It’s no secret I love to read–poetry, fiction, memoir, philosophy, history, biography, mushroom field guides, anything–as long as it’s well-written. I can’t choose a favorite genre, but an exceptionally great cookbook would always be at the top of my list of favorite reads.
These are my requirements for a great cookbook:
- Written by a terrific cook with a passion for high-quality ingredients–
- The writer has enough skill to transport me into a food reverie, with more than just good recipes. The stories and descriptions should make me think of people I love, make me remember the times I’ve delighted in my precious peoples’ company, make me envision us together tasting the food I’m reading about.
- Mouth-watering photos help but are not essential. Sometimes whimsical illustrations are enough, especially if the writer has the magical poetic sensibility to make sensory experiences from words, connecting the images to pleasant emotions that stir my memory.
- Always, the cookbook has stories themed around place or culture. There’s no formula for this, but good food writers always make it happen.
- A good cookbook makes me want to gather my tribe together. For example, just this morning I was reading Patricia Wells Salad as a Meal. When I got to her felafel recipe, it made me telephone my brother, who introduced me to falafel more than twenty years ago when we were twenty-somethings. He had been living in New York and was crashing on my couch for a few weeks while transitioning into a new adventure. It was the best month of that decade of my life. I’d often come home from work to find him cooking up something delicious (like felafel). We’d stay up half the night talking. He lives nine driving hours away from me now, and I sure miss him.
- A really good cookbook motivates me to put down the book and get into the kitchen.
Right now, I’m looking forward to a day of cookbook reading interspersed with cooking. It’s one of the most relaxing things I can do–but honestly, most of the cookbooks I bring home from the library or bookstore are not all that great.
I’d love it if you could lead me into new cookbook territory.
What do you look for in a great cookbook? Which food writers, in your opinion, are able to transform a collection of recipes into good literature?