I love to read…I love to cook…I love to eat. . . I love to read while I’m eating! So, what could be better than reading books ABOUT cooking and eating? Here’s my Top Ten List (in no particular order!) of fiction and nonfiction books about food and its preparation. Copies of all of these live alongside my cookbooks on the bookcase in my kitchen.
Home Cooking: A Writer In The Kitchen by Laurie Colwin
Laurie Colwin died quite a few years ago, and I miss her writing voice tremendously. Her volumes of short stories are good, but I’ll always remember her for her collections of short yet powerful essays on food and cooking. Many of her essays read as though she is looking right inside my life, and she has a way of turning a phrase that sometimes makes me laugh out loud. I love both this book and her follow-up called More Home Cooking–and I re-read portions of them often.
Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchey
This is absolutely my favorite novel by Irish author Maeve Binchey. As is true of all of her books, it’s the story of many interlocking characters, but at the center are a young man and woman trying to make a go of running their own catering company. I loved EVERYTHING about this book—the vividly drawn characters, the descriptions of meals, the perils of starting a new business, the wonderful humor and the well-written sadness—this is Maeve Binchey at her best!
Cooking For Mr. Latte: A Food Lover’s Courtship, With Recipes by Amanda Hesser
Amanda Hesser is a renowned food reporter and columnist for The New York Times. Part diary, part memoir, and part cookbook, this book traces the author’s courtship with the man who would later become her husband, as well as her courtship with food and it’s preparation. I love the way this book moves between the discovery and challenges of a new love, and discoveries of new cuisines. It also includes over 100 recipes–but it’s definitely more of a journal than a cookbook. I especially appreciated her account of a dinner gathering that she attended in New York City shortly after 9/11.
Stand Facing the Stove: The Story of the Women Who Gave America the Joy of Cooking by Anne Mendelson
This is an interesting read for people who not only like to cook but who are also interested in the publishing field. It’s the fascinating story of Irma S. Rombauer–who originally self-published The Joy of Cooking in 1931 using her life savings–and her daughter, Marion Rombauer Becker, who eventually became her coauthor–and the process that went into creating that first version and the multitude of revisions of what many consider to be the cooking Bible. I enjoyed all the behind the scenes factors that went into the publishing and marketing of this famous cookbook—as well as the often complicated family dynamics that were involved.
Wife of the Chef by Courtney Febbroriello
As much as I love food, this book convinced me that I NEVER want to own or run a restaurant! The author owns and manages a small, successful restaurant along with her husband, who is also the head chef. The hours sound insane, dealing with the staff and outside vendors sounds extremely challenging, and constantly monitoring and worrying about the profits has got to be stressful. I didn’t especially like the author’s personality (on paper, anyway) but this was a very interesting peek into the restaurant world.
Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking At The Turn Of The Century by Laura Shapiro
This was the book that started me thinking about how food and cooking are truly a part of history and how both those things help to define our sense of culture. The author traces trends in cooking and eating from the early 1900’s through the mid 20th century, covering the domestic science movement, the move to valuing convenience over taste, and the way that advertising plays a role in our thoughts about what we eat and how we prepare it. I feel like my description isn’t doing this book justice–it’s very readable and may make you think differently about what we eat and how we prepare it–and how all that has changed over the past few generations.
Waiting by Debra Ginsberg
A different take on the other books listed here—this book is the memoir of a woman who has worked as a waitress in many different types of restaurants for the majority of her professional life. The author weaves in memories of her rather unorthodox family life as well. If you like behind-the-scenes books (as I do!) then you’ll love this. It may also influence you to tip your waiter/waitress a bit more generously!
Cook Off: Recipe Fever in America—Heartbreak, Glory, and Big Money on the Competitive Cooking Circuit by Amy Sutherland
This is probably my favorite book on this list. The author is a journalist who spent a year following a group of women–and men–who regularly compete in cooking and recipe competitions–from local recipe contests with $50 prizes to the famous Pillsbury Bake-Off, and everything that you can imagine in between. I loved everything about this book–the accounts of the work that goes into developing original recipes in an ordinary kitchen, the quest to find the perfect serving platter for a judging presentation, the drama of cooking in front of hundreds of people with a temperamental oven, how the contests are judged–I found everything about this book to be fascinating!
The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
I’ve always been intrigued by what goes on at a serious cooking school. Do students spend all their time behind a stove, or are there also lectures to attend and papers to write? What types of folks enroll in such a demanding curriculum? Many of my questions were answered in this book. The author attends the oldest and most influential cooking school in the US–the Culinary Institute of America–and he documents his experiences in great detail. I especially enjoyed his accounts of the many tests and examinations that were required, along with his descriptions of his fellow classmates–a very unique group!
The Faith Fairchild mystery series by Katherine Hall Page
I think there are 20 books in this series by now–and the titles are all a variation of “The Body In The . . .” The main character is Faith Fairchild, a woman who grew up in New York City with every intention of living the big city life as a caterer to high society folks. However, fate intervened–she fell head over heels in love with a young pastor and finds herself living the life of a pastor’s wife in a tiny New England town–and apparently tripping over dead bodies whenever she turns around. When she’s not solving crimes, she’s cooking up wonderful foods in her kitchen. The later books also include recipes, and I’ve made a few of them with great success. This is a fun mystery series for folks who enjoy reading about well-drawn, recurring characters and who like mysteries laced with humor. There’s no sex or foul language in these books–just good solid mysteries with a dash of great food!
That’s my list–are there any titles that you feel should be included? Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts!