Desert Island Cookbooks

Lately I’ve been thinking about being settled and stable. I’ve also recently ended library school and I have been halfheartedly job searching. There are so many things swirling around my head as I’ve ended what will be my last go round in anyone’s graduate program. I’m thinking about library work and food librarianship and knowing that it’s a real possibility if I’m patient and dedicated to the process. I mean even three years ago there was a Publishers Weekly article stating that cookbooks were the top circulating materials in public libraries, so hey what have I got to worry about? 

As much as being settled now means finding a fulfilling library gig in special collections and/or archives (with a focus on food and/or Afrodescendent history and culture [hey, I am not too picky!]) it also means being surrounded by my stuff (which is currently in a storage unit in Chicago) and being able to cook with my own pots, pans, and tools…in my own kitchen, using my own dishes, etc. This also means having access once again to my cookbook and recipe collection. And this brings me to thinking about my favorite cookbooks. Here are a few to start…

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food – Claudia Roden

  • This is just a great book. If you like Middle Eastern food this is something you have to have. The original Book of Middle Eastern Food (1974) is great too, this is just updated and has a few more recipes and is a bit lighter on the butter, etc.  

The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage – Rachel Laudan

  • I will admit I haven’t cooked from this one yet but I love to read it. It’s beautifully written and so informative. A hybrid personal essay, food history, and recipe book. Plus the author is a friend of mine!

The Taste of Country Cooking – Edna Lewis

  • Originally published in 1976, it is, much like Rachel Laudan’s work, a personal story chronicled by menus and recipes. It’s a glimpse of not only Lewis’s own family history but of regional African American history through food. The 30th anniversary edition, was published in 2006 and is the one you’ll find unless you’re on the hunt for rare or older books, or you know, the first edition, at a dealer or used book store. 

Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You’ll Make Over and Over Again – Ina Garten

  • Hey BC, pretty much all of her stuff is great. The one popular/Food TV type author whose stuff I can’t get enough of.

The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine – John Folse

  • This is a great comprehensive work full of recipes. It has a weird index but is surprisingly all-encompassing. Though there is a hefty dose of self promotion of the Folse brand and products, there is acknowledgement of African influence in this book and that makes me happy though I’d love for there to be more nuance and less fairy-tale-style-rose-colored-glass-we’re-one-big-happy-family-style storytelling that so often characterizes books (& a few organizations OOP!) on Southern food and cooking. It’s also a little romantic in the picture it paints of Louisiana and its food traditions but cooking through this book is a good way to get a feel of the place and the recipes really work.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One – Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck and Sidonie Coryn

  • This is no best kept secret anymore. It’s a good set to learn and I particularly like volume one. Definitely helps with technique on some things because the process is meticulously described and in some cases, illustrated. You get to work your way through classic French dishes, which is always delicious.