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Cookbooks as Literature


Chris Amirault
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Roy Andries de Groot's "Auberge of the Flowering Hearth" in which he finds a tiny inn (in France? Switzerland?) run by two spinster ladies who tempt his palate with local fare. Written like a fairy tale for gourmets, a delicious read.

The three Blueberry Hill Cookbooks" "The Blueberry Hill Cookbook, Menu Cookbook and Kitchen Notebook. " A New York secretary learns to cook when her husband purchases a ski lodge in the NE, and it doesn't snow! She gives 30 days of menus and doesn't repeat herself once, in an area where she has only a small local grocery to rely upon. Elsie Masterton died young, unfortunately for those of us who loved her books--three more books deal with her life "off season".

Both these from the 60s.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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I, too, enjoy The French Laundry and Nose to Tail Eating cookbooks.

Bert Greene's Kitchen Bouquets: A Cookbook of Favored Aromas and Flavors

Thompson's Thai Food -- Does half history book, half cook book count as a pure cookbook?

Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice

M. Thomas

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Roy Andries de Groot's "Auberge of the Flowering Hearth" in which he finds a tiny inn (in France? Switzerland?) run by two spinster ladies who tempt his palate with local fare.  Written like a fairy tale for gourmets, a delicious read.

The three Blueberry Hill Cookbooks" "The Blueberry Hill Cookbook, Menu Cookbook and Kitchen Notebook. " A New York secretary learns to cook when her husband purchases a ski lodge in the NE, and it doesn't snow!  She gives 30 days of menus and doesn't repeat herself once, in an area where she has only a small local grocery to rely upon.  Elsie Masterton died young, unfortunately for those of us who loved her books--three more books deal with her life "off season". 

Both these from the 60s.

Oh my gosh, I didn't know anyone else had these books!!!!! Well..probably the Roy Andries de Groot one. That one is a classic. I dearly love that book, and reread it from time to time.

I have two of the BlueBerry Hill books-don't have the Kitchen Notebook. I haven't read those in a very long time.

One book that I really enjoy, is James Beard's Delights and Prejudices, his autobiographical book/cookbook.

Christine

Edited by artisan02 (log)
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Definitely the Blueberry Hill cookbooks. In fact, I'm on assignment to write a story about them. :biggrin:

I'd add Anne Willan's From My Chateau Kitchen to this list. Not only does the writing make me want to ditch it all and run off to France, but the photos are a gorgeous accompaniment. The recipes are pretty damn good, too. I have a few of Willan's other cookbooks and they're pretty dry personality-wise, but this one sings.

Other cookbooks -- Nigel Slater's Appetite, anything by Nigella Lawson, Savoring the Spice Coast of India by Maya Kaimal, Curries & Bugles: A Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj by Jennifer Brennan, The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, and The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon.

Diana Burrell, freelance writer/author

The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock (Marion Street Press, Nov. 2006)

DianaCooks.com

My eGullet blog

The Renegade Writer Blog

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My favourite cookbooks to read are the following:

- Lucide & Ludique, by Pierre Gagnaire

- Encyclopédie culinaire du XXIème siècle, by Marc Veyrat

And I know this is kind of cheating, as it's not really a cookbook, but "La Cuisine - c'est de l'amour, de l'art, de la technique" by Pierre Gagnaire and Hervé This is a great read.

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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.

The Les Halles Cookbook is also a stellar read.

I agree with you about Bouchon, The French Laundry, and the Silver Palate, and New Basics. They are fantastic reads full of good stories and information. As is Great Good Food. I have learned so much reading these books.I do own Happy in the Kitchen and I am giving it another read through now. Terrific cookbooks. Les Halles is great too. It is funny and irreverent and defenately the 'field mannual' Tony Bourdain has said it is. Very helpful, while not being to difficult.

Edited by kristin_71 (log)
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Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.

I actually cried when I read she passed away.  Such a loss.

Me too. Laurie was a lyrical writer who always made me feel like rolling up my sleeves and invite a few people over for dinner. Her gingerbread chapter in More Home Cooking is a classic and so evocative I can almost smell the fragrant results.

My first response upon learning of her death was No - that's not possible!

Rover

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Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.

