What Makes a Good Cookbook?

Our edible Community Shares Its Go-To Cookbooks

As you might imagine, members of our edible 106694_edibSout_Winter_2017_i008community respectively have an assortment of impressive cookbooks with exotic titles, gorgeous covers, swanky food styling, and piles of classics, specialty cuisines, and even hokey, spiral-bound church fundraiser collections. We LOVE cookbooks! However, we’ve noticed layers of dust collecting on the spines of our dear cookbooks lately, lots of dust. Confessions reveal being swept up by the convenience of speedy Google recipe searches—with a quick screen swipe here and another tab open there, it’s easier to compare and contrast multiple recipes on screen rather than pulling down five dusty books to spread open in search of just the right recipe (or combination of recipes!). Our once, often-used cookbooks have gone from family member status at the nightly dinner table to out-of-town friends who only spend time with us on special occasions.

Is this a sweeping trend among foodies or do home cooks still make use of their favorite cookbooks? We wondered which titles continue to rotate from shelf to countertop despite the ease of digital access, and why some cookbooks stand the test of time while others get recycled to Savers? We posed the question, “What’s your favorite cookbook, and why?” to our edible community and share some responses here for you to compare to your own preferences, and as a resource for potential new favorites.

Beloved cookbooks fall into categories ranging from a historical perspective to a focus on food culture or trend to collections of simple comfort food recipes, books with sentimental value, and skill-building tomes concentrating on culinary technique. All of these edible community picks get used and are dusted regularly:

Historical Perspective

Mrs. Beeton’s Every-Day Cookery
by Isabella Beeton
Dog-eared pages, some splattered with grease, others scrawled with handwritten notations–previously loved cookbooks are a delectable treat! Oh I know, iPads are nice and shiny and have become windows into the kitchens of famous chefs, but I still love it when pages sometimes stick together, and a cookbook falls open to the page of a much-cherished recipe. My copy is a very special gift from my mother-in-law who went to great lengths to procure it for us since she has loved her own copy for the longest time.

My edition of this English cookbook postdates WWII, but it is at least 60 or 70 years old. Mrs. Beeton was an English journalist, writer, and editor in the late 1800s, and through her recipe columns and articles in The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, became somewhat of an authority on Victorian cooking and home management. Her recipe book is still in print over a hundred years later, albeit amended and updated. The recipes are favorites from my husband’s childhood, like Yorkshire pudding (the savory staple served alongside roast meats), shepherd’s pie, and shortbread tea biscuits.

106694_edibSout_Winter_2017_i009

Other sections that I have found particularly useful, one titled “The Art of Using Up” in order that “nothing which might, by proper management, be turned to good account, is thrown away or suffered to be wasted in the kitchen.” Leftover recipes, how cool! Another distinctive and useful section is titled “Invalid Cookery” and is devoted to nursing the sick back to health with recipes that are nourishing, appetizing, and easy on the digestive system.

I love this cookbook not only for its practical uses and treasured recipes, but for the history it offers in snippets. The use of ingredients no longer seen in butcher shops, references to “the war” and what was or wasn’t available, as well as many suggestions on how to remove laundry stains, or keep a pantry well-stocked in effort to help women be better housekeepers in a bygone era. Such notions may be outdated, but the tips aren’t, and both my children have learned more about what it was like to be a woman in the early 1900s from Mrs. Beeton’s Every-Day Cookery than they have from any textbook! Pinterest is fine in a pinch, but Mrs. Beeton is where it’s at, in my book!
Shared by Pamela Denholm
eSS&SC contributor & owner of South Shore Organics

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
by J. Kenji López-Alt
The foodie science nerd in me was jumping for joy when my new cookbook arrived earlier this year. What’s not to love? Delicious recipes, geeky science talk, fabulous pictures with a dash of humor mixed in–awesome. It’s not just about following a recipe, but what the best preparation method is and the science behind it. And to add to the cool factor…it’s ginormous! I was more of a “look-it-up-on-the-internet” kind of cook, but this has already become my go-to source for information and inspiration. I am committed to supporting and buying local fresh food and no doubt this cookbook ensures I get the most from that beautiful bounty.
Shared by Terry LaMonica, a Tidings eNews reader

Art of Cooking
by Jacques Pepin
Great illustrated step-by-step recipes on how to prepare all food from appetizers to dessert.
Shared by Michael Melo,
Co-owner of M&C Café Restaurant and Catering Company.

