Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Novels and Cookbooks, We Love Them the Same

On the shelves or in the kitchen, favorite books are easy to spot, with their tattered covers, marked pages, and hand-written notes stuffed between pages.

On our shelves, certain books take up permanent residence because the stories inside grabbed us and lingered, or because their words burned their way into our psyches at pivotal times in our lives. A cracked binding proves the books have been read again and again, and still, we never tire of them. Pages are earmarked, passages are underlined, notes are scribbled in the margins.

Cookbooks in our kitchens often hold the same affections. At least, they do for me. The recipes themselves may not hook me the way a good novel will, but the stories that revolve around each book or each favorite dish listed within are enough to keep those books front and center in my cabinet.

written and illustrated by Linda Allard

The Story: Me, living on the East Side with my good friend living in the apartment building next door. She lived alone, and my boyfriend (to-be-husband) worked second shift. We decided dinners alone were ridiculous, so we shuffled our pantry items together and met up a few times a week to make, and eat, a meal. Communal cooking, except she did most of the cooking. After a while, our meet-ups grew less frequent, but she knew I needed more direction. She gave me this book, with the inscription, "I'm counting on some good meals." I wanted to cook and bake well, if only for her.
My favorite recipes: Basic Tomato Sauce (so easy, I should be cooking some tonight), Marianne's Brownies (I've never found another brownie recipe even close to this good), and Jill's Favorite Pancakes (now our signature dish on breakfast-for-dinner nights).

The Story: Me, twenty-five years old, newly married, working in a small office, still struggling in the kitchen. A Sales Associate, who was new to the office and older than me, wanted to talk one day. She asked me questions about cooking and favorite dishes and such. She must have recognized the look in my eye, must have known that I fumbled in the kitchen most nights. Maybe she remembered her own self and what it was like to want to cook a meal from scratch but not know where to begin. I barely knew her when she gave me the book at that year's Christmas exchange, but she knew me all too well.

My favorite recipes: Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (I feel fancy with my homemade dressing in a glass carafe), Curried Chick Peas and Tofu (a recipe good for sharing), Lemon Date Bars (it's just about time to whip a batch of those babies up again).

presented by the Utility Club in Griffin, Georgia

The Story: Let's just say this book is near and dear to my heart. In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I played dinner hosts to a couple of bachelors from time to time. Our friend Greg brought this book over one night and said his mother gave it to him. "I don't cook, but you're pretty good. I'll loan this book to you if you invite me over for dinner." Pretty good was good enough for me, flattery at its best. I took him up on his offer, promising to give the book back to him when he got married. Years later, after his "announcement," I panicked. I had loved this book dearly, spilled batter on the pages and accidentally torn a few from the binding. I searched online for a replacement, willing to pay $100 if I could only hold on to the book I had. Lucky for me, those ladies in Georgia still kept the book in print.

My favorite recipes: Pumpkin Bread (three whole loaves made from one can of pumpkin, best tasting bread ever), Banana Bread (now affectionately named "Bottom Bread", after the year I added chocolate chips to the mix for my husband's hunting trip and all the chips landed in the bottom of the pan for some strange reason. I've only been able to duplicate that baking feat on purpose), Snickerdoodles (full of butter, so easy, substituting for eggs in this recipe only makes them taste all the more de-lish).

Now, tell us about your favorite cookbooks.
What's your story? 
"Cooking is more than preparing food. Cooking to sustain those you care for, cooking a favorite dish for a favored person, cooking special foods for special occasions -- all involve thoughtfulness and love." ~ Linda Allard, in Absolutely Delicious!


  1. These all sound lovely -- and the stories behind them make them even more appealing. We have more cookbooks than we know what to do with these days, but I still go back to some family favorites: one from my great-grandma's church group and another my mom complied herself,from family recipes. Brings back great memories, thanks for the trip down memory lane, Christi!

  2. Those Church ladies and Societies sure know how to pull together a scrumptious stack of recipes, huh? Glad you stopped by, Sarah.

  3. I would be lost without my Moosewood Cookbook! I collect Cookbooks like some collect spoons. I really like ones that have little stories to go along with the recipes. Glad I found your blog.

  4. Darlene,

    So glad you stopped by. Yes, those cookbooks with stories...makes the baking and simmering all the more fun :)