I actually cried when I read she passed away.  Such a loss.

I loved reading those books too. I wasn't sure about including them here though-- are they cookbooks with narrative, or memoirs with recipes? Either way, it was certainly an immense loss when she died. I still remember the shock I felt when I read of her death, and yes, I shed some tears also.

"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)
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....and for her somewhat snarky, 'yes this IS the best recipe for ....' attitude, and for believing that practically everything is better with bacon, I like reading Ann Hodgman's two books-- 'Beat This' and 'Beat That.'

"Fat is money." (Per a cracklings maker shown on Dirty Jobs.)
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Anything written by Simon Hopkinson or Nigel slater is worth a read.

Mediterranean seafood by Alan Davidson treads a fine line between food and biology, but is a genuinely brilliant book (One of the quotes on one edition goes along the lines of 'one of the greatest books ever written, on any subject' - can't remember the source though)

I love Sichuan Cookery by Fuschia Dunlop in much the same way as Madhur Jaffery, a great mix of prose, history and recipes.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.

I actually cried when I read she passed away.  Such a loss.

I loved reading those books too. I wasn't sure about including them here though-- are they cookbooks with narrative, or memoirs with recipes? Either way, it was certainly an immense loss when she died. I still remember the shock I felt when I read of her death, and yes, I shed some tears also.

Me, too! Laurie is in many ways the person I aspire to in my writing.

Call them what you will - essays of food, recipes with narrative - they are the best!

Try her Kathryn Hebpburn brownie recipe -easy and oh, so scrumptious.

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Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.

I actually cried when I read she passed away.  Such a loss.

I loved reading those books too. I wasn't sure about including them here though-- are they cookbooks with narrative, or memoirs with recipes? Either way, it was certainly an immense loss when she died. I still remember the shock I felt when I read of her death, and yes, I shed some tears also.

Me, too! Laurie is in many ways the person I aspire to in my writing.

Call them what you will - essays of food, recipes with narrative - they are the best!

Try her Kathryn Hebpburn brownie recipe -easy and oh, so scrumptious.

I cried as well when I read of her untimely death; both books are always on the nightstand and it is a great comfort to re-read the essays.

Maida Heatter tweaked the Katharine Hepburn brownies by making a batch and freezing it unbaked. When it was firm, she spread a scant amount of seedless raspberry jam on it, then poured another batch of the batter on top and let it sit til it was rm temp then baked it. If you thought those brownies were great the way they were written, try it this way. It's sinful with either raspberry or cherry jam.

The other cookbook I like to read is Bitter Almonds. I still can't get over the way the nuns treated those girls. For shame!

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No one has mentioned Marcella Hazan. I love her prose as much as her recipes, and that's saying a lot. The brief intros to her recipes are often stories in their own right, covering an ingredient's socio-economic history (ie., polenta) or her relationship with neighbors, her mother's cleaning woman, and of course her husband Victor.


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The James Beard Award people were way ahead of me in 1999, but I love paging through Joseph Dabney's Smokehouse Ham, Spoonbread, & Scuppernong Wine.

Like others here, I thoroughly enjoyed The Gift of Southern Cooking, but urge all of Lewis &/or Peabody's fans to pick up a copy of the 30th anniversary edition of Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking. I cook more from the former, but her introductions to each section of Taste are really lyrical portraits. Absolute gems of Southern food writing.

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Good subject and thread. (Thanks, chrisamirault.) I wonder if experts (with the perspective for an informed opinion) might conclude on this subject (as with cookbooks for cooking) that what's in past books, easy to get and waiting to be read, dwarfs recent offerings that get more talk and advertisement.

I started collecting memorable quotations (around 25 years ago) absent from Bartlett's (equivalently today, absent from easy online search). The "food" department of this file is large, but I checked and most are from other literature than cookbooks. However, the quotation at the bottom here (edited from additional sources) is from a favorite classic cookbook notable for much more than recipes (though I've rarely seen its other dimensions mentioned publicly).

An earlier US cookbook author with some impact was Morrison Wood; here's a story, with link for more. 15 years ago on one of the few public Internet food fora then, someone requested an "eclectic" cookbook with recipes using wine. The description could have been written expressly for Morrison Wood. Wood's main book was in print for at least 30 years (1949-1979) and remains easily available used. I replied about it, readable in the Google archive Here.

