Seems that Santa’s not the only one making a list and checking it twice this time of year. There are loads of “best” lists around now and cookbooks are no exception. Reading these lists is dangerous for the lover of books and cooking - they generally end in a purchase or two.
When we left Tortola, I was very sad to leave behind the majority of our books. There just wasn’t room in the container. But we did manage to get back with hundreds of cookbooks that neither Bones nor I thought we could live without. But what if we couldn’t have brought them all? So here’s my own little list. It’s not a “best” list but rather the list of those cookbooks that I’d have to stuff in my suitcase if the big one were bearing down and a quick evacuation were required. I’ll call them my “hurricane books.”
10. Christmas Memories with Recipes edited by Maron L. Waxman and Dolores Simon – A rather unusual entry, I know, but an important one to me. This is the book where I first learned the power of good food writing. It’s also the book that introduced me to Edna Lewis, Betty Fussell, Jane Grigson, Edward Giobbi, Maida Heatter, Irena Chalmers, Marcella Hazan and, perhaps my favorite writer on the subject of nourishing one’s body and soul, Robert Farrar Capon.
9. Caribbean Cookery by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz – I learned a lot about Caribbean cookery in my twenty years on Tortola but when I’m stumped I turn to Ms. Ortiz.
8. Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie by Bill Neal - I am Southern and therefore cannot live without biscuits, cornbread and cheese straws. Bill Neal was one of the best and I often give this book as a gift to anyone interested in baking, Southern-style.
7. The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon – We have many, many cookbooks on the diverse cuisines of Asia – Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai. But since I’m keeping this list to only ten books, I’ve had to condense the food of about half the world to a single volume. If you’re going to own only one book on the myriad and varied cuisines of Asia, this authoritative masterpiece is the one to have.
6. The Cookery of England by Elisabeth Ayrton – Being married to an Englishman, I am sometimes called upon to assuage a craving for Cornish pasties or potted shrimp and I need a good British cookbook in my collection. It was a toss-up between Ms. Ayrton, Mrs. Beeton and Delia Smith but I chose Ayrton because of the wealth of historical information in her book.
5. Le Ricette Regionale Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda – When I was looking to further my knowledge of Italian cooking, I asked Marcella Hazan whether she recommended Artusi or Ada Boni as a next step. Her reply – neither. Instead, she pointed me towards the della Salda book which she termed “a masterwork, the only truly authentic comprehensive regional Italian cookbook I know of in any language, Italian included.” High praise indeed and very well-placed. It isn’t easy to find and it can be hard going if you don’t speak Italian. But it’s worth the work for the lover of Italian food. Google Translate helps.
4. Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells – We have quite a few French cookbooks that could have made the list. But, in the end, the cookbook with seven recipes for potato gratin is the keeper.
3. The Glory of Southern Cooking by James Villas – If you love Southern food, you need James Villas in your library. Villas, the longtime food and wine editor at Town & Country magazine, is a fellow North Carolinian by birth and an authority on what is perhaps the only truly original American cuisine.
2. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan – Like so many of my fellow Americans, this is the book that first taught me about true regional Italian food. The debt I owe Marcella cannot be underestimated.
1. New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne (1990 edition) – Some American cooks are wedded to The Joy of Cooking, some to Fannie Farmer. I came to Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook first and it’s still my go-to everyday cookbook.
These are the books whose spines are broken, their pages dog-eared and stained. They are well-loved and well-used. And this only my list. I’m sure Bones would quickly jettison della Salda for Madhur Jaffrey and leave behind my beloved Christmas cookbook. I’d be interested in hearing which cookbooks you couldn’t do without. Christmas is coming and Santa could use some ideas for his shopping list.