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Cookbooks as Literature


Chris Amirault
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Let's be clear, now. I'm not talking about MFK Fisher or the Thornes. Books with recipes tossed into them now and then don't count. I'm talking about books whose raison d'etre is helping you cook food. Of those books clearly designed to be cookbooks, are there any that you like to curl up with and read? Why read them? What makes a cookbook a page-turner that you just have to finish?

Right now, my bedside reading is Colman Andrews's Catalan Cuisine: Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret. I bought it to prepare for a trip to Barcelona and have been immersed it in whenever I get a chance. His commitment to the cuisine itself, to the persnickety, strange details, and to that which cannot quite translate for American consumption makes for very compelling reading to me. There's also something wonderful about his assertion that this "brown food" (his description!) is one of the triumphs of world cuisine.

The last time I felt this way about a cookbook was when I got my hands on Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating. A radically different book than Andrews's, with prose that Hemingway would have found sparse, but one that displays a sensibility about and sensitivity toward the eating of killed animals that is evocative. I read it in one night, and then read it again the next day.

Those are two of my cover-to-cover favorites. Yours?

Chris Amirault

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Hands down, the most entertaining book of my collection is "A Taste of Southern Italy" by Marlena De Blasi. Flames are always lively, never high and fruit gently slip off their skins rather than being peeled. I love it.

This was introduced to me by the Italian forum folks last year. I believe she has given up the cookbook business in favor of romance novels. :biggrin:

mike

-Mike & Andrea

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I read my way through Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen today, and it was gripping reading. If only I had a damn meat slicer

Another cookbook I read for the fun , the gentle tone and the excellent info is Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking. He gives Dame Edna Lewis co-credit, but it's really his book. The recipes are rock solid delicious.

Jane Grigson is a culinary Jane Austen. I'm especially fond of Food with the Famous.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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I am currently reading A Frenchwoman's Kitchen and am pretty much in love with it. The narrative is fascinating and beautifully written and the photographs and illustrations perfectly suit the prose.

I have truly enjoyed reading Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook. The recipes in the book are really well done, the photography is beautiful, and it's chock full of really direct information-it is particularly strong on the photo-by-photo, step-by-step stuff.

I have read, again and again, John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cooking It's been discussed plenty and I can only echo what's been said and say that it's one hell of a book. It also makes a very convenient doorstop or a counterweight for a heavy lid on a barbeque pit.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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I second The Whole Beast. Cautivating read.

I think that the new Spanish movement is coming out with fantastic books like Oriol Balaguer's Dessert Cuisine. I have the spanish version, so I can't say much about the english one, but I'm loving every second I spend reading it.

I also loved Jordi Cruz's Cocina Con Lógica (logical cuisine)

Follow me @chefcgarcia

Fábula, my restaurant in Santiago, Chile

My Blog, en Español

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Would have to be the Bouchon and French Laundry Cookbooks. The photography is wonderful, obviously, but the recipes are beautifully written, too. I also love to read Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking, which includes neat little stories about each dish and its origin/creator.

This next one is a sentimental favorite...Silver Palate's The New Basics. My mom was devoted to that book in the early '90's, and every recipe reminds me of her. I love reading it and remembering being 10 years old and completely bowled over by my mother's ability to put together a fabulous party.

Oh, and one last one...Ruth Reichl's Mmmmmmm...A Festiary. I bought it last year on eBay after she mentioned it in her eG conversation. It's fabulous - full of family recipes and stories, many easily recognizable to anyone who's read her three memoirs. A really fun book.

The Les Halles Cookbook is also a stellar read.

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

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I have read, again and again, John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cooking It's been discussed plenty and I can only echo what's been said and say that it's one hell of a book. It also makes a very convenient doorstop or a counterweight for a heavy lid on a barbeque pit.

Another cookbook I read for the fun , the gentle tone and the excellent info is Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking. He gives Dame Edna Lewis co-credit, but it's really his book. The recipes are rock solid delicious.

