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Classic books about cooking not cook books

Another thread has me wondering about what 'classic' books around food have I not read/bought. Here's a short list of a few I treasure: Please add any you'd recommend.
AB's Kitchen Confidential
Orwell's Down and Out In Paris and London
Nicolas Freeling's The Kitchen Book and The Cook book
Waverly Root's The Food of France
A.J. Liebling's Between Meals
Zola's The Belly of Paris
J. Pepin's The Apprentice

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  1. John Thorne's writing
    Laurie Colwin
    M.F.K. Fisher

    3 Replies
    1. re: sr44

      +3. Don't recall hearing a lot of CH love for Thorne, an excellent writer. I especially enjoyed his take on 'dry toast', which I had never thought of as a separate dish before. His taste is idiosyncratic, which I appreciate even when it does not coincide with mine.

      1. re: mwhitmore

        He's a wonderful example of success by following his bliss.

        1. re: mwhitmore

          I found his newsletter "Simple Cooking" back in the '80s and subscribed for several years. It was supposed to be a quarterly, but he's always been terrible at deadlines, worse than I ever was. He was dead honest, though - you paid for four issues, you GOT four issues, even if it took two years! We swapped some letters about New England v. Southern cooking, differences and similarities, and again not long ago about his search (was it Outlaw Cook or Serious Pig?) for a Karo-free pecan pie, a most worthy pursuit. I've always loved his writing, just like a good conversation with a smart and friendly man. Which it is.

      2. Larousse Gastronomique. Technique by Pepin.

        1. Madhur Jaffrey's memoir "Climbing the Mango Trees". Very evocative.

          1. Some that I have enjoyed:

            M.F.K Fisher, Art of Eating is a compilation of most of her work
            Elizabeth David, various editions
            Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed
            Michael Ruhlman, Making of a Chef, Soul of a Chef series

            Not a specific book, but there is an annual publication, "Best Food Writing of 20xx" that complies articles and essays from various writers.

            1. James W. Davidson's The Island of Formosa

              1. Jeffrey Steingarten - his books are brilliant and extremely funny
                Michael Pollan

                1. I loved Heat by Bill Buford. I became a lot more obsessed with cooking after reading it.

                    1. re: sr44

                      Agree. I remember his abhorrence of fancy French restaurants as 'those horrible mid-town places' .I now routinely refer to that neighborhood as 'Horrible Midtown'.

                    2. - Roy Andries de Groot's The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth & Feast for All Seasons
                      - Angelo Pellegrini's The Unprejudiced Palate
                      - the Cornbread Nation collections
                      - Edna Lewis' In Pursuit of Flavor, The Taste of Country Cooking & The Edna Lewis Cookbook
                      - Nigel Slater's books

                      I also like Waverly Root, Thorne, Colwin, MFK, Gray as mentioned by others. I'm sure I'm forgetting some other stuff I like but that's the fun of perusing the stacks and re-discovering books.

                      1. Mark Kurlansky's "Salt", "Cod" & "The Big Oyster" all provide interesting historical & political context to each of these foods.

                        1. Since you listed Kitchen Confidential with "classics", Im assuming it's ok to throw some more recent titles into the mix.

                          Devil in the Kitchen - Marco Pierre white
                          Blood Bones and Butter- Gabrielle Hamilton
                          Heat- Bill Buford
                          Making + reach + soul of a chef .... Michael Ruhlman

                          Are all must read titles IMHO

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: twyst


                            also, Ruth Reichl's Comfort me with apples

                          2. I love food reference books:
                            Geometry of Pasta
                            Herbs and Spices
                            various references for special diets and substitutions

                            1. The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Capon

                              1. Mark Kurlansky's books: Salt, Cod, The Big Oyster, The Basque History of the World. If you read just one, make it Salt.

                                He also edited a collection of pieces from the WPA Writers Project on regional US foodways that's worth the time -- now at remainder outlets: The Food of a Younger Land.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: ellabee

                                  Have you read Mark Bitterman's book on Salt? If so, how does it compare to Kurlansky's book? I have not read the latter and am very curious about it. I could read about salt for hours and hours and hours. His other books sound up my alley as well. Thanks!

