Today is the 100th consecutive daily post of The Daily Artisan blog – and I’m happy to celebrate by writing about my passion for cookbooks that do more than cook!
In previous posts, I’ve talked about how much I love books, including cookbooks. And while I like reading all kinds of cookbooks, there’s a particular kind I especially enjoy and which can be found on my bookshelves.
These favorites are cookbooks where the recipes are interlaced with stories about the chefs and the ingredients and the traditions and the histories and the communities where certain foods are very popular.
Regardless of where you grew up, chances are good there’s a food story around that place – and for me, it’s Southern cooking, as well as dishes from the ocean!
Yesterday, Mother gave me another one of my favorite kind of cookbook – America The Great Cookbook – and she suggested I write a blog post about this type of cookbook and why I enjoy reading them so much.
I thought it was a great idea because some of you may be missing out on this treasure, thinking all cookbooks are just collections of recipes and ingredient lists!
If you’ve been following The Daily Artisan, you’ve seen my previous posts about 12 of the favorite books on my bookshelves:
Today’s post features 6 examples of my favorite kind of cookbook, and I recommend them all!
Each profiled book has some interesting snippets quoted so you’ll get a better sense of the differences in this kind of cookbook and a more traditional one with only recipes.
These cookbooks really do more than cook!
Starting from the left side in this photograph, each book is featured below. Another great book I certainly would include in this group – Frank Stitt’s Southern Table – already has been featured in a previous post by The Daily Artisan. Check it out also!
Enjoy learning more about these great cookbooks – and search out some that honor the foods for your origins and your traditions!
And, thanks for being here for my first 100 blog posts – and here’s to the next 100 for The Daily Artisan!
A Time To Cook – Dishes from My Southern Sideboard
Author James T. Farmer III, and Photography by Helen Norman (Gibbs Smith Publishing)
Author James Farmer III is a celebrity in my small hometown of Perry, Georgia, where my family lived before moving to Florida. He’s authored a number of successful books, and is highly regarded for his design talents in residential landscape, interior, and floral. You’ve probably seen him on national television shows, and also his work featured in publications such as Southern Living, and Traditional Home. We’re rightfully proud of him in Middle Georgia, where he grew up and lives in a stunning home he built on family land there.
This book was a gift, and I’m so proud he autographed it with the inscription “For Susan – From my sideboard to yours! James.” I don’t have to imagine living the life shown on these beautiful pages – because I lived it there in Georgia!
Here are some of my favorite snippets from the book (the first one near and dear to my heart, and the subject of this blog post!). “I can read a cookbook like a novel, flipping through and turning page after page with zeal and excitement, awaiting the next dish, recipe or interesting culinary combo. My favorites are usually the spiral bound “Ladies of Such and Such County,” or “The So and So Sunday School Class Cookbook.” (Page 9).
And, “Food is our direct link to our past and the sustenance for our present and future. Recipes, dishes, silver and linens are passed down from generation to generation. They are passed down sometimes with chipped edges, tarnished handles, stained facades or maybe even in pristine condition, yet each and every ‘imperfection’ is a perfect reminder of our heritage.” (Page 10).
This one surely will bring back memories of childhood family suppers! “Fried chicken. These two words evoke Southern culture, nostalgic Sunday dinners, picnics and celebrations. I could write volumes on fried chicken – on the tastes, memories, methods, and men and women who have fried it for generations. But this is why I love fried chicken, my friends: it is simple; it is elegant; it is class transcending and truly a Southern hybrid – a genetic feature event.” (Page 88).
I love this gorgeous book, and I love Perry, Georgia – and having them brought together is a banquet of blessings!
SAVOR – Rustic Recipes Inspired by Forest, Field and Farm
Author and Photographer Ilona Oppenheim (Artisan – A Division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc.)
A couple of months ago, I stumbled on this book and knew there was no way I was leaving that store without buying it. It was too beautiful to not come home with me, and later when I first spent time with it, I was stunned to find that the author also took the photographs. They are the most beautiful rustic food pictures I’ve ever seen in one book, and they’re what I aspire to with my own photography. I barely have words to describe this beautiful book on so many levels.
There are numerous recipes of wholesome ingredients that are organized in sections “Around the Pasture,” “From the Earth,” “Into the Wild,” “By the Fire,” and “Through the Mill.” The author, her husband, and their two young children live in Aspen (as of 2016 when the book was published), and the book both teaches and inspires, and every page turned makes you want more.
