Amid all that, we also launched our Essential Cookbooks newsletter, by food writer and cookbook author Charlotte Druckman. The 10-week series is Charlotte’s — extremely subjective! — list of books that she thinks “are essential to a modern home cook’s repertoire.” It covers a wide variety of cuisines, cultures and approaches. If you haven’t signed up yet, no worries. The free(!) newsletter comes out weekly on Mondays on a rolling basis. No matter when you register, you’ll start with Week 1 and get all 10 weeks, with a pair of recipes culled from each book. You can sign up here.
To mark the end of the initial run of the newsletter, we hosted Charlotte last week on Free Range, our weekly live online chat (noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays) in which we answer reader questions on anything food and cooking. (We have started giving away a free 30-day subscription to our favorite commenter each week, so be sure to come on by!) We asked participants what their essential cookbooks were, and the responses were interesting and enlightening. Here is an edited selection.
“Joy of Cooking” — Multiple readers chimed in that this classic, first published by Irma S. Rombauer in 1931, has been a staple of their house. It “has always been one of my favorites, not because the recipes are so amazing but because it teaches you how to cook everything. I mean, there aren’t many cookbooks out there that teach you how to boil an egg, can pickles and make a wedding cake.” The most recent edition came out last year, with Rombauer’s great-grandson, John Becker, and his wife, Megan Scott, as contributors. Says another reader of the new edition: “The newest ‘Joy of Cooking’ has unexpectedly become my first and often only resource — if it has a version of what I want to make, I go for it. I say ‘unexpectedly’ because I already had all the other versions (thanks to inheriting my grandmom and mom’s cookbooks) and would use them occasionally but less than other compendiums.”
Anything by Ina Garten — “I love her recipes; big flavors and not too difficult.”
Anything by Madhur Jaffrey — “One of my essential cookbooks is anything by Madhur Jaffrey, since I bought her BBC-TV cookbook after watching the series in 1982!” Jaffrey, an Indian food authority, is about more than cookbooks, though. “Her ‘Climbing the Mango Trees’ is a nice antidote to White people food memoirs. I’d always loved the stories she told of her eating adventures growing up in Delhi, so this book was a treasure, sad though it was to read about the effects of Partition.”
“The Victory Garden Cookbook” — Several readers recommended this book by Marian Morash. “My first copy of the softbound volume was given to me almost 40 years ago and was falling apart when I replaced it from eBay; I snagged another copy last year at a thrift store and may pass it to my daughter. The book has recipes for all kinds of vegetables from A to Z, and in all this time I have never had a recipe fail.” Adds another: “I think it’s out of print, but I’ve found my copies at used book stores — if you see it (predominantly red cover) don’t pass it up!” Fun fact: Morash’s husband, Russ Morash, helped create the landmark series “The French Chef,” with Julia Child. Speaking of which …
“Mastering the Art of French Cooking” — It would be hard to leave out this seminal book by Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. “I inherited my copy of Julia Child’s ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ from my mother. Being single, I rarely refer to it anymore, but it was good for learning the basics.” Child’s “The Way to Cook” gets a nomination, too.
“Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” — In 2014, Deborah Madison’s authoritative tome was republished with a “New” appended, the original having been published in 1997. I love it as a reference book. “Good and reliable recipes, plus so much useful general information on plant-based eating,” a reader concurs.
“The Food Lab” — J. Kenji López-Alt’s masterpiece is a must for anyone who wants to understand the science of cooking to help guarantee success in the kitchen. “Funny, informative and every single thing we have made from it has become a ‘keeper.’ … And normally I hate reading about how stuff works. But he is so highly readable,” says a reader. Similarly, another reader recommends America’s Test Kitchen’s “The Science of Good Cooking.”
“The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook” — This book is by Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas. “It’s the perfect intermediate baking cookbook that takes baking to another level. Game-changer. Also has stunning photos.”
“Baking Chez Moi” — Dorie Greenspan is another favorite for bakers. “I keep going back to it every time I want to bake and my copy is now full of margin notes.”
“The Great Salsa Book” — You may not have heard of this one by Mark Miller with Mark Kiffin, but one reader wants to change that. “Loads of varieties of salsas, not just red and green. I reference it frequently.”
“Diva Q’s Barbecue” — One reader who won this book, by Danielle Bennett, on the chat in pre-pandemic days reports it is in fact a winner! “The recipes require a lot of cooking time. This is barbecue after all! But even when the presentation is lacking — and with my cooking skills, it usually is, at least compared with the appearance of the cooked food in the cookbook — the taste is fantastic! My four kids rave about the stuff I make from that cookbook.”
“Hot Sour Salty Sweet” — Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid have written several books. “I like all of their books, which combine amazing photos and stories of global travel with reliable and delicious recipes. ‘Hot Sour Salty Sweet’ focuses on the cuisines of Southeast Asia, a favorite region to explore vicariously.”
What are your essential cookbooks? Share in the comments below!
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