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!



  1. I started collecting cookbooks in 1966 after my wedding. The first one I bought was 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger! I love cookbooks & buy them as souvenirs when we travel. For me, cookbooks are novels. The recipes are fun to read but the stories that go with them are really interesting to me. They tell so much about a time and a place. My favorite cookbook is Cooking for Madam which was written by the lady who cooked for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for decades. I'm a huge fan of Mrs. Onassis, having "followed" her since the Presidential campaign in 1960 so having her cook share her stories is fascinating to me.

  2. A favorite cookbook is the Kitchen Klatter cookbook given to me by my Mother. I don’t use it much for recipes but keep it because it reminds me of her and listening to the kitchen Klatter program on the radio.

  3. Here in Alabama we have a cookbook that is released every year called "Calling All Cooks." I have several and they are wonderful. They are packed with real food recipes that people would actually want to cook in their homes.
    clarksrfun at gmail dot com

  4. Today is our 52nd wedding anniversary. When we were first married we were so poor, but Woman's Day put out a series of cookbooks called Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking. There were twelve books in the series and put out every other week or so. My husband budgeted the price of each book into our food budget so I could buy them. They contained stories of the recipes and started my love of reading cookbooks. BTW....I still have them!

    1. sharonquilts@yahoodotcom

    2. I still have my set. Happy belated anniversary, too.

  5. I don’t have any old cookbooks.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

  6. I think the very first cookbook I ever owned was given to me by my grandmother, right after my mother (her daughter) died. I was 13. THE I NEVER COOKED BEFORE COOKBOOK by Jo Coudert is held together with masking tape and missing a large chunk of the back cover. It cost 75¢ paperback back in 1965. I highly recommend it for anyone who has no idea what to do or where to start.


  7. My favorite is my Betty Crocker cookbook from 1969. I don't remember where I got it, maybe a garage sale for my first apartment? I love all the instructions it includes in addition to the recipes. It was a big help starting out and is still a great reference when I try something new. ckmbeg (at) gmail (dot) com

  8. I like the Better Homes & Garden New Cookbook. I've had a few editions and it's great to see how the recipes are modified over time.

  9. I have several cookbooks, but I tend to now find recipes in line, but I may change that because the last few things I've made off pinterest ended in complete epic fails! (And I followed the instructions perfectly) Maybe I am just not a good cook.. I'm trying but stoves and ovens tend to be my enemies 🤦‍♀️🙈 Thanks for the chance. lilyanngill56(at)gmail(dot)com

  10. When I got engaged 48 years ago I received a treasure of a cookbook which I still have and use. A wonderful and cheried cookbook. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  11. I love cookbooks, I have 2 bookcases full. I have some great old cookbooks from my grandmother and aunt. I love reading the types of foods that were popular then and how much butter and fat was in the recipes. It's a great window into the past.

  12. I have collected cookbooks since the late 50's and my favorite is the pillsbury bake-off ones. I have the very first one up to the last..they are such fun to look through. Best recipes of all with older recipes and which one won best

  13. I collect cookbooks and love thumbing through them. My prized, though, are a spiral bound book that my grandmother-in-law made for me and a collection of cards my grandmother gave me for Christmas one year. Most precious of all, the little book of recipe cards that my mother started for me. I came across it right after she died, a few months ago, while looking for photos for her funeral service. Dmskrug3 at hotmail dot com

  14. Thank you so much. One of my Wedding gifts was a Betty Crocker cookbook- I loved that and still have it (falling apart)49 years later.

  15. Cookbooks are meaningful and are timeless. I received a unique cookbook as a gift which I will always keep. I love looking through them as they give me enjoyment. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  16. What an amazing giveaway!
    I am one of those people who can read a cookbook as if it were a novel. I savor each recipe.
    libbydodd at comcast dot net

  17. I love cookbooks. I think it's an inherited trait (obsession?). My mother collected cookbooks and clipped and copied recipes. My favorite cookbook is an old brown 3-ring binder which holds a spiral notebook. I was probably pre-teen and decided to capture all my favorites, and I used it just the other day for the best BBQ sauce recipe in the world - my grandmother's and weekly for homemade pizza! It has writing in the margins from when my little brothers drew in it. It's treasured.

    And thanks for a fabulous giveaway.

  18. I don't remember which cookbook I bought first: Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook or Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans. The second one was certainly more interesting to read! I've got a couple of church cookbooks from our Minnesota years; hot dish anyone? A number of recipe compilations from clubs all over Texas. A couple of Irish cookbooks. A couple from Justin Wilson. I pared down my collection several years ago. But I am addicted to cutting out recipes from magazines and printing them out from MLK among places!