Some snippets from the author I especially like are here. “This was a new approach for me. I’d spent years following complicated recipes; now here was a culinary genius telling me that fresh ingredients would do their own work and that what we cook ought to be dictated by what is available: the gifts from the earth that day, that week, that summer.” (Page 60).
And, “You don’t even need a tart pan to make this peach tart; simply fold the dough around the fruit.” (Page 113).
Finally, “I didn’t realize how transformative it would be to immerse myself in nature. This wasn’t just a beautiful place where our family would grow together – it also unexpectedly connected me to my childhood, and to all the things I left behind when I moved to the United States (from Switzerland). This house wasn’t merely a mountain retreat; it became the homestead that inspired a deeper love of nature, a more intimate sense of family, and a stronger connection to my cooking and ultimately to the food we eat.” (Page 12).
This book is a feast for the eyes and the soul!
The Coastal Living Cookbook – The Ultimate Recipe Collection for People who Love the Coast
Editor Julie Fisher Gunter and Multiple Photographers, Test Kitchens Staff, and Food Stylists (Oxmoor House)
This book is a sister publication to the ever-popular Coastal Living magazine, and it’s a gem I’ve owned for 18 years. And when I say “owned,” I don’t mean it’s been sitting idly on a bookshelf – it’s a true workhorse, and I can feel the pages where I’ve lingered cooking those items! My personal favorite thing to cook for people is shrimp and grits, and the version I make is based on a recipe in this particular book. From then (2004) editor-in-chief of Coastal Living magazine Kay A. Fuston’s welcome in the cookbook: “Consider how you eat and entertain at the beach. If you’re like me, you focus on the basics, leaving time to relax and enjoy your surroundings. After all, most of us escape to the beach because we prefer the slower pace. We pare down our belongings and schedule our days by the tides. Reflecting that laid-back lifestyle, the Coastal Living Cookbook expresses a casual food and entertaining philosophy that works whether you live or vacation on the coast – or just dream of being there.”
Coming in at close to 400 pages full of gorgeous coastal and food photography, I’ve lost myself in this book so many times over the years I couldn’t begin to count them. Here are some favorite snippets to give you a taste of this book charmer. About Chef Christopher Hastings and his family in the Lowcountry, South Carolina: “This weekend, there’s no such thing as leftovers. Picnickers nibble on ever present platters of food as unconsciously as brushing aside windswept hair. As high tide recedes, a gentle current pulls Christopher and his boys down Salt Marsh Creek. It’s a relaxing ride after a morning of shucking corn.” (Page 42).
About Ben Moise and his private South Carolina getaway, “Dinner is served at a long picnic table under a roofed shed that is otherwise open to the sea breezes. Hundreds of caps, brought by visitors over the years, hang overhead.” (Page 80).
The best way I can sum up this book is that while you’ll certainly want to cook the delicious dishes, mostly you’ll want to live this sumptuous life surrounded by the sea, its foods, and the people you most love!
America The Great Cookbook – The Food We Make for the People We Love, from 100 of Our Finest Chefs and Food Heroes
Edited by Joe Yonan; Co-Editors and Creators Tim Harper and Lottie Hedley; and Photography by Lottie Hedley (weldonowen in Association with Blackwell&Ruth)
Having owned this book for just 24 hours now, I’ve not gotten too far into it but I’m excited to get started! It’s a big book of 475 pages, and oh, what pages they are. The feel of the paper is incredible (and the same type as the SAVOR book also featured in this post). This product description really pulls you into the book – “We asked America’s best chefs a personal question: What do you love to cook for the people that you love? And they answered in America The Great Cookbook – the ultimate celebration of the most delicious food to be discovered in the country today, in all its glorious diversity, from our top chefs, artisan producers, and fascinating food heroes.” I’m sold!
It’s next to impossible to select snippets from the 100 awesome contributors to the book (both their writings and their recipes), but here’s my best try. From Jason French (owner and chef of Ned Ludd in Portland, Oregon): “I have always loved cooking around a fire. It can be as basic as the backyard barbecue, and it’s something anybody can do. You find a nice place, you dig a good fire pit, you get some dry wood. We try as much as possible to get our kids out into the world to see where food comes from. It’s all about human interaction in nature.” (Page 168).
