Monday, June 27, 2016

Eat Your History! History through Cookbooks, Part 2

By Jeff Burns

My wife and I love cooking (and eating) and often combine that love with our love of history.  Over the years, we’ve accumulated a collection of cookbooks.  Our favorites are the ones that combine great recipes and culture and history.  Foodways are an important part of learning and enjoying history, and, of course, you can find interesting cookbooks in bookstores, but don’t forget to look for cookbooks in museums and historic sites as well.  You can also find them in garage sales, used book sales, and on Ebay.  Here are some of the books in our collection.

We love Indian food, and we have a couple of Indian cookbooks.  Madhur Jaffrey is the undisputed queen of Indian cuisine in the United Kingdom and the United States.  You might say that she did for Indian cooking what Julia Child did for French cuisine or Paula Deen for southern food.  Besides cooking on television and publishing cookbooks, she’s also a noted actress and author.  She has a great gift for demystifying Indian favorites and for imparting cultural history along the way.

The Classic 1000 Indian Recipes is an expensive book, filled with more recipes than you can make, and there aren’t glossy photos. The recipes are thorough, but doable.  The Art of Brazilian Cookery has been around for a long time, first published in 1960.  Brazil’s culture reflects a combination of many different cultures; it is a true melting pot, and the recipes reflect that. 

Analogy time again:  Before anybody had ever heard of Paula Deen, there was a queen of southern cuisine on television, in magazines, and publishing cookbooks. That queen was Nathalie Dupree. Even though she was born in New Jersey, she grew up in the South, and she became the first woman since Julia Child to host more than one hundred cooking episodes on public television. Nathalie Dupree’s Matters of Taste represented sort of a departure for her as it is not solely southern cuisine.  Instead she blends stories and recipes from all over America.

The Jewish Holiday Kitchen is a treasury of knowledge about the traditions and rituals of Jewish holidays, and an important part of those holidays is food. Jewish or not, it makes for interesting reading and tasty food.

Alton Brown is a current star on the food scene.  His show “Good Eats” entertained and educated for years, he’s been a staple on The Food Network since its start, and he’s currently on another tour of sold out venues across the country with his combination of food, science, music, and comedy.  A few years ago, he undertook a motorcycle road trip along the Mississippi River, from the Gulf of Mexico to Minnesota, and made the trip into a TV series.  He introduced the viewers to the best roadside food along the way, the food and traditions that make each region and community unique.  The accompanying book, Feasting on Asphalt, is part travelogue and part cookbook and every bit as entertaining as the television show.  We’ve not only used some of the recipes, but we also used the book as a guidebook for our own roadtrip, stopping at some of the locations he wrote about.

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