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Cooking books with history, books which teach you something

I just received Holy Smoke. which has NC barbeque and the history behind it. Considering that my inlaws are from SC, I would certainly argue that SC and all other barbeque will be argued as much, but from a history stance, it's good.

My recent tome was Pepin's The Apprentice. I loved that his mother minced garlic on fork fronds and made a souffle from idea--perfectly. Even if done in not the correct manner. It worked.

I'm always looking for books which are influential and have a good story. I have a few, including the one from Fried Green Tomatoes.

Truth be told, I can't follow a recipe. It's not disdain, but simply my own being. A cup of this,a smattering of that. Ok. Seriously, my baked goods are desired, even if I do them wrong.

The reason for this post is to find the books which continue to inspire. I'm a lazy cook who knows how to make it pretty but won't always, but am lucky that I have a non-furry taster now (husband) who will help me out.

Inspiring books, with stories--please share. The types you could read even if you never cooked, but which might make you want to eat or explore.

Hemingway was good at that too. As mighty of a man as he was, he was considered a feminine writer because he wrote with feeling. That is what I'm looking for.

Thanks!!

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  1. For contemporary food history (20th Century) "The United States of Arugula" is a good read - pretty much tells you how we got to where we are today and the people who inspired the culinary movements of the last century. Steve Rinella's "The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine" is a fun read. The author is given a copy of Escoffier's Guide Culinaire, which, as was the fashion of the day, was full of game recipes. The author spends about a year procuring the various ingredients for a multi-day feast featuring recipes from the turn of the last century. Any of Kurlansky's single-ingredient books are great, he covers the histories of salt, cod and oysters both as food and drivers of world economies.

    1. Chef John Folse's books are amazing! [if you can lift them] My mom got me the Encyclopedia of Cajun Cuisine for Christmas and it is part history book, part cookbook.

      1. MFK Fisher's depression era books (How to Cook a Wolf,) Edna Lewis's stories about growing up and eating in the agrarian South (Ms. Lewis imho is the original Alice Waters,) Elizabeth David's books including "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" about post WWll England when food rationing was coming to an end. All are wonderfully evocative reads that really take you there.

        2 Replies
        1. re: annabana

          I've read all of MFK Fisher's books--they're lovely and inspiring. Her piece on why people wouldn't cook for her was also interesting!

          1. re: annabana

            Any MFK Fisher!!! She's the BEST.
            Elizabeth David's "Italian Food" with the foreword by Julia Child
            James Beard. Did anybody know American food like that? His fish cookbook is a MUST have.

          2. One of my favorites is the Alice B. Toklas cookbook -- a divine combination of food and culture in France as seen by a US expatriate who, with her partner Gertrude Stein hosted Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Picasso, Matisse and more in the early part of the 20th century.

            1. Highly recommend Joseph Wechsberg's Blue Trout and Black Truffles and George Lang's Cuisine of Hungary, for early 20th C Mitteleuropa atmosphere and recipes. Both should be available through Bookfinder or ABEBooks - I think the Wechsberg at least is out of print.

              1. All the books by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

                  1. The history of food is very interesting.

                    1. The Essential Mediterranean, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Each chapter deals with a food, e.g, salt, wine, pasta, legumes, pork, tomatoes, and has several recipes featuring it, but more important, has an essay about the foodstuff, its origins and roles in Medditeranean life. I've never used the recipes, but the book is great reading along the lines you're looking for.

                      1. John Thorne's Simple Cooking series.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Who? Never heard of John Thorne.
                          Just joking of course. I read. I know stuff.
                          But it's interesting that people from the NE will refer to John Thorne who never satisfies my Southern Soul, while those of us from the SE always curl up on the couch with Edna Lewis.
                          Just reading a recipe for a coconut cake makes me know that the sun will come up tomorrow.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            He write of very, very close to home.

                        2. So far I've reserved 1 book each from the library: Joseph Wechsberg, John Thorn, and Edna Lewis.

                          Thanks!

                          1. Maya Angelou has a wonderful memoir/cookbook that I can't remember the name of- each chapter is a memory from her life where some food plays a central role, and then a recipe follows- absolutely delicious recipes accompanied by her terrific writing

                            1. Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories with Recipes is the name of the book by Maya Angelou