Part of the thread is missing there; email exchange occurred too. I got serious queries, including from Washington DC. The original poster later wrote that most people suggested the then-fashionable Frugal Gourmet Three Ancient Cuisines book, which he chose. I had that book also. It has its value, but I wondered then how many would have recommended it if they knew Morrison Wood equally. In the later (Frugal) book they'd find some recipes with wine, others with margarine and MSG where not really necessary. Morrison Wood in contrast had not only more recipes with wine, but advice on learning about it and pairing it -- and about real ingredients (not MSG and margarine) and flavor (garlic, mustards, spices) when these subjects were not even common yet in US cookbooks.

Some thoughts for the day. -- Max

--

"You have heard the news: excommunicated. Come and dine to console me. Everyone is to refuse me fire and water; so we will eat nothing but cold glazed meats, and drink only chilled wines." -- Talleyrand (Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord), in a letter to his friend the Duc de Biron (better known as the Duc de Lauzun), April 1791. Sources include Larousse Gastronomique, 1961 Crown English-language edition (but missing, like so many other tidbits, from the two later editions).

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  • 3 weeks later...
I will sit and thumb through my copy of La Rousse Gastromique while watching television. Ok so it isn't really a cookbook, but it does have recipes and so much information that I never know where to begin. :biggrin:

I do the same thing! It's like the Internet in that reading one entry leads to another, and another, etc.

Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking

Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast- could read this one forever

Anything by James Beard. I especially love some of the entries in Hors-D'Oeuvre and Canapes- "This is a real man's snack, definitely not for a female audience"! (p.22)

Currently enjoying the heck out of Alice B. Toklas- I had no idea how much this book would make me smile.

And for the Southerners (and wannabes) out there:

Bill Neal's Southern Cooking. Full of fascinating information and history from a great chef who died too young. His influence lives on at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Bill Smith is the current chef.

Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dull. Old enough to specify only "fast", "moderate" or "slow" oven rather than actual temperatures. Also includes the historically traditional chapter on invalid foods.

And the best of all: The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery. Who knew that mud turtle eggs make the best cakes? Well, the people of the Georgia mountains, that's who.

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Side topic raised in scottie's excellent list:

Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dull. Old enough to specify only "fast", "moderate" or "slow" oven rather than actual temperatures.
Is it old-fashioned, or just realistic?

That's actually an important question. Budding cooks now see "18 minutes at 455 F" but don't always understand the reality (i.e., limitations) behind these precise-looking numbers. (I've seen ovens vary widely in actual temperature and cooking behaviour, and they routinely cycle up and down by 50 degrees F or more anyway, when opened and closed, when thermostat cycles, etc. Thermostats normally are what control engineers call bang-bang or on-off servomechanisms: they regulate temperature by turning a power source on and off -- not adjusting it finely -- and relying on thermal mass to slow the resulting termperature changes.)

Experienced cooks therefore learn the oven and go by results. Some wise cookbooks bring out this point . The original Gourmet Cookbook -- itself a bit of literature, a point eclipsed by the recent edition -- was explicit. Preamble chapter explained what "cook until done" means, and why overprecise formulae mislead. It also sorted oven temps into about as many ranges as can be realistically distinguished -- moderately hot, hot, etc. -- and gave a table of corresponding degree ranges.

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Side topic raised in scottie's excellent list:
Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dull. Old enough to specify only "fast", "moderate" or "slow" oven rather than actual temperatures.
Is it old-fashioned, or just realistic?

That's actually an important question. Budding cooks now see "18 minutes at 455 F" but don't always understand the reality (i.e., limitations) behind these precise-looking numbers. (I've seen ovens vary widely in actual temperature and cooking behaviour, and they routinely cycle up and down by 50 degrees F or more anyway, when opened and closed, when thermostat cycles, etc. Thermostats normally are what control engineers call bang-bang or on-off servomechanisms: they regulate temperature by turning a power source on and off -- not adjusting it finely -- and relying on thermal mass to slow the resulting termperature changes.)