Weber’s Real Grilling by Jamie Purviance
Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
Weber’s Real Grilling cookbook has great pictures, recipes, and really digs into the ins and outs of smoking and grilling. The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook has every recipe they have ever done! It’s not just recipes, it gives a detailed explanation of why, and what does and doesn’t work for every recipe. My grandmother’s recipe book that was passed down to me, it’s got old-school classic recipes I grew up on!
Shared by Eric Thomas, Facebook fan, owner Bearded Chicken.

Cultural Collections

Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean
by Paula Wolfert
In addition to being a great cook and writer, Paula, who lives just north of San Francisco, is an anthropologist who studied her subject matter through decades of travel around the Mediterranean region. She went into little villages and asked, “Who makes the best . . .?” and then visited these people (mostly women) to glean their recipes, which often meant tricking them into revealing various secrets that they had grown accustomed to hiding from each other. For those of us using Wolfert’s cookbooks at home, it comes down to reliably great dishes that reflect the ancient food heritage of an important culinary region.
Shared by Cheryl Koehler, edible East Bay editor.106694_edibSout_Winter_2017_i010

Joy of Cooking
by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (1964 edition)
Correct proportions and techniques for mostly good home-cooking from the twentieth-century American canon, weighted toward a mid-western Teutonic aesthetic. Probably the most plagiarized American book, in any discipline. Can’t remember the difference between a pony and a jigger? Need to make a cheese soufflé? Looking for a diagram for skinning a squirrel? It’s all right here, baby.
Shared by Paula Marcoux,
Cooking with Fire cookbook author, food
historian, and eSS&SC food editor.

I use Joy of Cooking for basic information–usually about meat cuts–and then wing it. I never follow recipes. This could explain why everything I make always tastes the same: garlic, onions, rosemary, salt.
Shared by Dave Purpura, farmer and owner, Plato’s Harvest.

The Victory Garden 106694_edibSout_Winter_2017_i013
by Marian Morash
The spine is gone. The cover is peeling. The pages are underlined, written on and spattered. Every time I go to The Victory Garden wondering how many servings I’ll get out of a certain amount of vegetable, I get an answer. Morash tells you that 3 quarts of greens are going to cook down to about 3 cups. You learn the best ways to store every vegetable imaginable, and there are at least a dozen recipes per vegetable. This book came out of public television and originally was published in 1982, so it might seem dated, but it’s crammed with practical information along with vivid photos and useful growing tips, too.
Shared by Joan Kocsis, eSS&SC contributor.

Instructional /Technique Lessons

Cook’s Illustrated
Beard on Bread by James Beard
Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Way to Cook
by Julia Child

Many of my favorite recipes come from a magazine, not a cookbook. That would be Cook’s Illustrated. Aside from the lack of advertising and the beautifully rendered illustrations, I love the science of it all. The authors help you understand why a certain technique works as opposed to another. And you know that their recipes have been put through rigorous trials before coming to print. Now, I rely primarily on my on-line subscription, choosing to dedicate shelf space instead to needed equipment, though I still have a collection of past issues that are gravy and butter-stained! That said, I do have a book that is well dog-eared and has provided the backbone for many of my bread recipes, Beard on Bread, by James Beard. These are the recipes I grew up on, the ones my mother made. My copy is full of flour and crusty with dough from years of cooking everything from biscuits to banana bread to anadama bread.

Julia Child is another favorite, with a few well-used recipes–piecrust, cream of mushroom soup, chicken stock. I have an old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as the more recent, The Way to Cook. My husband Tom said to me recently, “Let’s spend some time this winter cooking our way through one of Julia’s books.” Yes, let’s!
Shared by Jenny Healy, owner of Jenny’s Bread.

Street Food of Mexico
by Hugo Ortega
For too many people, Mexican cuisine begins and ends with banal variations of fajitas, burritos, and nachos. Too many Mexican “cookbooks” capitalize on the popularity of these dishes, and dumb them down to make them little more than simplistic vignettes of a magnificent national food identity. Street Food of Mexico is my favorite cookbook because it captures the spirit and energy of some of the most vibrant cuisine on the planet. It’s well written and insightful. The recipes are clear and reliable and the photography entices (if the photo of Chalupitas on page 56 doesn’t get your mouth watering, I can’t help you). While not everyone has easy access to all the ingredients mentioned (achiote paste can be a little hard to find in this neck of the woods), nothing is impossible to come by and Ortega’s prose and stories will have you traveling to Puebla yourself to make these fantastic recipes happen!
Shared by Adam Centamore, Local Food Writer, South Shore Locavore presenter, and eSS&SC contributor.

Contemporary Lifestyle and Mealtime Inspiration

The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman
A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones
My two current faves are The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman and A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones. Both are creative and unique but easily followed and also open for your own modifications (based on ingredient availability). Both cooks also have well-read food blogs, for some online imbibing to complement the actual cookbook.

