Just as homegrown vegetables taste best, homwtown cookbooks have a special flavor most appreciated within a beltway ride of their origins. Local cookbooks from coast to coast may all include gravlax or pecan pie, but they usually have something that strikes a special responsive chord in the neighborhood, if only that they are fundraisers for favorite charities.
Washington's cookbooks are naturally more international than most cities' and nowhere is this more true than in "The Washington Cookbook" published by the Washington Opera Women's Committee (order by mail from P.O. Box 40897, Washington, D.C. 20016. $10 including postage, plus 51 cents tax for D.C. residents). From the South African embassy came Fish Bobotie, from Mrs. Averell Harriman there's Homard Souffle A L'Armoricaine. It is impossible to evaluate the consistency of recipes in such a book since they originate from so many sources, but in this one the recipes are immensely varied, being from presidents' wives, restaurant chefs, prominent Washingtonians and many embassies. And the drawings by Lily Spandorf are as evocative as the recipe for bean soup (in this case, from the House restaurant rather than from the Senate).
With Washingtonians tightening their belts, "Dining In -- Washington, D.C," by Vicky Bagley and Rona Cohen (Peanut Butter Publishing, $8.95), may hit the spot. Its recipes are from Washington's restaurants, and in most cases the most popular dishes from the most respected restaurants. It includes Nora's rehrucken, Le Lion d'Or's rabbit pate and orange souffle, the Prime Rib's potato skins and perhaps your last chance to have the snails and the grilled gravlax from the now-defunct T. Gregory's. While impracticalities have not been deleted -- lobster consomme is required just to reheat the asparagus, a carbon dioxide aerosol is necessary to prepare the gratin of respberries at Jean-Louis, rattlesnake is necessary for Dominique's salad -- it is, beyond a book for cooks, a guide to what makes Washington restaurants special.
Like the Washington Opera's cookbook, the American Cancer Society's is heavy on White House and embassy contributions. This one, the fourth in a series, is "The VIP Holiday Cookbook," edited by Audrey S. Mowson (order from American Cancer Society, Virginia Division, 346 Maple Ave. E., Vienna, Va. 22180. $6 plus $1 handling). Its recipes range from mangoes in champagne to a salad of Velveeta Cheese and Miracle Whip, but more than "The Washington Cookbook" it is weighty with marshmallows, mixes and brand-name ingredients.