For the Love of (Food) Books


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.


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