Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Cookbooks

Raise your hand if you like to read cookbooks!  Barbara Pym's novels have many references to characters who soothe themselves to sleep by reading "cookery" books, and it's true that reading a good cookbook is an easy way to arrive at a happy place.  Not all cookbooks make good reading, and I haven't noticed any correlation between a cookbook's readability and the quality of its recipes.  Here are a few of my favorites.

My most frequently used cookbooks

The Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook by Julie Jordan.  Recipes from a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York.  A fascinating glimpse at What Hippies Ate, circa 1972.  Many of the recipes are associated with different people who worked at the cafe over the years and are punctuated with anecdotes (but not too many anecdotes).  Everything that can be made with flour is made with whole wheat flour.  Every recipe that is sweetened is sweetened with honey. (The desserts are terrible.) Butter and cheese are added lavishly wherever possible. You'll find yourself rolling your eyes, but that's part of the fun, and the "Wings of Life" salad recipe is worth the price of the book.

Good Things in England by Florence White.  Written in 1932, a compilation of classic English recipes and domestic lore.

The Settlement Cookbook by Simon Kander.  This cookbook has been reprinted many times, with the first edition published in the early 20th century.  I believe it was intended to be a resource for new immigrants to the United States.  I bought the 1976 edition for Brigid when she asked for a good, basic cookbook, and I read it cover to cover before giving it to her.  It has a great menu planning chart and is the mother lode of thrifty recipes.  I loved it because reading it was like reliving my childhood and my mother's cooking, although she did not own this book herself.  (We were a Fannie Farmer family.)

More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre.  A thoughtful collection of simple, thrifty recipes.  I read it years ago, from the library and I feel like this is one book I need to own.  It's companion, Living More with Less is a guide to simple living--one that doesn't involve consuming more in order to live simply as promoted in a certain notorious magazine.

Anything by Elizabeth David.  Her "cookbooks" are histories of food and this is a fascinating subject for me.  She writes with a certain authority.  If Elizabeth David prescribes a method for making say, lentil soup, then that is the method you should use.  The end.

English Food by Jane Grigson.  Like Good Things in England, above, but with more lore.

The Tasha Tudor Cookbook: Recipes and Reminiscences from Corgi Cottage by Tasha Tudor  One reads this one for the pictures.  This is also my go-to cookbook for traditional recipes.  It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without Tudor's "rolls for special occasions." I am a huge fan of Tasha Tudor's insistence on creating an 1830's life for herself in the twentieth century.  I was very sorry when she died.

Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin.  The ultimate, all-time best cookbooks for readers.  Reading Laurie Colwin is like having a conversation with your best friend.  She's funny and warm and understanding and she also points you in the direction of many more good cookbooks.  Her recipes are good too.  If you'll forgive the self-promotion, I'll just mention that one of my favorite posts compares Laurie Colwin to Martha Stewart.

I know you are all wondering, WHAT ABOUT GWYNETH?  I haven't read her cookbooks, but I would check them out of the library just for the lolz. 


  1. I think I need Pat Conroy's cookbook. A fat Southern man = some good eatin'!

  2. I LOVE to read cookbooks. "More with Less" is a favorite and yes, you should own it. (I own it because Betty told me I needed it.)

    One you should definitely check out is "Hints & Pinches" by Eugene Walter. It's subtitle is "A Concise Compendium of Aromatics, Chutneys, Herbs, Relishes, Spices, and Other Such Concerns". It's a fantastic read. (as is his memoir, "Milking The Moon" which I will gladly lend you).

    While not a cookbook, I'm also currently reading "Corn Bread Nation 1, The Best of Southern Food Writing".

  3. Cabbagetown Cafe! I ate there, back in the 1980's - it was really good. The refried beans recipe from the book is one we still use.

    I agree on those desserts, though.

  4. I have my grandma's old Settlement cookbook and it charms me to no end. All the funny little homemaking tips and learning how to make lye and weird things like that.

  5. I'm sure I would like Tasha Tudor's cookbook, she created beauty all around her. I like our Jamie Oliver cookbook.

  6. I think my favorite books in this vein are by M.F.K. Fisher. Part travelogues, part cookbooks, they are filled with witty asides and observations.