Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Cookbooks!

In a recent Alton Brown rerun, he mentioned that most of the American cooking canon comes from the industrial revolution, when giant canning companies were being formed. These companies, he said, needed a gimmick to sell their canned goods, so many produced cookbooks using what else, but their own products. Over time, these recipes trickled down and even today, one can easily find recipes like this one, the very first Google entry for "Green been casserole":


  • 2 (10.75 ounce) cans Campbell's® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup or Campbell's® Condensed 98% Fat Free Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 cups cooked cut green beans
  • 2 2/3 cups French's® French Fried Onions

As time progressed, most recipes called for "a can of" or "a box of." True, this made cooking easy for "the servantless American cook," as Julia Child put it in her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, however this robbed a few generations of using fresh vegetables, of making ancillary ingredients themselves, and of learning useful kitchen techniques, like how to make garlic paste. As the organic movement slowly took hold, cookbooks gradually became more complicated, leaving out the ready-made cans. Now, however, I notice something really exciting happening. Cookbooks are actually focusing more on education and theory, rather than on filling their pages with recipes.

It makes sense, I suppose, that in the age of the internet, most people would use the web for recipes. In a cookbook, if one wants to make a brisket, one may only have one or at most two recipe options. With the internet however, the options are practically limitless! Publishers are smart, and writers need to make money. With that in mind, I'm excited to see most cookbooks focusing less on the ingredients list and more on the how and why of cooking.

I typically do a lot of research before buying something. I read consumer reviews, sample pages, and compare overall ratings with similar books in the same genre. I just got in a shipment from Amazon of a list of books that took me a month to compile. They represent what I believe is the best-of-the-best in the cookbook market today (that I don't already have). All of these look like they have a healthy mix of education and recipes, so don't worry, you'll get a little bit of both!

Vegetables Every Day by Bishop
The River Cottage Meat Book by Fearnley-Whittingstall
Fat by McLagan
The River Cottage Cookbook by Fearnley-Whittingstall
Cooking by Peterson
Fish & Shellfish by Peterson

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