February 6, 2009
I sometimes wonder if I am the only odd soul who reads cookbooks as if they were novels, cover to cover. I love doing this. I'll admit that some cookbooks are better for this than others. I have a Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that seems to have a recipe for almost anything you could ever want to cook. I'm always startled to find a really decent recipe for something in there that I have scoured my other cookbooks for with no luck. Rumaki, Sauce Veronique, Szechwan Beef sitting right along side recipes for Hamburger pie and banana bread. It was my second cookbook ever (my first was the encyclopedic tomb Fannie Farmer, which is on the bookshelves of everyone in our family) but although I've had it for many years and use it all the time, I've never read straight through it, which is why I'm always surprised to find a recipe I need in there.
These days I tend to search out cookbooks that are a good read as well as a good cook. The Country Kitchen by Della Lutes. Her descriptions of her childhood are based around food and interwoven with recipes, written into the text. It makes for a fun, and hunger-inducing read. The only problem is that I read it at night, thinking to myself as I go "That sound good! I'll have to make that this week!" Then I fall asleep and cant remember what it was I was going to make.
Last week a copy of Nigella Lawson's How to Eat arrived in the mail, a gift I'd ordered for someone a few weeks earlier. I fully intended to inscribe the inside of the cover, wrap it and send it off. But then I made the mistake of flipping through the pages to check a recipe. I'm now looking for a different gift.
I love to hear the history of a recipe. The WHY of it's inclusion in the book. I really want to know if it's something passed down from a great grandmother or something that was though up in the grocery store checkout line waiting for the person ahead of them to scan 32 cans of Fancy Feast. (Why do people seem to go to the store just to buy vast quantities of overpriced cat food, I'll never know I suppose). I love to read about variations and options and failed experiences of the author, it make them real. It makes them friendly. Nigella's book is perfect for this. The recipes are listed as they are in most cook books, but the story behind it is there too. Which is why it's in my drawer instead of at the post office.
One of my favorites is a reprint of an old book called The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child. It's a hilarious read. Apart from being full of interesting (and interesting is usually the word for them, whortleberry pie, anyone?) recipes, it's full of some very unusual bits of advice.
"...We are apt to let children romp away their existence, till they get to be thirteen or fourteen. This is not well....A child of six years old can be made useful; and should be taught to consider everyday lost in which some little thing has not been done to assist other." (true, although I think she was thinking along the lines of scrubbing floors)
"A poultice of elder-blow tea and biscuit is good as a preventive to mortification." (really, well, that's good to know!)
"Pig's head is a profitable thing to buy." (ummm.....)
"Nothing is better than ear-wax to prevent the painful effects resulting from a wound by a nail." (ok, now that's just gross)
It goes on and on.
The problem is, these cookbooks-the one that are fun, enjoyable, to read-are hard to find. Bookstores need to keep them in a separate section, like travel writing is these day. I think the reason I love food blogs so much is that they serve the same purpose as the novel-esque cookbooks. And thank goodness, there are tons of them. So many that it can be hard to find the good ones. But I'm always on the lookout. So here are a few of my favorites.
http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Really, this one is awesome. I cook at least one thing a week from this site.
http://croquecamille.wordpress.com/ Fun and educational, makes me want to travel....
http://fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com/ Just, cool...what else can I say.
http://www.bread-and-honey.blogspot.com/ Everything here is yummy, plus, they are portlanders, so I love them.
http://www.101cookbooks.com/ I only wish I could be this healthy
http://www.tastespotting.com/ I guess this isn't really a blog. But it is SO cool!