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Mar 7, 2014 07:50 AM

Cookbooks that are more than just cookbooks.

Whilst I am a fan of the old fashioned cookbooks, I like nothing more than delving into a cookbook and learning more than just recipes. There is an increasing number of cookbooks that teach us about a culture, history etc. yet I only stumble across them by accident.
There was;
David Thompson authoritative work on Thai Food; Dunlop's classics on Sichuan food; and of cause Ottolenghi's books.

I am in desperate need of more!
What other 'authority' cookbooks are there? That really get bellow the surface of a countries food??

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  1. One of my "bibles" is the Making of a Cook by Madeleine Kamman. French focused, but with a lot of history thrown in.

    8 Replies
    1. re: rudeboy

      My mom took two years of culinary instruction from Madeleine Kamman in the 60's when she lived in Philadelphia. I have both of her books and concur. Also, somewhere in this attic, I have all the original mimeograph recipes Madeleine handed out to her students at each lesson.

      My other frequently used favorite is the 1907 "Encyclopedia of Practical Gastronomy" by Ali-Bab. He was a French mining engineer who traveled the world and wrote up an amazing collection of recipes with extensive commentary.

      1. re: Chefpaulo

        The Encyclopedia sounds awesome. As does Ali-Bab's job description.

        1. re: rudeboy

          I wish you all good will finding this. It is the Elizabeth Benson translation published in 1974 by McGraw-Hill. The original title was "Gastronomie Practique: Etudes Culinires." It is worth the search.

          Ali-Bab (his culinary name) was actually Henri Babinskl - the brother of Joseph Babinski, M.D - the Babinski reflex neurologist.

          Ali-Bab provided some amazing recipes. His Chicken Sauteed in Cream, Shallots and Armagnac and his Chocolate Almond Gateau with Amaretto Whipped Cream (my addition) have been staples for 35 years.

      2. re: rudeboy

        I just bought a copy of Making of a Cook. I can't wait to dive into it.

        1. re: AmyLearnsToCook

          I find that if I take it to bed, I can read some of the background info here and there before going to sleep. However, it is sort of heavy book.

        2. re: rudeboy

          Wow - I totally forgot about the Trout Point Lodge book.

          These are Louisiana guys that went to Nova Scotia where the Acadiens came from to explore the roots of the cajun cuisine. the book is more Canadian, though. They use local ingredients from there and come up with good fusion recipes. One day, I will go there.

          Thorough, but not huge. The history in in the forward in the first section, with little vignettes with some of the recipes.

        3. Cradle of Flavor is full of anecdotes and stories from the author's stay in SE Asia.

          1. The Nero Wolfe Cookbook. From fiction's greatest detective and chowhound.

            1. I'm with you. I love a cookbook that tells me as much about the history and culture behind the food as how to cook it. You're just as likely to find a cookbook in my bedside reading pile as in the kitchen.

              Since you mentioned Asian cookbooks, I'll recommend the books of the team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, such as "Hot Sour Salty Sweet", "Mangoes & Curry Leaves" or "Beyond the Great Wall".

              10 Replies
              1. re: weem

                Ohh I had been thinking about 'Hot Sour Salty Sweet'; will definitely buy it! To bad that 'Mangoes and Curry Leaves' is out of print on Amazon!
                Have you read Naomi Duguid's Burma book?

                1. re: borisabrams

                  No, I haven't. In fact, the only one I owned and read in any depth was "Mangoes & Curry Leaves". I had to part with it a few years ago when I was super-broke, but now that things are a bit more stable I'm slowly building up my cookbook library again, and these are on my list. I'm sure there are nice used copies online, too, unless you only like to buy them new.

                  1. re: borisabrams

                    The Book Depository site has 'Mangoes and Curry Leaves'.

                  2. re: weem

                    Thanks, Weem.

                    Every book by Alford and Duguid is stunning, packed with intelligence, great writing, information and the love they have for food cultures and people shows on every page and photograph.

                    i have 'Rice' 'Bread' and 'Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet'. I buy them immediately if i find them.

                    1. re: kariin

                      Oh, wonderful, thanks for the feedback, Kariin!

                      1. re: kariin

                        How does 'Rice' compare to the others?? From what I have read about their books, 'Rice' doesnt seem to get as much credit as their others!

                        Also; I dont eat much focus does 'Hot, sour, Salty, Sweet' have on pork? Would you say its easily substituted?

                        1. re: borisabrams

                          I agree. And HSSS is full of non-pork suggestions: tofu, vegan/veg, chicken, seafood and fish and lots of other critters. get the book - check it out of a library first if necessary. My bet is you'll be searching for it within a few days.

                          Rice is less noticed here but i attribute that to the fact that rice is not as beloved for a staple here as in other parts of the world: Indian sub-continent, south Asia, Persia, China, Japan, west Africa. In US rice was/is significant where it can be grown (Louisiana, Ark-Texas, Gulf, and atlantic coast SC, GA, NFlorida). Corn, potatoes are the essential staple starches here - wheat rules as the grain.

                          Alford and Duguid give rice culture around the world its due - which means an enormous cultural road to wander.
                          And the deep SC rice culture is a part of that story and their treatment is true to our history. We came so close to losing it here, but it is coming back.. Cooking real Carolina Gold rice - knowing what it cost so many people to cultivate it here in the past - it stops time.

                          Every book they have done is worth every penny.

                          1. re: kariin

                            Ah ok; I am going to get the HSSS and the Rice books - mayyybeee the one about the Indian subcontinent and China. I feel like a kid in a candy store!

                            You seem to know a lot about Rice in the States. Do you have any connection to it personally, or just an interest of yours?

                            1. re: borisabrams

                              well I eat it constantly so that's a very personal connection :->

                              I learned to fix good, dry white rice before I was 8 just by watching. nothing special. rice was at evry meal except breakfast. every kind of southern pea/bean was served over that rice, and also stew beef, pork chops, okra, shrimp, cooked tomato and all kinds of gravy. Irish (white) potatoes were less common, tho loved as mashed. Chicken bog w/sausage and pepper was cooked with rice (it's a wet perlow). It was incomprehensible to me that people didn't eat rice every day and had no idea how to fix it. I felt very happy in the first Chinese restaurant I went to because it made sense to me that rice was the hub that everything else revolved around.

                              The idea of a special rice cooker made sense only if you didn't really know how to fix rice and needed to have enough for 20+ people. I still don't own a rice cooker but i probably wouldn't turn it down if somebody gave me one.

                              i live in SC now where one side of my family comes from and work for the return to foods that nearly disappeared in the 60s-80s: not just heirlooms but lots of things people stopped cooking and eating, usually out of embarassement over looking 'country' or 'hick'. And southern food once had a uniformly bad rap as greasy, over-cooked, too much salt and generally disgusting. such a shame.

                              And it's a regional cuisine,(as in Italy) with enormous differences, from appalachian mtn food to gulf coast, to low country to kentucky burgoo to anything nola to tidewater virginia to florida cracker to eastern nc bbq, to arkansas dry land rice to liver nips to sc pine bark stew.... carolina gold rice is an amazing story. and you can eat history. here is the recipe:


                              and the Southern Foodways Alliance is the best single source anywhere:

                              thanks for asking, sorry to bend your ear.

                              1. re: kariin

                                The Carolina Rice Kitchen by Karen Hess is full of history with a sprinkling of recipes throughout.

                    2. Sonia Uvezian's Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen, which gives a deep look at one of the oldest food cultures.