amount of money. Any other colors of flowers, and for the right price, you had yourself a deal. But to cover anything in white, violet, and yellow flowers meant something real for Peeta Mellark, and he valued what was real.
005. Simple Bread
It’s Katniss’ favorite. Even though the New Capitol still pays a more than generous weekly stipend to the living Victors of the Hunger Games (and Peeta and Katniss are the last two) and the children of the Victors (getting long in years themselves), Katniss Mellark prefers simple living. She hunts. She sells meat in a small abattoir the proper distance from the Mellark Bakery so as not to be off-putting, and she makes rounds every morning with good meat, lean and rich, to the houses that she knows cannot pay. The Mellark children mostly work for their father, but two grandsons and a great-granddaughter with blonde hair and a stance like a bird work for Katniss.
They don’t butcher. They sell and serve and work with money.
Children don’t have a place around knives and cleavers and blood and the sound of tendons snapping from bones.
And every night, Peeta takes whatever meat Katniss gives him – squirrel is a delicacy now; for thirty-odd years after the Rebellion, it was so en vogue that the poor fluffy things were hunted nearly to extinction before anyone was able to spare the attention in the New Capitol to do something about it – and makes a simple, hearty stew. It tastes like the Hob and like Greasy Sae’s cooking and smoky like a world that fell apart at their fingertips, and it tastes like they home they built together when everything was off the map. And Katniss sops it up with a simple oil bread, and Peeta says, every night, that he could make a fluffier bread that would take up more of the broth, and every night for almost eighty years, Katniss says no.
And for eighty-odd years, they’ve woken up side by side walked two separate ways to work: Peeta heads before dawn to the bakery to start up the ovens, and Katniss shoulders a quiver of arrows and sets off silent-footed for the woods.
And separately, but together, they watch the world they made with Prim and Cinna and Finnick and Foxface and Rue, get better.