Favorite Cookbooks that Don’t “Blush Unseen” in the Cabinet

Did you all have a literary weekend? I did, although my bookish excursions took a culinary turn. I was in a bit of a cooking mood this weekend, which meant I spent a good deal of time pouring over my favorite cookbooks. I thought I’d share them with you, and I hope you’ll tell me about your favorites too!

More-with-Less Cookbook (1976); The Joy of Cooking (1931); Moosewood Cookbook (1977)

More-with-Less is my go-to for hearty, delicious, feel-good (in both body and soul) food. The more recent editions of this book are full of lovely quotes and anecdotes from people around the world. These stories, although they might just be a paragraph long, have often brought tears to my eyes. To read about how people in developing countries have so little and yet are so thankful for and practical about what they do have… is humbling. And inspiring!  The book is produced by the Mennonite community and teaches the theological importance of eliminating food waste, reducing consumption, and recognizing that our own eating and cooking practices effect the global community as a whole. And although the recipes are “simple,” do not be deceived… they are delicious! My favorite is the recipe for Egyptian lentils topped with fried onions. Egyptians may be famous for building structurally impossible pyramids and solving complex math and physics problems, but to my mind, they should go down in history as the people who flavored their lentils with cinnamon and cumin. Brilliant!


The Joy of Cooking cookbook belonged to my great grandmother, Dama. She was given that name by my toddler mother on a trip to the zoo. Her grandmother announced that her favorite animal was a llama, and so she became “Dama”. Her grandfather, my great-grandfather, she called “Mungna,” an infantile pronunciation of his favorite animal (or else the way he behaved): monkey. You get the idea.

I love this book for many reasons, but the primary one being that it’s so tactile. My great-grandmother made notes in the margins, she wrote or pasted recipes on all the blank pages. I love being that close to an ancestor I’ve never met. Her handwriting, the spills and smudges, the dog-eared pages and the discolored, soft, torn ones that are the texture and transparency of moth wings: it’s like I’m in the kitchen with her.

Plus, Mrs. Rombauer’s comments at the beginnings of each section are so 1930s homemaker. Probably my favorite is the section on cocktails.

How funny is that?

“To give this book the impression of sobriety and stability it deserves, the alcoholic cocktails have been relegated to the chapter on Beverages. There they may blush unseen by those who disapprove of them…” And here they are, but they don’t seem to be blushing.

The one thing these three cookbooks have in common is that they are all falling apart. In my mind, for a cookbook to become a fixture in a family kitchen it must satisfy four criterion: 1) It must be rife with grease smudges and spills, 2) It must have writing in the margins, 3) Included between its tattered covers must be several torn and folded pages, and 4) The spine must be creased to the point of splitting, if it has not already done so. My Moosewood Cookbook, though I’ve only possessed it for a few years, has achieved all four.

Moosewood in Ithaca, NY is a world famous vegetarian restaurant. And one of the first  in the United States, I might add. These recipes were written by a bunch of hippies from various cultural backgrounds, which in itself makes for a rich and varied cookbook. And let me tell you, these hippies did not shirk on flavor. Aside from the fact that these recipes are just plain delicious — Mushroom Mousaka? Yes! Squash Stuffed Three Ways? Oh, yes, please! Traditional Spanakopita? Tummy rumble. Honey Cheese Cake? Hells yes. — they’re all hand-written in folksy, efficient English. Plus, they include delightful little drawings like this one.

And this one…

Though it’s a vegetarian’s Bible, rest assured, the bulgar wheat and soy beans are kept to a minimum.

After spending several hours with these books, the thought unavoidably came to my mind: will Kindle cookbooks ever be able to replace these smudged and scribbled-on volumes, which are in themselves records of family history? I know I slam eBooks and eReaders a lot of this blog, and I don’t mean to. Really. Technology develops; the good will stay and the bad will be replaced with something that works better. That’s the way of it and I welcome the good.

But I just can’t see myself thumbing my floury and buttery fingers across an illuminated tablet screen, not when I could be cooking alongside one of these treasures.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks? Recipes?

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2 comments
  1. Bobbi said:

    It is the only way to cook an old time treasured recipe. :)

  2. Claire said:

    Wonderful Article! Now I am ready for the lunch I missed! My favorite cookbooks live right next to my copy of “More with less.” I love “More with less: Extending the Table” and use it nearly every time I cook. It has the same simple format as the original More with Less and same wonderful stories but it is focused on international recipes and the cooks that create these recipes. All countries are represented. Our favorites usually come from India, Thailand, and Turkey. We cannot get enough pita bread and falafel. You can cook anything from British Scones to Moroccan stew to Southern fried chicken.

    This book explains that for most of the world meat is considered a food for celebration, a sacrifice of an animal to delight in a special meal on a special day. We’ve tried to stick with this in our house. It’s nice to think we are getting back to the ancient roots of all the cultures we came from, and share a in the life and tradition of our world; just to remember that for the rest of our planet meat is a sacrifice and a delicacy to bring to the table. I just loved that idea.

    If you are of the gardening sort and have the privilege to cook the food you’ve grown yourself then you should most defiantly own “More with less: Simply in Season.” The recipes are grouped by the seasons that you can grow certain foods. All the recipes are reflective of the vegetables that you can find in that season. It has gardening and harvesting stories and tips to keep you company as you embrace the beautiful process of bringing food to your table. My father-in-law bases all of his gardens off of this book, planting, harvesting, cooking, etc. These too have international recipes along with traditional ones we are used to finding. It’s great to be able to finally plant that Napa cabbage you’ve always wanted to experiment with and know that when it grows you’ll be eating Kimchi all through the fall.

    Enjoy!

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