I write a great deal about books on this blog. You know that I love Irish poetry and the novels of Virginia Woolf. You know that I love Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. You may not know that I love well-written detective novels like those by Margery Allingham (past) and Kate Atkinson (present).
A significant sub-genre in the large category of Books I Have Loved is Food Books. This includes my childhood favorite Little Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Even today, I could happily read those descriptions of nineteenth-century farm meals over and over and over. Wilder can make me drool even for headcheese.
It also includes Food Memoir. This seems to be a very popular genre today. I haven’t actually read many of these books, but I have noticed whole stacks of memoirs with words like cupcake, lemon, chocolate, etc. in their titles. My own favorite food memoir may be Down the Kitchen Sink, by Beverley Nichols. His gardening books are the best, but I love Nichols no matter his subject. He’s sentimental, nostalgic, and rather snobbish (well aware of his own foibles, he would no doubt prefer the term “romantic”), but he’s witty, supremely British, fond of name-dropping and more comforting than the most comforting comfort food.
Lastly, there are cookbooks. I read them like novels and am drawn both to the glossy and new (Ina Garten! Babycakes!) and the vintage and worn (The Kitchen Garden Cookbook with watercolor illustrations by Tasha Tudor!). One of my all-time favorites for reading pleasure is Apples for Jam. The recipes are organized by color (pink! green! white!) rather than food type or meal. It’s totally impractical and wonderfully inspiring.
Last spring, I inherited (via estate sale) a whole stack of vintage cookbook treasures. When I paid for them, the daughter of their previous owner sighed and told me that her mother used to read cookbooks like novels. I told her I’d be keeping them on my bedside table for just that reason.
My favorite of her books is The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. The title may sound corporate and rather soul-less, but if you could hold it in your hands you would know right away how wrong that first impression is. This is a hefty, hardback covered inside and out with delicate ink drawings, many of them in full technicolor glory. Originally published in 1963, mine is the 1965 edition.
It is part cookbook, part memoir (as the best cookbooks usually are), and describes the life, times, and food of Margaret Rudkin. Apparently, Mrs. Rudkin was inspired to begin baking and selling Pepperidge Farm bread because of her child’s food allergies. Thus, she is dear to this mama’s heart.
Part One of this book describes Mrs. Rudkin’s childhood in a New York City brownstone. It seems they ate a lot of soup and fish. I might try the recipe for Strawberry Soup. Likely, I will skip the Pickled Lambs’ Tongues.
Of course, I also enjoy actually cooking. And certainly, I love to eat. Still, one can only cook or eat so much. But reading … ah, reading. With books I am never sated.
Do any of you share my love for cookbooks and books about food? Any recommendations? I’m always hungry for more.
oh Christie! Me too! My favorite food memoir is My Homemade Life (she started with her blog, Orangette and managed to find her husband AND book contract through her blog. And I love cookbooks. Seth has cut me off since I don’t actually cook, so now i’m forced to just check them out from the library–not nearly as fun. Food magazines, though, have never done it for me. And for the record, I have a real thing for cookbooks by British men.
Oh, I love Orangette, but I’ve never read her book. Heading to my library’s website right now …
Laura Ingalls Wilder food descriptions are the best. I loved her cookbook. I too would still read those books. Williams Sonoma Family Meals is a good one.
Alanna, I have vague memories of a Laura Ingalls Wilder cookbook but don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy. It sounds wonderful (remember sugar snow?). I wonder if it’s still in print? Heading now to investigate …
oh I was going to recommend A Homemade Life as well! you’ll love it, christie.
you know Beverly Nichols is a favorite of mine, but I’ve only read his garden memoirs (LOVE). i definitely need to get my hands on more of his books.
I too am a “food book” lover… Right now, I am reading At the Kitchen Table written by Greg Atkinson. The recipes are great and I love the cross-over of a professional chef that celebrates the craft of cooking simply at home. The recipes in A Homemade Life are great too, we are making the “Pink Cookies” for valentines day. 🙂
Thank you, Jessica! I’m adding Atkinson’s book to my growing list. Your comment reminded me that I recently read Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, a well-known chef in New York. I was blown away by the writing – definitely the most well written, literary food memoir I’ve ever read.
I loved your remark about head cheese. Lol! I recently put up a post about “My China” by Kylie Kwong, as my favorite sub-sub-genre of food books is travel/food books. Over the weekend I will be blogging about travel and cooking (and eating) on the Grand Trunk Road, which starts in Afghanistan and goes through Pakistan to India. I even made one of the recipes…it tasted great even if it was sort of…lumpy. :/.
I hadn’t heard of My China. I’ll be sure to check it out. I, too, love travel food books.
Christie, as your husband could attest (from my facebook entries) that I enjoy food and enjoy reading and collecting cookbooks just as much as I enjoy eating! I, too, read them like novels. You might enjoy Susan Branch’s cookbooks – she completely handwrites all her books and each page is a celebration of the food by way of quotes, family stores and such. Her watercolor illustrations are charming – and the recipes are very tasty (at least the ones that I’ve tried)!
I know I’ve mentioned this to JP, (but don’t know if he’s ever passed along to you) how much I enjoy your “voice.” Something he posted on fb led me to your blog and I’ve enjoyed reading it ever since. Thank you for sharing your talent and thoughts with the internet world. I certainly look forward to reading your blog when time allows!
Lynn, I’m so glad you stopped by and left a comment! It’s great to hear from you and great to know that you enjoy this blog. I can’t wait to check out Susan Branch’s cookbooks. They sound ideal. I may use my Joy of Cooking when I need a specific how-to, but I will always be happiest when cooking a recipe that has been illustrated and, even better, shared with a story or memory. Food is just better when paired with stories and pictures.
Hi! I just got the book you mention here, The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, 1965 edition, today at a book sale for $3! I collect cookbooks and am so excited to have this among some other great finds. Just wondering if you noticed in your copy of the book if any pages are upside down. I have pages 127-150 printed (or bound) upside down in the book. I think it makes it even more special, even though I know it’s just a publisher/printing issue. Is your copy the same? Thanks!