Everybody likes to find a cookbook under the tree. There’s a good crop this year. If you’re stumped for ideas, we’ve got a few suggestions.
“101 Classic Cookbooks” (Rizzoli, $50)
The book for people who love cookbooks. This doorstop traces the history of the modern American cookbook with essays from food luminaries such as Laura Shapiro (a totally rockin’ food historian), Alice Waters (Chez Panisse turned school lunch lady) and Judith Jones (the editor who gave us Julia Child.) Gorgeous photos of the belovedly beaten-up books, plus 501 recipes cherry picked from the volumes. Making an appearance are recipes as diverse as cheese straws from the “Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book,” whole wheat samosas from Madhur Jaffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking” and roast possum from the Junior League of Charleston, S.C.
“American Cookery” (Andrews McMeel, $22.99)
In 1796, Amelia Simmons wrote what is recognized as the first American cookbook, that is,written by an American for American kitchens. Sometimes called a second Declaration of Independence, the book is faithfully reproduced here, pairing recipes for boiled turtle and chicken pie alongside images of the original pages. This is one of the first volumes in the publisher’s fabulous new series culled from the archives of the American Antiquarian Society. The “Jewish Cookery Book” by Esther Levy also is a great read.
“Handwritten Recipes” (by Michael Popek, Perigee, $20)
Like pressed flowers, recipes sometimes yellow and turn brittle between the pages of well-loved books. Bookseller Michael Popek doubles as a detective of family histories and curious recipes, capturing the handwritten notes, magazine clippings and fliers that fall from between the pages of the used books in his Oneonta, N.Y., store. Southern bell bread tumbled from “Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King Jr.” Macaroni loaf (yes, gelatin is involved) was tucked into a book called “Strange People.” This is one of those books that demands a cup of tea , a blanket and an afternoon to re-imagine someone else’s stories.
“American Tuna” (by Andrew F. Smith, University of California Press, $34.95)
It didn’t get into the can by accident. Food historian Andrew Smith traces “the rise and fall of an improbable food,” improbable because tuna was once sold primarily as fertilizer. Along the way, Smith explores American foreign policy, immigration and environmental issues, all told through tuna. AFR’s kinda book.
“The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast” (by Brian Yarvin, Harvard Common Press, $26.95)
Simply the best book of British cooking to come along in a good while. From “jugged” kippers and black pudding to beef wellington and tofu tikka masala, the pages are filled with comforting, contemporary British dishes that will please Anglophiles and royal watchers alike. (OK, you caught me, there’s no American angle to this book, but I love it. The recipes are delicious and they work.)
Consider this book the well-organized kitchen diary of a Japanese cook who emigrates to the United States. Using six basic sauces such as sweetened soy and spicy miso, Shimbo adapts Japanese flavors to American ingredients, producing dishes such as avocado and salmon in dill-daikon broth, ham sandwich with miso, and collard greens salad with soy-tahini dressing. It is peppered with lovely remembrances, such as her father’s New Year’s Eve sukiyaki tradition, and the Western chicken soup her grandmother made from the birds her physician grandfather received as payment from farmers.
“The Hakka Cookbook” (by Linda Lau Anusasananan, University of California Press, $39.95)
This book first caught my attention for its story: as the only Chinese kids growing up in a small Northern California community, author Linda Lau Anusasananan and her brother disdained their Hakka heritage until the people who could teach it to them were gone. As an adult, Anusasananan enlisted a Hakka friend to teach her the food, and through it, her culture. A book that’s as interesting to read for its insight to the culture of the hearty Chinese nomads called Hakka, as it is for recipes that include stuffed bitter melon soup, sticky taro gnocchi and salted, pickled mustard greens.
“Gran Cocina Latina” (by Maricel Presilla, W.W. Norton, $45)
Chef Maricel Presilla was born in Cuba but plies her creative, authentic Latin cooking at her two New Jersey restaurants. Presilla holds a Ph.D. in medieval history and this encyclopedic volume dissects the flavors, ingredients and techniques of Latin American cooking that both unify and distinguish the region’s individual cultures. Definitive basic recipes for adobos (stews) and sofritos (sauces) create the base for more than 500 recipes such as Mexican pozole, Cuban-style pilaf and pan-Latin escabeche (preserved fish.)
“The Latin Road Home” (by Jose Garces, Lake Isle Press, $35)
Chef Jose Garces remembers the steaming empanadas his grandmother would wheel out while he and his dad watched the Bears on TV in their Chicago living room. This book is an homage to his Ecuadorean roots and the home cooking of Spain, Cuba, Mexico and Peru. Amid charming and gregarious prose, the award-winning Garces offers dozens of recipes for dishes such as spicy Ecuadorean popcorn, green plantain empanadas, cactus paddle salad and salt cod chowder.