                                  1. re: chefathome

                                    I haven't read Bitterman's, but I've read reviews, and my impression is that Bitterman's is more about the making and cooking properties of different kinds of salt, where Kurlansky's is much more wide ranging, exploring the history of its production and uses.

                                    Chef-y cooks will probably find more of use in Bitterman; the Kurlansky book has a wider appeal -- anyone who finds human history interesting.

                                    1. re: ellabee

                                      Thanks for the response. It sounds as though Kurlansky's book will go on my Amazon list. Both would complement each other nicely. (I meant this as a response to ellabee.)

                                      1. re: ellabee

                                        'Salt' is on the 10th grade honors reading list in our county. I just thought that was interesting.

                                      2. re: chefathome

                                        It's Mark Bittman, not "Bitterman".

                                        1. re: CookieLee

                                          No, the author these posters are referring to is Mark Bitterman. Different person.


                                    2. Ruth Reichl's "Tender at the Bone." A must read for any food lover.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                        "garlic and sapphires" is actually one of my all-time favorite reads: i loan it out to people all the time and everyone enjoys it. it's not strictly about food - it's her adventures of being an undercover reviewer. fascinating.

                                        1. re: rmarisco

                                          I just ordered this on amazon, looking forward to reading it during my commute. :)

                                          1. re: eviemichael

                                            I used my Border's gift card for this, and stayed up WAY too late last night reading it. It's wonderful!

                                      2. How could I have not added Ludwig Bemelman's books. 'Hotel Bemelman' is an absolute must have/read. I have that one.
                                        He also wrote 'La Bonne Table'. Does anyone have this book?
                                        I haven't read it nor seen one but I've heard about it. It's my 'White Whale'. I look for it at every swap meet/garage sale. I HAVE TO HAVE IT!
                                        "Why not just order one" Because a new one is listed on Amazon for $450.00!!!!!! A used one is only $229.00!

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                          I have it along with another by Bemelman "When you lunch with the Emperor". Sorry but I can't part with them.

                                          1. re: mexivilla

                                            Do you have a hard copy of 'La Bonne Table'. Is it as great as 'Hotel Bemelman'?

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              Sorry but it's been too long since I last read the book. Since I'm in Mexico until spring and the book is in Canada it will be a while before I can check.
                                              But everything by Bemelman is great even his Are You Hungry, Are You Cold? which I found as frightening as anything by Steven King .

                                        2. My friend, Phyllis Bober, wrote "Art, Culture and Cuisine" which is probably the definitive treatise on ancient and medieval cookery.

                                          While primarily a cookbook, "The Encyclopedia of Practical Gastronomy" by Ali-Bab (1907) has enough interesting text to qualify here.


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Chefpaulo

                                            I really enjoy "Art, Culture and Cuisine" as ancient and medieval cookery is a great interest of mine.

                                          2. They don't qualify as 'classic' but you might get a kick out of 2 novels by James Hamilton-Paterson - Cooking with Fernet-Branca & Amazing Disgrace....where you'll find his 'recipe' for Eel (sic) Flottante, among others.

                                            1. The United States of Arugula by David Kamp in addition to Kurlansky, MFK Fisher, and all Ruth Reichl (hysterical!)

                                              1. I have read many of the books above and agree with most of them. Something not mentioned is novels revolving around food or restaurant. I would like to recommend Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor. It is a great novel about a chef with themes of local food. Great read!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: ddueck

                                                  Thanks to ddueck for the Taylor recommendation. Best of all it was available on line for my Sony ereader from the Toronto library.

                                                  1. re: mexivilla

                                                    Well it was great that it was free. The parts about the real cooking and restaurant setup were excellent but they could have left out all of the other stuff. Unfortunately they couldn't because it was essential to a really dumb conclusion. Book really needed a good editor. On the other hand there are so few books like this that you have to take what you can get.

                                                2. I have AB's 'Bone In The Throat' and 'Gone Bamboo' and The Bobby Gold Stories'. Each is a great read. IMO AB is actually a really fine writer. Read these books if you don't believe me.

