19 July 2014

Weekend Cooking: Another Look at My Cookbook Collection

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When I asked on Twitter for ideas for today's post, @celialarsen responded first with a request for a look at my cookbook shelves. I always love taking a random stack of books off one of the shelves and seeing what pops up.

This groups is a good mix of food writing, foreign food, and fun. (Click on the photo to get a better look at the titles.) Because I pulled these from a section of my library that has older books, I'm not sure how many are still in print, but you should be able to find them in a good used-book store, particularly one specializing in cookbooks.

I'll start at the top of the stack and work my way down. Some of these are old friends and a few I forgot I owned!

Outlaw Cook by John Thorne (HarperCollins) is a book that I remember loving. It was published in 1992, and there is a slip of paper in the book to show that I special ordered it from my local indie bookstore (R.I.P.). Many of the short pieces were originally published in a newsletter the authors put together called "Simple Cook" and are Thorne's personal thoughts on ingredients, cooking, baking, and culinary personalities (in the days before the true celebrity chef). I love his essay "On Not Being a Good Cook" and adore his piece titled "Martha Stewart." Recipes are scattered throughout (ginger pear cake, Creole Lenten split pea soup), and now I want to read this book start to finish all over again.

Linette Creen's A Taste of Cuba (Dutton, 1991) is, of course, all about the foods of Cuba. This is a straightforward cookbook (no photos) that covers the range of foods from breakfast through dessert. The author was introduced to Cuban food in the late 1970s when she moved to the Miami area. Although she later moved to New York, she maintained her love for the tastes of Cuba and wrote the cookbook "to help preserve [Cuba's] culinary heritage." I've never cooked from the book, but the introduction explains the ingredients, and the recipes look appealing and easy.

OK, so I have no clue whatsoever as to why I own a cookbook called A Taste of Astrology (by Lucy Ash, Knopf, 1988). Perhaps it was a gift; I can't imagine spending money on it. The book is broken down by the zodiac and includes information about each sign as a cook and as a guest, complete with recipe and menu suggestions. According to the book, I am supposed to want beef and chestnut loaf, kipper and tomato ring, or Swiss potato dish for dinner. Um, really? What do you say, fellow Capricorns? I know for a fact I've never cooked from this book or read it before today.

Margaret Visser's Much Depends on Dinner (Grove Press, 1986) is an interesting look at nine specific ingredients (corn, salt, lemon, for example). She traces the culinary of history of each food, touching on biology, anthropology, nutrition, literature, lore, politics, and more. I'm sure it's somewhat dated now, but it was fascinating back in the 1980s.

Edna Lewis is one of my favorite food writers and her The Taste of Country Cooking (Knopf, 1990) is a kind of cookbook memoir of the foods of her childhood in the Virginia Piedmont. The book is arranged by season and then organized into menus. This is down-home cooking and food writing at its best. Search this book out, find a comfortable spot, and read, read, read.

Do I need to introduce you to M. F. K. Fisher? I hope not. She is another of my favorite food writers, and you can't go wrong with starting with her With Bold Knife & Fork (Hogarth Press, 1983). This particular copy was published in the UK and a friend gave it to me as a gift. The seventeen food essays (most with recipes) cover everything from eggs to meats to appetizers. The writing is filled with Fisher's experiences and personal opinions, and each piece is a delight to read. I've practically worn out my U.S. edition, but this one remains in decent shape.

I've used Sally and Martin Stone's The Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 1991), often. Each chapter concentrates on a particular vegetable (onion, beet, yam, etc.) and begins with information about the plant, including buying and storing tips. The recipes are generally easy and cover a world of flavors from western Europe to Asia. This is a great resource. Although I'm sure there are newer books out there, I still use this one, especially in the fall.

Elizabeth David's English Bread & Yeast Cookery (American Edition, Viking, 1980) remains a classic. The first 250 pages are all about flours, techniques, ovens, equipment, and ingredients. Then follows 300 pages of recipes, both modern and historic. I'm not planning to make bread from a 1660 recipe, but it was fun to read. The book is dense and not for the faint of heart, but if you have a serious interest in bread baking, you should take a look.

Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking by John Martin Taylor (Bantam, 1992) is all about cooking from the Carolinas. Here you'll find recipes for boiled peanuts, pimiento cheese, shellfish, grits, barbeque, and so on. I've cooked from this book and liked everything I tried. I was just looking through it and found a menu that ended with "cigars and cigarettes"! I guess that's a sign of the importance of tobacco as a cash crop.

Jane Sigal's Normandy Gastronomique (Abbeyville Press, 1993) is an absolutely beautiful book, full of stunning and mouth-watering photos of the Norman countryside and food. I love everything about this book, from the text to the recipes. I've made a few things from the book, especially game and desserts.

I bought Darra Goldstein's A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality (HarperCollins, 1983) because my grandfather was born in Russia and I grew up eating a few of the dishes my American-born grandmother learned to make. I was curious if the food I ate was authentic or not. Sadly, I've never opened this book. So I can't tell you anything about it, except that it looks like it covers foods from all over the Soviet Republic.

