Cook Books and Learning to Cook

Reading Tips: Learn from Cook books

Reading cookbooks can give you a glimpse of a community, a region, history, or trends. Ideas about the culture value of recipes.

There are many ways to get to know an area, whether it be a city, a region, or another country. Many people choose the route of becoming ‘armchair travelers’-reading guidebooks to the area, memoirs of others that have gone. Me, I read a cookbook. How can you really know an area unless you know what the inhabitants eat?

The state dish of Virginia, my home state, is peanut soup. Not something your likely to find out without browsing through Junior League cookbooks, or other Virginia-oriented cookbooks, especially now, as regional dishes are starting to fade away under the influence of nouvelle cuisine.

Junior League cookbooks can be a real find, and are worth hunting about for whether on a trip or just browsing through ebay. They tell you exactly what the people of the area are eating-as a result, one finds modified back-of-the-box recipes alongside traditional regional favorites like cheesecake.

For a more national approach, hardly anything beats Craig Claiborne’s collection of recipes from the New York Times. Broken down by region, with each recipe crediting the donor and her (usually her) homestate, it’s a wonderful look at the myriad dishes that America loves from burgers to fondue.

Amish and Shaker cookbooks provide a kind of living history, telling us how our ancestors may have eaten, and how we can do so still. The food is plain and simple, as is appropriate, but delicious. (And well-suited to picky children, in many cases.)

Speaking of picky children, many children’s series have cookbooks as well. Little House on the Prairie, the Boxcar Children, Anne of Green Gables, all have accompanying cookbooks that allow the reader/cook to taste what the characters do.

For adults, a new genre of mystery has come about that incorporates recipes into the plot of the book. Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Schultz series is a real winner in that category.

For those looking at areas a bit further from home-Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking can help you bring a Continental flair to your cookery, and make you really appreciate those quiches and soups (not to mention madeleines) that have made French cooking famous.

The Best of … series is also a great place to look for travel-minded cooks. Gorgeous color photographs of a region accompany recipes for regional specialties. The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook should answer any Chinese cooking question, and enable the cook to feel as though he or she is really offering authentic cuisine.

The Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan is the quintessential book on that favorite cuisine-a must for any culinary library. Culinaria Germany offers not only beautiful photographs, but a geographical breakdown, listing (along with recipes, natch) regional favorites and contributions.

My Mexico: A Culinary Odyssey has 300 recipes alongside history and cultural notes-you’ll be able to move beyond burritos and tacos with this volume.

So take a look the next time you’re at the bookstore or library-if you have a child that’s struggling with history (or if you are yourself), historical cookbooks can help put a sweet edge on the lessons.

Geography becomes fun as well as educational when accompanied by foods that may well become new favorites. And, as well, dinners made dull by routine may benefit from a little international flair.

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