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Kitchen Literacy: 10 Essential Books to Start Your Cookbook Library

by Megan Fenton on 2019-07-08T15:35:09-04:00 in Cooking, Adults, Reader's Advisory | Comments

Megan Fenton is an Adult Services Librarian at the Greenburgh Public Library. She enjoys contemporary fiction, audio memoirs, and most of all exploring the library's cookbook collection. She is a self-taught home cook and hopes that Kitchen Literacy will help other aspiring cooks explore the basics of cooking and getting to know their way around the kitchen. 


Reading a recipe is one of the most basic skills you should develop when learning to cook, but what comes next? Finding great recipes! Great recipes not only help your technique, they can teach you about culinary traditions, how to build flavors, and inspire you to create your own appetizing dishes. While the world wide web offers endless access to recipes, I still find that there is nothing like leafing through an actual physical cookbook for inspiration. I also love having my own small library in the kitchen, that I can go to when I am in need of an original and inventive idea. 

Below is my list of ten cookbooks to start exploring as the backbone of a kitchen library. While I do not personally own all of them, I highly recommend all of them. They cover basic cooking concepts, the roots of culinary traditions in the U.S., and also include contemporary trends like slow cooking and increasingly plant based diets. Of course your preferences will shape the kitchen library that you build, which may include all, some or none of these, but they are a great place to start:   


The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer 
Originally published as the Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1896, this is a tome of classic recipes that is a workhorse in my home kitchen collection. The recipes are simple, basic, and clearly written. It's a great cookbook for beginners who are learning the basics, especially when trying to master tricky aspects like juggling multiple ingredients and getting the timing just right. It also has brief chapters that give menu suggestions for dinner parties, holidays, and other occasions. (Recipe Suggestions: One of my favorites, the Cream of Carrot Soup)


How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman, a former columnist and food writer for the New York Times has a very relaxed approach to cooking. He emphasizes healthy food with preparations that fit a home cook's lifestyle. This book of recipes will give you a basic idea of how flavors and ingredients can come together in healthy and attainable ways. In some ways I look at this as a contemporary edition of Fannie Farmer (but both books have their place). I also highly recommend Bittman's book Food Matters, a quick read with ideas on how to cook and eat in ways that are sustainable for both your health and the planet!


The Edna Lewis Cookbook by Edna Lewis
Edna Lewis was a famous chef, author, and African American culinary legend. She was a connoisseur of Southern cooking, and emphasized fresh and seasonal ingredients as important to the traditions of the region's cuisine. Before she passed away in 2006, Lewis wrote a total of four cookbooks, and won several James Beard Awards. Her recipes and writing illuminate the origins of Southern cuisine and its influences on American cooking. Southern cooking's influence on broader American cuisine is strong to this day, which is why I find it useful to have at least one Southern cookbook in a basic collection. Edna Lewis's cookbooks are undeniably good choices to fill this space on your shelf. 

The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
Like Fannie Farmer's book, this is another frequently referenced kitchen text in my house. Like many engaged women in the United States, I received my copy at my wedding shower in 2008 (though its been in publication since 1953). Recipes range from basic to complex, with the newer editions even including contemporary cooking techniques like slow cooking, and trends like cupcakes. There is also great information about measurement and making substitutions. 

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg
Shortly after moving to New York City I discovered the Brooklyn Kitchen, where I had the pleasure of taking a sourdough baking class and having a blast learning how to make everything from bread, to pizza dough, to waffles, with my complementary starter. But then life got in the way, and while I still love baking, I have no time for the care and feeding of a sourdough starter. Enter this lovely book that will teach you how to make all of those things and more in a fraction of the time. Baking is a science, but it doesn't have to be hard, and this book makes it very accessible and fun for all skill levels. 

The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion 
King Arthur Flour is an employee owned company that not only sells flour, they publish great materials on baking, and have a wonderful website where you can access recipes too. The Baker's Companion is a nice counter point to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, because it encompasses the entire spectrum of baked confections, and steps you up a level while still maintaining simple and easy to follow instructions. 


Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker by Martha Stewart 
I know the InstantPot is what's hot right now, but I still find my slow cooker crockpot is my go to cooking method when I have a late day and need to have dinner on the table fast. Slow cookers' ability to let all the flavors mingle and mellow over the course of several hours is incredibly forgiving, so experimenting is easy, but I do recommend a stash of recipes to get you started and inspired! Queen of the kitchen Martha Stewart's book Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker is a great addition to your collection. 


Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla
Like Southern cooking, Latin American cooking has also left it's delicious legacy in our country's contemporary cuisine. Drawing from many regions and traditions of the Latin world, Maricel Presilla's award winning book is a beautiful journey through these cooking traditions. This extensive recipe reference is definitely more advanced, and I consider it ideal for "weekend cooking." So if you're in the mood for a project, this is a great reference to expand your cultural culinary horizons. 


Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison 
Deborah Madison is considered one of America's experts on vegetarian cooking. While not everyone is a vegetarian, many people are focusing on shifting to more plant based diets (for health, environmental, and other reasons). This cookbook focuses on recipes that let vegetables be the star of your meal. 


The Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook by The Moosewood Collective 
The Moosewood Restaurant is a restaurant in Ithaca, New York, and was originally founded in 1973. It is a vegetarian restaurant (although it does feature a daily fish entree) that emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients, and delicious healthy cooking. This beloved restaurant has published many cookbooks over the years, and like Vegetable Literacy, this edition is an excellent way to boost your plant based cooking repertoire. While The Moosewood Restaurant Table is one of the most recent publications from Moosewood, Inc. check out some of their other editions here


The library is an excellent place to find and test out cookbooks you are scouting for your home collection. Or, if you're short on space in your kitchen, allow our collection to be yours whenever you are in need!  You can find our cookbooks on the 2nd floor of GPL in the Adult Non-Fiction section under the call number 641. To reserve one of the above cookbook suggestions, just click the title link which will take you to the catalog to place a hold. Our librarians would also be happy to place a hold for you, so visit the Adult Information Desk on the 2nd floor or call us at 914-721-8225.

Happy cooking! 

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