Experienced cooks therefore learn the oven and go by results. Some wise cookbooks bring out this point . The original Gourmet Cookbook -- itself a bit of literature, a point eclipsed by the recent edition -- was explicit. Preamble chapter explained what "cook until done" means, and why overprecise formulae mislead. It also sorted oven temps into about as many ranges as can be realistically distinguished -- moderately hot, hot, etc. -- and gave a table of corresponding degree ranges.

So I delved more thoroughly into Mrs. Dull's Southern Cooking. My edition was printed in 1968; however, the introduction mentions that the book was "born in 1928," despite the 1941 copyright. Mrs. Dull herself was born "shortly before the close of the War between the States," so one can imagine that she had a great deal of experience with many different types of ovens, as well as the innovations regarding oven technology that spanned, say, 1885 to the mid-20th century (she died in 1964, at the age of 100). In that context, it is both old-fashioned and realistic to refer to oven temperature by "hot" or "quick," "moderate" and "slow."

However, I did discover a previously overlooked bit in Chapter 1 that gives the temperature ranges which correspond to the specifications from "very slow" to "very hot." I don't know whether this is an original or later inclusion. It sure would have helped me as a teenager, when I attempted several of the recipes in this book without understanding proper oven temperature.

I was curious about your mention of this issue in the Gourmet Cookbook, so looked it up in my 1976 edition of Gourmet's Basic French Cookbook, the only Gourmet book I own, which does indeed specify corresponding temperature to "hot," "medium," etc. The recipes which utilize the oven all specify "hot," "medium," etc., first, then give the temperature or temperature range in parenthesis. This does seem wise. It also appears to be a vestige leftover from a time (or place) when ovens did not have temperature dials on them.

Very few of Mrs. Dull's recipes give specific temperatures; some just say "bake until brown," with no specification whatsoever. Her recipes do tend to assume a certain level of knowledge or experience on the part of the reader.

BTW, the same chapter gives instruction on the care of the icebox, with "modern" iceboxes needing to be "iced" only twice a week. Although Mrs. Dull was an urbane woman herself, living in Atlanta, surely she was aware of the varying age and style of equipment available to women across the South of that era.

She does not, however, give instruction for cooking in a hearth. For that, you have to go to Foxfire.

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... I was curious about your mention of this issue in the Gourmet Cookbook, so looked it up in my 1976 edition of Gourmet's Basic French Cookbook, the only Gourmet book I own, which does indeed specify corresponding temperature to "hot," "medium," etc. The recipes which utilize the oven all specify "hot," "medium," etc., first, then give the temperature or temperature range in parenthesis. This does seem wise. It also appears to be a vestige leftover from a time (or place) when ovens did not have temperature dials on them.
The "Gourmet," or GCB (Rand-McNally, 1950), benchmark US cookbook edited by Earl MacAusland with many later supplements and revisions, still populates kitchens, used bookstores, and Internet food-forum quotations. Millions were printed. In modern years it was cited in journalistic pieces about major US cookbooks (and especially, how few dealt with high cuisine).

Apropos of this thread are GCB's diverting epigraphs. The poet who composed a salad and ate it. Sauce chapter intro: "There is no truth, or almost no truth, in the French-promulgated calumny that the English have a dozen religions and only one sauce. And there is little truth, if any truth, in the rebuttal that sauces serve the French instead of a state religion." [but -- it continues -- sauces and religion are legitimately linked, because sauces need devotion and reverence.] People who know the book won't forget these quips. Many of the dishes are good too. I posted a past experience with one simple but lavish recipe Here. The dish vanished quickly.

The GCB pointedly uses oven-temp categories in about 25-degree increments (the original books just use words, not degrees, within recipes). For a conventional oven, that's about as fine as is physically meaningful even today. Also, in this decision the GCB bucked the US trend. Popular US cookbooks I have from the decades before GCB gave numerical temperatures routinely.

On the other hand Mrs. Dull (born 1864) clearly belongs to a different era. Her oven instructions quoted above read like those in popular 19th-century US cookbooks. I looked at some of those and found oven instructions lacking consistent language (as well as lacking temperatures): "quick," "moderately brisk," etc. Probably this just shows again that there are a few useful oven temp ranges.

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