Friday, April 16, 2010

Cooking the Books

I just recently discovered that one of my credit cards was awarding me points that I could use to buy books with. Well, you don't have to tell me twice. I immediately selected three titles, two of which are cookbooks.

Cookbooks are one of my favorite genres. I love trying new recipes, learning about food, and eating at home, especially with an appreciative guest at the table. I grew up in a traditional family, with a mom who poured her love into the food she placed before us. My dad, on the other hand, could not be trusted to operate a can opener properly. He was not one of the fathers who made his famous pancakes on the weekend, or who ruled the barbecue grill.  The invention of the microwave bacon holder rocked his world. He did have the more adventurous palate, however, and I have fond memories of the two of us going out and sampling exotic foods together.While they gave me a good grounding in tasty, healthy eating, neither parent taught me the finer points of cookery. I learned much of my kitchen craft from many well-loved, now-grimy cookbooks--my 20-something year old copy of The Moosewood Cookbook is probably composed of 50% actual food at this point.

These days, men and women are equally at home in the kitchen. I do see a generational difference when talking about cookbooks in the library--younger people like them to have lots of illustrations. Having grown up with the photo-free "Joy of Cooking", I don't see the need, but they probably did not grow up as I did, seeing food prepared from scratch on a daily basis.

I've even heard some people say we don't need cookbooks anymore, given the plethora of recipes available online. There are plenty out there, that's for sure, and it can be very helpful to consult YouTube in some situations--say, when rolling sushi for the first time.

I still favor traditional cookbooks for a few reasons (1) when I find a cookbook writer who is a good match for my tastes and skill level, I look forward to a books-worth of recipes to peruse and experiment with. I can think of three writers off the top of my head, who I feel like I know personally, whose trusted, knowledgeable voices keep me company in the kitchen: Lorna Sass, Nigella Lawson, and Madhur Jaffrey; (2) there are some great cookbooks that are plain fun to read, with witty asides, or intriguing anecdotes. Jewish Cooking in America gives me the history of my grandparents' generation, as they made their way in a new world. Extending the Table: a World Community Cookbook, includes many poignant culinary vignettes culled from the experiences of Mennonite travelers around the world. Blue Jelly: Love Lost and the Lessons of Canning, will tell you everything you need to know about making jelly, and cooking your way out of a rut in your life; and (3) there are some cookbooks that are enormously fun to read, but include recipes you'd never make, or even want to eat, such as White Trash Cooking, and Eat Me: the Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin. The first might come in handy if Elvis drops by, the second I can't describe, just read it for yourself, if you dare...


  1. I probably use "The Joy of Cooking" more than any other cookbook just because it's comprehensive. Funny, I never thought how many pages are fortified with actual food. So true.

  2. Amanda Hesser's "The Cook and The Gardener" is a lovely book. Food and prose is such a great combination. Bob Shacochis' "Domesticity" is lots of fun too.