And, from Sophie Kallinis Lamontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman (owners of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, DC): “There is something about making something with your own hands for other people to enjoy. We learned that from our grandmother – we saw the joy that she got from making food for us. It’s very hard to be sad or depressed around cupcakes. When you walk in here, it’s a sensory experience; the warmth from the ovens, and the smells, and the colors. It’s almost therapeutic in a way. If we could sit and frost all day long, that would be a dream for us. We get lost in the frost!” (Page 46).
I’m going to devour this book with as much passion as the 100 whose words and pictures mark every beautiful page!
For The Love Of The South – Recipes & Stories from My Southern Kitchen
Author and Photographer Amber Wilson, and Other Photography by Hannah Burton (Harper Design/HarperCollinsPublishers)
This is a beautiful book in every aspect – the writing, quality paper, photographs, and recipes. There are, “more than 100 delicious recipes accompanied by entertaining recollections of her (Amber Wilson) life growing up on the bayous of Louisiana, including time spent in the kitchen with her family.” The book starts with kitchen tips such as how to season cast iron skillets, and make vanilla extract. If book pages could convey amazing cooking and baking smells to the reader, this would be the one!
These snippets will leave you longing for more: “All my memories begin and end with food, and so all my recipes are inspired by memories. It’s a mutual relationship. Characters develop around kitchen islands, barbecue pits, and dining room tables. Personalities are interwoven in the strings and strings of meals we’ve shared, revealing a colorful backdrop for every story I recount.” (Page 10).
And, also from the author: “My grandfather is the most patient man I have ever met, and therefore, the perfect caretaker of the pecan trees. He is tender at heart, wrinkled around the eyes, and deeply grounded. After gathering pecans he perches himself at the kitchen table, his mighty, weathered hands grasping the pewter nutcracker.” (Page 73). And one more, from a section about her childhood and entitled “Hushpuppy Hoarder: “Most people go to seafood restaurants because of the seafood, naturally, but I adore going to seafood restaurants for the bottomless basket of hushpuppies. No one would guess that I ate my weight in hushpuppies. Quiet and content, I sat at the end of the table with a pile of spent butter packets in front of me and a whisper of a smile running across my face. Hushpuppies.” (Page 95).
Holding and reading this book is a special experience, and there’s not a page you won’t savor!
Cornbread Nation 5 – The Best of Southern Food Writing
Edited by Fred W. Sauceman, and General Editor John T. Edge – and Photographs by Amy C. Evans (The University of Georgia Press) (Published in association with The Southern Foodways Alliance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi)
Technically, I guess this isn’t a cookbook but it does contain recipes and a LOT of great writing by various authors about Southern food and life. Cornbread Nation 6 and 7 editions have been published since I acquired 5, and I need to catch up! The back cover of Cornbread Nation 5 says it best with, “(The book) celebrates food and the ways in which it forges unexpected relationships between people and places. In this collection of more than seventy essays and poems, we read about the food that provides nourishment as well as a sense of community and shared history.”
With (short) essay titles including “Field Pea Philosophy,” “Ode to a Catfish House,” “Funeral Food,” and “Miss Congealiality,” you’ll enjoy it from cover to cover. A couple of snippets to whet your appetite: From Neely Barnwell Dykshorn, “Racy yet regal with just a hint of redneck, red velvet cake is wrapped in pedigree but remains queen of the comfort food.” (page 155).
And, from Donna Tartt, “Bourbon, for me, is a smell that goes all the way back to childhood and Christmas, the red-striped cocktail glasses at my grandmother’s house, grown-ups in corsages and wearing their best jewelry, everyone laughing, the very smell of warmth and gladness on the breath of people I loved.” (page 275).
Finally, from Dan Huntley, “If one were to capture the breath of summer in the South, it would smell of honeysuckle, delicate as a butterfly kiss in the dewy night. The aroma conjures images of barefoot children catching lightning bugs, of old friends on a screened porch chatting in the dark.” (Page 48).
As the saying goes, these are the stories and foods of my people!
So, those are my (currently favorite) 6 cookbooks that do so much more than cook! I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them while writing today’s 100th post of The Daily Artisan blog.
No matter how many times I pick up these cookbooks, or how much time passes between, they continue to inspire and remind me what’s important in this world and in my life.
Do you have cookbooks that are special to you? Do any of these 6 interest you? Please comment below!