I am big fan of Carol Field, and her Celebrating Italy (Morrow, 1990) is a treasured cookbook. The theme of the book is Italian holidays and feasts (saint days, harvest festivals, the new year, and so forth). Each chapter begins with a description and history of the holiday (including illustrations) and then finishes with recipes for the foods traditionally eaten on that day. Some of the dishes are quite fancy and very involved, but others are more approachable. I haven't cooked from this book, but I enjoyed reading it.

And that concludes this edition of a look at my cookbook shelves. Hope you found something that caught your eye or were at least amused by the astrology book.


Tina 7/19/14, 7:03 AM  

What a fun post! I love a look at other folks book shelves. The Taste of Cuba intrigues me, love some Cuban food. Oh, thanks, now I need to make a batch of Picadilla this weekend to satisfy my craving!

Unknown 7/19/14, 7:05 AM  

I loved this little peek at your shelves. I could see myself finding something like your astrology book on my shelves. You never know what you'll find at used bookstores or library sales and I'm apt to pick odd stuff like that up, LOL!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 7/19/14, 7:36 AM  

I need to read some MFK Fisher, but never have believe it or not! You have quite the range of food books - from Cuba to Virginia - I love it!

Jackie McGuinness 7/19/14, 7:58 AM  

AS i sit here reading this I can smell bread baking in my bread maker.
We downsized a couple of years ago and before that many of my cookbooks were given away as I decluttered.
But some how my collection is growing again!

Karen 7/19/14, 8:18 AM  

One of these days I should go through my cookbooks and get rid of the ones that I KNOW I'll never look at again...! (to make room for others, of course)

(Diane) bookchickdi 7/19/14, 9:35 AM  

What an eclectic mix of books! Everyone is sure to find something to like here. I really enjoy looking at your bookshelves.

Beth S. 7/19/14, 9:37 AM  

A Taste of Astrology? That is definitely a head-scratching title. :)

But A Taste of Cuba? I'm all about that one. I want to read it! I absolutely love Cuban food.

Heather 7/19/14, 10:46 AM  

Great post. It does make me think of some of the books on my shelf. I'll have to do a similar post, though I'll hand pick the books as they are scattered on various shelves around the house.

Sheila (Bookjourney) 7/19/14, 11:36 AM  

Great books! I don't have a lot of cook books anymore. My mom sure did, she had hundreds and every time she bought one for herself, she bought a duplicate for me. When she passed away - I had all of hers... and all of mine. Doubles. SO I donated all of hers to a charity sale. Eventually I narrowed mine down to a manageable amount. I love those books :)

Anonymous,  7/19/14, 11:40 AM  

I have a lot of different cookbooks on my bookshelf too, which I was looking at just the other day. I should use them more often. There are so many recipes I want to try!

Joy 7/19/14, 1:34 PM  

What a fun collection of books. Outlaw Cook sounds like a great one for reading. I like the concept of Much Depends on Dinner. And the holidays format of Celebrating Italy appeals to me.

Joy's Book Blog

Carole 7/19/14, 4:17 PM  

What a range of books! I've had to streamline my collection - I now rely mostly on the library for cookbooks. Much cheaper! Cheers

Anonymous,  7/19/14, 6:04 PM  

Wow that's an eclectic collection! An astrology cookbook sounds kind of fun actually. I'm curious to know what those of my sign are supposed to enjoy eating/cooking!

bermudaonion 7/19/14, 8:25 PM  

Yep, seeing a Taste of Astrology in your stack cracked me up!

Couscous & Consciousness 7/20/14, 3:24 AM  

What a great post, Beth, and what a wonderfully eclectic collection of books. Thanks for sharing :-)

Anonymous,  7/20/14, 8:42 AM  

I have great plans to return to the kitchen in a fun, creative way this fall. This post fueled that fire :) I am especially interested in finding a copy of The Taste of Country Cooking.

Cecelia 7/20/14, 11:39 AM  

Hooray! Thanks for indulging my request. I love seeing what other people have on their shelves, and you have an amazing cookbook collection!

Tea 7/20/14, 4:30 PM  

I really enjoyed "looking" at the books on your shelf. I had a lot of fun.

Laurie C 7/21/14, 6:38 AM  

No Weekend Cooking for me this weekend, but I hadn't heard of any of these authors except for MFK Fisher (whom I still haven't read!) I love the sound of several of them, especially Outlaw Cook. Your post makes me want to get out my Laurie Colwin books and write about them.

Daryl 7/21/14, 7:30 AM  

yea! i blogged about our burgers from BRGR!

Vasilly 7/21/14, 10:24 PM  

Nice post! I really need to start reading books by Edna Lewis. I have read children's books about her.

Alice 8/4/14, 10:54 PM  

This is one pile of awesomeness! CELEBRATING ITALY sounds soooo good!

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