I can second these two books above, we have been using both almost every week since we picked them up, not just for the recipes but for the history. My twins just did an extra credit project on N.O. using the first few historical sections of the Folse book. The recipes in The Gift are flawless. :biggrin:

-Mike & Andrea

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This one is on the nightstand now:

http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Bros-Southern-Co...ie=UTF8&s=books

The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners

Real page turner, and familiar recipes with great twists.

Sentimental favorites are Julia Child and the Gourmet Magazine compilations.

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James Peterson's Fish and Shellfish. Full of information and variations. I often randomly pick sections to read for inspiration.

Commander's Palace cookbook. Lots of neat, trivia like bits of information about the dishes and the restaurant.

I just got Les Halles for Christmas and I am loving it. Sometimes I like a cookbook author to cuss at me. :raz:

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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I just got Les Halles for Christmas and I am loving it. Sometimes I like a cookbook author to cuss at me. :raz:

I've only leafed through it at the bookstore, but this was going to be my answer as well. I could sit on an airplane and just read that cookbook like I was reading "Kitchen Confidential"

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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As I have also mentioned elsewhere, I just finished Julia Child's My Life in France and was inspired to dust off my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and am about 47 pages in.

I used her Leek and Potato soup recipe (repeated in her The Way to Cook book) for Christmas dinner's first course.

Porthos Potwatcher

The Unrelenting Carnivore

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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Probably my all time favorite-to-read cookbook was the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. I will hold a place in my memory for the story about an air-raid frightening the goose so badly that the cook had no choice but to give her some brandy, and serve her up for dinner! :wub:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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Pretty much any cookbook that tries to put the food in its historical and cultural context is going to grab my attention. So, for "ethnic" cuisines, some history of the peoples of that region, how much influence from other cultures (were they invaded, and how did this influence the food; were they colonists bringing back foods from distant lands, etc., etc.). Also, whether the food in the book strives for authenticity (whatever that means) or whether, and to what extent the book "adapts" the cuisine. I like knowing about that too.

Something like Julie Sahni's Indian cookbook comes to mind, as do the travel and food related books by Alford and Duguid. Paula Wolfert comes to mind. Well, there's lots of examples. Sahni's book has no pictures - just a few line drawings, so you really are in it just for the text. Of course, some cookbooks also draw you in with gorgeous photography. Sometimes it's just food porn, but sometimes the photography does give you a sense of where the food in the book comes from - I think Alford and Duguid do pretty well on the latter, and I think it can really add to the book if done well.

Madelaine Kamman's Making of a Cook is another cookbook that adds a bunch of history - I like reading that one too. Don't think I've cooked from it nearly as much as from Sahni's and Alford and Duguid's books though.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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This may be cheesy, but a sentimental favorite of mine is still "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines", by Jeff Smith. I initially read it as a teen-ager; it was the first cookbook I read simply for pleasure. It was also the first time I encountered the idea of travel in pursuit of food rather than food just being a part of travel.

Regardless of what may or may not have happened in Smith's private life, I always think of this book with fondness.

"It was the lard that did it." -- Jamie Hyneman

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Madelaine Kamman's Making of a Cook is another cookbook that adds a bunch of history - I like reading that one too. Don't think I've cooked from it nearly as much as from Sahni's and Alford and Duguid's books though.

I like her When French Women Cook for that history, and the narrative that goes along with each chapter of recipes. A great read.

Christine

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For years I've loved to pick up and read Alan Davidson's North Atlantic Seafood: A Comprehensive Guide With Recipes. I'm fascinated with all the spiny, interesting beasts pulled from a stormy ocean I've never met...but would love to.

Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

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Regardless of what may or may not have happened in Smith's private life, I always think of this book with fondness.

I following Jeff Smith on TV and own several of his books including Three Ancient Cuisines though I rarely refer to it. For some reason The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine never really got my attention.

Whether or not he did the things he was accused of does not invalidate his work as a cookbook author. I hope I never get to the point of "throwing the baby out with the bath water." My wife and I still use The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother to this day. We have several ethnic cookbooks but find this book a great help when we plan an ethnic-themed meal.

