Must Have Cookbooks
February, 2015 · By Coryanne Ettiene
I grew up in a house where cookbooks were read like novels and only the best were adorned with dog eared pages and pencil markings. I’ve only noticed that I’ve taken this tradition to new levels when I reached for my most treasured cookbook and found pages stuck together with batter, text splattered with various cooking sauces and thumbprints stained with berries littered across those pages that have fed our family for years. It is this tender loving care of cookbooks that often finds me in second hand book stores looking for the worst treated books in hopes of finding a gem amongst those neat and tidy pages that frequently line the thrift store shelves. Like the food they share, it is the human element that makes them so special to me, which is why I find it almost impossible to source new cookbooks. I open the pages and they are crisp, clean and with a strong spine that whispers an almost apologetic self doubt when it is cracked for the first time. But I forage on, in hopes of finding the gem that will rest tattered next to other much loved cookbooks in my kitchen. For me, a cookbook must tell a story, not just in the ingredients, but in the history of the dish. I long for the “why” in every recipe and in those books where it is void, I look at the recipes likes sheets of music….reading the connection, hoping to find one that inspires a new “why” within me.
With so many cookbooks to choose from, I thought I would share a few that carried me through my journey of learning to cook and offered me inspiration once I got my balance in the kitchen. All unique, all with something very individual to share, they are the crutch I lean on when I need a kitchen muse to get me out of my everyday menu or to give me that needed push to recreate a tired recipe.
I play favorites with anything from River Cottage. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall is a brilliant story teller with a passion for food that first inspired me to understand not only where food comes from, but how to truly appreciate a food centric lifestyle. I could have listed each of his books here, instead, I chose his Meat Book because if you eat meat, this book should be in your kitchen. Check out all of his books and his passion for food on his site River Cottage.
Tucked neatly behind Regent Street in the civilized nook of Mayfair sits one of the greatest cafe destinations in London — you can’t help but sit down and order one of everything on the menu at Ottolenghi . I bought their book when were were moving to the US as a reminder that comfort food comes from everywhere. It was through this cookbook that I began to remember moments of my travel, most importantly the tastes of the countries that line my collection of tattered passports and really began to play with my ingredients with a certain confidence.
Unless you’ve only just found me, you will know that Nigella Lawson was the driving force behind my transformation from London Party Girl to Domesticity. More than any other collection of books, her books are the most weathered. It was in her book Feast, that I first noticed the sticky pages and near Jackson Pollock impact I’ve on those once neat pages, and it was her Domestic Goddess book the helped me gain my baking confidence. She has yet to write a book that has not inspired me or made me a better cook. But more important that that is her way of bringing you into the pages and blanketing you in her memories of each dish.
They say that you should not judge a book by the cover, but with Jane Cumberbatch, her books are so tactile that it is hard not too fall in love the second you have them in your hand. Her book Recipes for Everyday is like a treasure of English tradition. Reading it I feel like I am back in London suburbia eating butterfly cakes and swapping Cottage Pie recipes. She is charming, approachable and frankly, the sort of person you’d love to have over for dinner, or tea on a sunny day. When ever I long for home I reach for her books.
I suspect that I am a closet Hipster… I adore Brooklyn and the fabulous eaters found within. If there is one cookbook that captures this sentiment it is Edible Brooklyn. It sits at the heart of the slow food movement, fashioned high in fresh ingredients and adorned with accessible recipes that make cooking for everyday obtainable. Nearly as fabulous as the recipes are the images…. if you get excited about food photography, this book will rock your world.
Tyler Florence is not my typical kitchen guru but … when I found his Real Kitchen Cookbook at a thrift store and looked inside, the new cook inside me was hooked. His recipes are dead simple, but flavorful; and he has a ton of quick little tips littered throughout that help you understand the cooking process. While it is void of any real story telling, it is a great book for someone who needs the skills, not the flowery stores that can clutter the lesson. It has become the book my children lean towards more and more, making it all the more special.
When my friend Tiffany from the Gracious Pantry wrote Clean Eating Freezer Meals and asked me to review it last year, I was immediately drawn in because in our house, we live out of the freezer. I am always making more than I need to feed a small army and then freezing it for mid week meals… her book gave new life to our eating from the freezer menu and gave me new ideas on adding a twist to some of our classic recipes.
When I mentioned that cookbooks were like novels, Aphrodite by Isabel Allende is most certainly the cream of the crop. I’ve read every novel she has ever written and fell helplessly in love with her ability to tell a story well. You know the game, which 6 people would you have at your dinner party? Well…… she would be in my 6 and this book most certainly makes her a contender for “can’t have the party without her”. It is more of a story about food than a cookbook, but I never tire of reading it — a little on the racy side, but if you can handle my antics, you will enjoy her story telling; and most likely never eat a peach the same again.
I must admit, I’ve not cooked anything from this book, nor have I soiled any of the pages….yet. But I have great plans to dive into with a hunger. The Heirloom Cookbook by the Beekman 1802 is what I hope will become my America version of River Cottage. I love it not only because of the recipes, but because it allows me to dream of a time when I can spend hours making jam, planting carrots and raising farm animals. Not that I really want any of that, but I love the idea of how charming that life appears when you don’t have to think about all the hard work that goes into it.