The Smitten Kitchen provides an upscale and excellent version of many recipes we have all seen and done before. Many of her dishes are actually classics like apple cake. As a Jewish vegetarian, I love that she also has some wonderful meatless main courses like black bean ragout, and delicious versions of hamantaschen and rugelach, both classic Jewish cookies! Everything I have made has been lick-the-plate worthy.

A Modern Way to Eat is a vegetarian cookbook written by the British Anna Jones, so it’s heavy on Indian and Southeast Asian vegetarian dishes. There is no preachy health advice here. She is super creative and I love her beet curry, her version of Gada Gado (spicy peanut sauce with vegetables), and my favorite warm kale salad with roasted tomatoes and coconut milk!
Shared by Katherine Rossmoore, eSS&SC contributor.

The Plantpower Way
by Rich Roll and Julie Piatt
Why is it my favorite? It has vegan, gluten-free, and whole-foods plant-based recipes; lifestyle tips (like how to get protein as a vegan); and creative food combinations to be super healthy!
Shared by Vivi Liousas, eSS&SC reader from Hanson, MA.

Culinary Arts Institute Chicago Encyclopedic Cookbook
edited by Ruth Berolzheimer (1976 edition)
Living on Live Food
by Alissa Cohen
I received the Culinary Arts Institute Chicago Encyclopedic Cookbook as a wedding gift in the late 1970s. It is very comprehensive, even has the quick reference index on the cover!

In the last 10 years Living on Live Food has been my favorite healthy cookbook, so many amazing raw recipes that are tasty and doable: lots of great photos, easy-to-read large print, and inspirational information.
Shared by Erin Carpenter, farmer and owner, White Gate Gardens.

The Meat Free Monday Cookbook: A Full Menu for Every Monday of the Year
edited by Annie Riggs (Forward by Paul, Stella, & Mary McCartney–yes, of Beatles fame!)
Silver Palate Cookbook by Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins
The Meat Free Monday Cookbook sounds like an odd pick but the book has great photos, three recipes per page, and is organized according to season. It’s become my go-to book. I give the Original Silver Palate to new brides. It’s just a classic.
Shared by Jill Melton, editor & founder edible Nashville.

Barefoot Contessa
by Ina Garten
My favorite recipe resource is my mother’s recipe box and all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. So many of Ina’s recipes are easy to make, crowd pleasers, and absolutely delicious.
Shared by Kristi Szechenyi Perry, PR Director Trustees of Reservation, eSS&SC reader.

Sentimental Family Connections

Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook
by Zoe Coulson
My mother gave me this book many years ago. All the fundamental techniques are illustrated, from folding in egg whites to kneading bread and rolling pie dough to cuts of meat and poultry, etc. Sometimes I can just pick it up, browse through it and become inspired. Thanks Mom!
Shared by Maureen Rossi, eSS&SC reader from Fall River.

Easy Basics for Good Cooking
by Sunset Books
Hailing from a family with five kids, 106694_edibSout_Winter_2017_i016dinnertime was always a challenge. My mother gave up cooking for a short time and forced each of us to prepare a meal for the family. After much pissing and moaning, we each had our evening to cook. I chose Fettuccine Verde from this cookbook. It was my first attempt to cook for others, and I was so proud when it came out well. That cookbook has been a beloved part of my collection ever since. Thanks Mom!
Shared by Laurie Hepworth, eSS&SC publisher.

Readers’ Digest Secrets of Better Cooking
various authors
Heirloom Tomato Cookbook
by Mimi Luebbermann
I always find myself going to the one my mom gave me–Readers’ Digest Secrets of Better Cooking. I love the tables for cooking times for just about anything, and there are a few super recipes in there we LOVE and go back to over and over again. The Heirloom Tomato Cookbook also has amazing recipes. It was given to us as a present and is the gift that keeps on giving.
Shared by Lorrie Gampp Dahlen, Market Manager, Marshfield Farmers’ Market

 

Ultimately, we gleaned that most home cooks are very attached to a favorite cookbook or two; even with troves of online recipes, the comfort of a well-worn page is hard to replace with a screen. Like an old friend, some cookbooks will nurture, inspire, and entertain as no monitor ever can. Dusty but treasured, some cookbooks remain steadfast on the bookshelf because they teach, encourage, and simply keep the cook company–no power cord required.

Bon appétit!

By: Barbara Anglin has an entire bookcase of cookbooks and yet still regularly opens to a 1992 tattered copy of a Bon Appétit magazine special Too Busy to Cook. YES!

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