Porthos Potwatcher

The Unrelenting Carniovre

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks would have to be top of a long list for me, soo evocative of the social settings for the recipes she details. Nose To Tail Eating would be a close second - I have been heard laughing out loud at page 38 :rolleyes: .

The Carved Angel Cookbook by Joyce Molyneux is another cookbook in which I lose myself in the fabulous prose.

The secret of cooking is the release of fragrance and the art of imparting it. - Patience Gray

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Sicilian Food by Mary Taylor Simeti.

I have to confess that I find Nigella Lawson great sofa- or bedtime reading - particularly How to Eat.

My favorite Cookbooks as Literature are Jane Grigson's works. Her Vegetable Book and Fruit Book start with a short description of each fruit and vegetable, often laced with anecdotes from history and mythology, poetry quotes, and personal memories. She is a master in balancing the personal and factual. Then she gives sound advice " how to choose artichokes", and then the recipes follow. Most of the time, no measurements, no directions to how many people something will feed, etc, (which makes these books unsuitable for inexeperienced cooks ), so even the recipes read like short pieces of beautiful writing rather than a dry recipe.

Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food is another favorite.

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It dawned on me in the middle of the night... A Treasure of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price - riddled with stories of their love of food, travels, and Hollywood associations circa 1950 and 1960. Brilliant.

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The Calcutta Cookbook by Minakshi Das Gupta

I love this book, altho I may be biased cos I am Bengali, but this book explains the cuisine's relationship to the people that made it/eat it so well, whilst including the recipes to go along with them. The recipes are good, and the book is perfect reading for when I miss Calcutta. I didnt grow up in Calcutta, so even from that point of view, this book helps me understand my own food culture if you like.

Also love Simple French Food by Richard Olney, and Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Tsuji and Thai Food by David Thompson and HFW Meat Cookbook. In fact, any well written recipe book could be considered literature if the recipes are written imbued with the author's personality.

Raj

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I am particularly fond of "Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey through Southeast Asia" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

Wonderful pictures, insightful essays, many travel anecdotes and worthwile recipes... I think I am in love :wub:

Several other favourites made the (long) journey with me when I moved from France to Canada in 2001 and I re-read them on a regular basis.

One of them is a thin, small, tattered softcover Provencal cookbook that used to belong to my mother and dates back to the early '60s. The style is incredibly old-fashioned, the few illustrations are ink drawings and the Provence it describes belongs to such an irrevocably bygone era that it almost reads like an ethnology essay. I cannot say that I cook from it very often as many of the ingredients are not available in Canada. Nor would they be available to the city-dwelling French cook either, mind you. This is rustic cooking at its best and you would have to buy directly from local farmers, fishermen and butchers who do their own slaughtering to make these dishes happen.

Another book I keep re-reading is a Lebanese cookbook focusing on mezze dishes. The author is a Lebanese journalist; his writing has an almost lyrical quality that is a little unexpected in a cookbook. His descriptions of the restaurant scene in pre-war Beirut are fascinating. And his recipes are among the best I have found for Lebanese cooking :smile:

Emmanuelle
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To read and to learn from, Escoffier, the Cooks book and the Silver spoon. all are good reading just for techinques alone never mind the recipes.

Bouchon and the french laundry. The pictures are great, but Keller really makes you think about what you are doing in the kitchen and why.

Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The Opinionated Palate by Barbara Kafka has been read and re-read so many times and I've been charmed on every occasion. Her chapter, The Seasonal Potato, spoke of swiping a few handfulls of newly formed potatoes from under the plant and opened my eyes to the joys of peewee spuds prepared simply and memorably. Kafka's opinions strike a cord and they do so amusingly, allowing me to recognize and smile at my own. I think this little book is now. alas, out of print.

The Cook and The Gardner, Amanda Hesser - provided me with a thoroughly pleasureable read and an enjoyable, light-hearted approach to food, gardening and cooking.

Rover

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