Cookbooks...everyday cooks love them and those who don't know how to turn their oven on love them. I like different cookbooks best for different reasons. I classify cookbooks into categories and qualify my favorite in each.
A go-to cookbook would constitute a volume that likely has any recipe you could hope to make at any given time. This is when I want to pick up just one book and find exactly what I am looking for. Whether it is a book that originates from a small town in South Georgia or one that is an exhaustive one titled How to Cook Everything, there is probably one of these in your collection.
Have you ever taken a trip that afforded you an opportunity for an unusual or different dining experience? I would classify cookbooks like these as travel or excursion titles. Many cookbook titles are available that are written by a chef of a famous restaurant or have an affiliation with a landmark or unique place that was visited.
Some of my favorite cookbook titles are those that I would define as regional. They features recipes of a particular town, city, county, or state. I would also put into this category cookbooks published by groups from churches and community groups. Often these are used for fundraising or giving back to the community in one way or another.
Classic cookbook titles, for some, might constitute a book that has stood the test of time and sold many copies over a span of several years. For others, it could be a title that was initially published ten or more years ago. Some of these might include a recipe written in paragraph form where the reader is required to read the entire recipe to determine ingredients and instructions (as they are not clearly given), or one where the writer gives necessary information in the chapter that features the given recipe and not in the recipe itself.
The last category that I classify for cookbooks are those of an instructional nature. Besides recipes, does the writer offer the reader a way to learn new skills, tips or other helpful information besides a recipe and a photograph? In a similar way, a cookbook that offers the reader stories of the people and places that have impacted the recipes offered in the collection.
My go-to cookbook for many years has been Flatlanders Cook Book A Collection of Recipes from Lanier County, Georgia compiled and edited by lifelong family friend and community leader Helen Strickland. My copy is the third edition that was printed in 1980 and many of the dishes found there were staples of my childhood. It’s also a great example of a regional cookbook where cooks from the county were summoned to submit their favorite recipes. The only cornbread dressing recipe I will make and eat is found here, as well as neighbor Libby Shaw’s Sour Cream Pound Cake.
Mama’s favorite cookbook would fall into the classic category. Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dull. It was published the same year she was born, 1928; with additional recipes added for a 1941 edition. Henrietta Stanley Dell was the longtime editor of the home economics page of the Atlanta Journal. She organized the first departments of home economics in Georgia schools and colleges, and conducted cooking schools throughout the South. My maternal grandmother, Clyde Patten, attended one of her events in Atlanta in the 1940’s. This cookbook is very different than what you would find today. There are no photographs of any of the recipes prepared, and, as was with the time of the first edition, ovens were not controlled with a thermostat. She often gave instruction for the item to be placed in a “slow”, “medium” or “hot. If you add this to your collection, and I highly recommend you do, please make sure you read the opening chapter where the recipe is located, as she often gives instructions that will not be found in the recipe itself.
I do not have any cookbook titles in my collection currently that were purchased because of travel or from an excursion. However, my copy of Morton’s The Cookbook; 100 Steakhouse Recipes for Every Kitchen by Kraus Fritsch with Tylor Field III and Mary Goodbody allows me to recreate recipes from one of my favorite restaurants in my kitchen. I love their blue cheese dressing and the rub they use for their ribeye prepared cajun style.
If you are looking for something of the instructional nature, I would recommend Keys to Good Cooking; A Guide to Making the Best Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee. He writes about the science of food and cooking and has been named food writer of the year by Bon Appétit magazine. It is very easy to read and is divided into chapters like any cookbook you would find.
Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South by Vivian Howard is the kind of cookbook I hope to one day publish. In her over 500 page volume, she tells stories of her childhood in Eastern North Carolina and shares many of the recipes she grew up on. It’s a beautifully photographed storybook as much as it is a cookbook. I plan to use her recipe for fresh sausage for my annual Christmas morning breakfast.
I would love to know what you would consider your favorite cookbook. In the comments below, please list the name of your favorite cookbook and share why you love it. With the advent of the internet and plethora of cooking shows/videos at our disposal, I find there is nothing that beats reading and looking at a cookbook.