                                                  1. While not, perhaps, on anyone's "Classics List", I love the books by Marlena DeBlasi about live, love and eating in Italy; also Sara Roahen's "Gumbo Tales" about New Orleans,
                                                    of course; Tamar Adler's "An Everlasting Feast" is fascinating
                                                    reading about cooking what's available; Alan Davidson "The Oxford Companion to Food" answers food questions you didn't even know you had. Every book by Calvin Trillin should be required reading for anyone interested food and terrific writing. My personal favorite is anything by
                                                    Clementine Paddleford...not for the writing, but for having the
                                                    best name in the food world!!

                                                    1. Cooking with Pomaine (intro by Ruth Reichel)
                                                      The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin

                                                      1. Michael Bond's Monsieur Pamplemousse books. Murder mysteries starring a retired police detective, and his faithful Bloodhound Pomme Frites, now an inspector for a Michelin-type restaurant review organization. Hilarious, and filled with insider foodie stuff as well as ridicule of foodies!

                                                        1. A Moveable Feast by Hemingway. His love affair with food was as strong as his love affair with death.

                                                          1. Oh, so many books to enjoy. Just looking over my shelves :

                                                            Murder on the Menu (http://www.amazon.com/Murder-Menu-Pet...), a collection of short murder stories all with a food theme. Also a Vol II is around.

                                                            Sharks fin & Sichuan Pepper (http://www.fuchsiadunlop.com/books/sh...). Fuschia Dunlop, one of the essential Western documenters of NW Chinese regional cuisine, tells the personal story of her time and experiences researching her cookbooks. A surprisingly revealing journey.

                                                            Burgundy Stars (http://www.amazon.com/Burgundy-Stars-...). Documents Bernard Loiseau's efforts to take the restaurant La Cote D'Or in Burgundy from 2 to 3 Michelin stars. Which succeeded, at the cost of making commercial sacrifices (endorsing a canned soup line for example) to enable improvements at the restaurant.

                                                            The Debt to Pleasure : (http://www.panmacmillan.com/book/john...) A novel, mostly about food and family, gradually segues into a murder mystery. Sort of.

                                                            Perfection Salad : (http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=...) : A documentary looking into the effect of the growing influence of industrial cooking and the social mores of cleanliness, lightness and modernism on American domestic cookery in the late 19th & early 20tyh centuries.

                                                            A Goose in Toulouse : (http://www.mortrosenblum.net/book_fro...). A thoughtful & insightful look into the culinary regional traditions of France through the eyes of an expert journalist.

                                                            And a big +1 to everyone who mentioned Calvin Trillin & John Thorne. Two legends of American food writing in very different ways. Trillin brings the eyes of a veteran reporter and lover of good honest food (combined with an understanding of "fine cusine" that shows occasionally) to his travels and his everyday life. John & Matt Thorne bring a deep understanding of the areas they look into (Down East cooking from New England, a comprehensive review of Caribbean pork & bean dishes, and many more) and speak with unquestionable authority shown in research, interbviews and citations.

                                                            Both of these authors provide my most re-read food writing books. I read my wife a chapter from "The Tummy Trilogy" every night to help her to sleep. The sleepiness propbably comes from my reading rather than Mr Trillin's prose, though

                                                            1. A Man and his Meals — The Fine Art of Eating, by Fletcher Pratt and Robeson Bailey (Henry Holt & Co. 1947)

                                                              Also James Beard's Delights and Prejudices, of course.

                                                              1. Eric Schlosser - Fast Food Nation. You will never look at the food industry in the same way again.

                                                                Lisa Abend - The Sorcerer's Apprentices. A good glimpse into the back scene at El Bulli.

                                                                Richard Wrangham - Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. An interesting look at how our evolution is linked with cooked foods.

                                                                Taras Grescoe - Bottomfeeder. A help in how to purchase and eat fish sustainably. Will open your eyes to the fishing industry, the people in it, and the impact on ocean ecology.

                                                                Andrew Rimas - Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World. Well written. The title says it all

                                                                Anthony Bourdain - Medium Raw. Typical Bourdain. Fun read.