Monday, July 2, 2018

Around the Kitchen Table -- Researching via cookbook #bookgiveaway

LESLIE: Turns out that for those of us writing food fiction, cookbooks are great references for more than recipes. They can capture a time, a place, a zeitgeist.

My favorite is Butte’s Heritage Cookbook, created in 1976 in honor of the country’s bicentennial and the city’s centennial. Butte, America, as it’s sometimes called, is Montana's most colorful and diverse community, with the wildest history. I was a teenage bookseller in Billings when it came out, and we sold hundreds of copies. They still show up in yard sales and at thrift shops, and I snatch them up for friends.

What makes it so fascinating to me as a writer is that it is divided in sections by the ethnic heritage of early Butte settlers, most of them drawn to the copper and silver mines. American Indian, Black, Cornish, Finnish, Irish, Yugoslavian, and on and on, opening with a short history of that group in Butte, followed by recipes. I consult it as much for the cultural history—the photos of community celebrations, the personal stories, the descriptions of grocers and butchers and the group’s role in the larger community—as for the food. And the names—Simonich, Ducich, Mirich, Vucanovich, “all the iches,” as a character in my WIP (work in progress) says.


DARYL Leslie, great topic. Ever since I started writing the Cookbook Nook Mysteries, I've been fascinated by cookbooks. I've amassed quite a collection during my research. People write me all the time about their favorite cookbooks or family heirlooms or church bazaar cookbooks, and more. For my Renaissance-fair themed mystery, Pressing the Issue, I even researched cookbooks written in the Middle Ages. Now, I can't say that a cookbook has ever really pinned down a time and place for me, but my own history in the kitchen has been marked by a cookbook: The Gourmet Cookbook Volume I. It's the very first cookbook I purchased for myself at the tender age of 14, and as you can see, um, it's seen better days. Sigh. That darned spine broke about a year into owning it. So much for good binding. There aren't any pictures, but there are about twenty go-to recipes I use every year. Many for holidays. Many just for fun. I make a killer pie crust because of this book. The roast beef recipe is never fail. And the biscuit recipe? To die for. I guess I treasure this cookbook because I know when my love of cooking began. I cut my "cooking" teeth on it.


SHEILA: Daryl, I have the same Gourmet Cookbook, but the first one I ever bought for myself, for my first apartment, was Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, which I still have, (as well as two back-up copies in case the original one disintegrates). Julia taught me not to be afraid of food.

(It makes me a bit sad that Julia gets
all the credit, and Louisette and
Simone are forgotten)
I love cookbooks and collect them all over the place, including in foreign countries like Australia. It's been fun picking up Irish cookbooks over the past twenty years, because you can see the change in attitude toward food just by reading through them in chronological order. Once they were filled with recipes for stews and breads, but now they match any contemporary cookbooks in originality.

But one cookbook stands out in my memory: The James Beard Treasury of Outdoor Cooking (1960). We had a copy when I was in high school, but it was kind of useless since we lived in an apartment then and had no place to grill anything. But I remember sitting and leafing through it simply because the large color pictures were beautiful. (As an aside, I was once having lunch in a small restaurant in Berkeley and looked up to see James Beard in all his massive glory walk in. He was unmistakable, and I felt so proud to have chosen the same restaurant as he did.)


LUCY: I'm crazy for cookbooks too and so it's hard to pick just one! But I would go with Molly Katzen's MOOSEWOOD COOKBOOK because this guided my first serious period of cooking. I loved her illustrations and her homey descriptions of both the food and the process of cooking. I still make things from that tattered copy, which I've probably had for almost forty years. Pound cake...calzones...tomato soup...spanakopita...yum...



Most of my cookbooks belonged to my mother. When she retired from the kitchen she passed them onto  me. But the cookbook I turn to time after time is the one my family put together after my Grandma Swanson passed away. All the recipes are from either Grandma or other family members. And the majority call for items most people have in their pantries.  


CLEO: Like you Denise, my family has been the source for much of my foodie inspiration. After my dear dad passed away, I received some of his things. Among them was this Unemployed Cookbook

For over forty years, Dad worked in the Pittsburgh steel industry. During the deep recession of the 1970s, many people in our community lost their livelihoods. This cookbook was created not only to raise money for the local food bank but also to help families with ideas for cooking economical meals. It was done with good humor and good grace, and I'll always cherish it.

The recipes also remind me how a few simple ingredients can be transformed into darn good eats. One such recipe inspired my husband and I to create our own version for our 15th Coffeehouse Mystery: Dead to the Last Drop. For anyone who'd like our recipe for BOURBON HOT DOG BITES, you are welcome to click here or on the foodie photo. May you eat (and read) with joy!

Click for the recipe.


I have a whole collection that I love! My mom bought the Time Life FOODS OF THE WORLD series that was published in the early 1970s. As I recall, they were on a subscription basis, and each cookbook was accompanied by a larger hardcover coffee table type book about the foods in that country. Alas, our hardcovers are long gone, but I still have the original cookbooks. I can't speak for all the countries, of course, but their German and Austrian recipes are dead on. There's a book for Classic French, Foods of India, Africa, the Caribbean, several covering different sections of the United States, and more! There are twenty-seven cookbooks devoted to a particular area of the world plus a recipe and menu guide. 

As you can see, they've been used!


I'll readily admit that I'm a cookbook junkie. I love them, especially the ones with color photos in them. Which is why it's not so odd that the main character in my Dinner Club Mysteries, J.J. Tanner, shares that same trait. I also love the ones that take me someplace for some armchair travel in food land. Cookbooks have to tell a story that goes beyond the ingredients, whether it's about the author or the place where it all happens. So, here's one of my favorites (and I have several!). It's called The French Market by Joanne Harris & Fran Warde. As an aside, Joanne Harris is the author of several wonderful novels, including a mystery. Anyway, back to the cookbook. It has amazing photos from step-by-step techniques, to full pages of veggies, a double page of French balconies, and of course, the fully-prepared recipes. Each section has an intro with info about some of the ingredients. All in all, a terrific cookbook and one I refer to often, if just to look at the photos!


And you, dear readers? Is there a cookbook you read 
for more than the recipes? A cookbook you value for its insights about a time or place? A community cookbook you enjoy, even if you'd never actually cook out of it? 

Join our discussion in the comments to enter our giveaway! Remember to leave your email (cryptically is okay; we're amateur sleuths) 
so we can contact you if you win.

One lucky person will win:

A copy of the first French Bistro Mystery, A DEADLY ÉCLAIR - to celebrate the upcoming release of A SOUFFLÉ OF SUSPICION.

And an advance reader's copy of Lucy Burdette's 8th Key West mystery, DEATH on the MENU, coming in August!

And a copy of Krista Davis's THE DIVA COOKS UP A STORM!