The next best thing to eating a wonderful meal is reading one. I mean if you can’t eat it, read it!
This list of must read books for food lovers comes from one of the piles I confessed to you yesterday. I have about a dozen food related books I’m currently reading or re-reading. About half of which are on my Kindle app. Many of these books are well-known and considered classics. Some may be less familiar. All are savory stories told through the lens of our most basic provision – food. More than a meal, each of these stories bring us to the table and nourish with soul food. I have laughed, cried, and left a piece of my heart on each of these pages. Pull up a chair and feast!
Every food lover should have at least one copy of M. F. K. Fisher on the shelf. One of America’s earliest and most beloved food writers, The Art of Eating is a collection of five of Fisher’s most famous works including The Gastronomical Me and How to Cook a Wolf. Fisher takes you on a culinary journey from France to California and will open your eyes to see food in a whole new light. Admired and loved by writers and food lovers alike, Fisher is a delight to the senses.
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
I’m not sure when I picked up 52 Loaves by William Alexander, but I’m grateful I came across this hilarious adventure. Alexander embarks on a gastronomic odyssey to bake a perfect loaf of bread. If you have ever tried to bake bread (successfully or not!) this memoir will leave you nodding your head in empathy and headed to the store for more flour.
But, don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jacques Pépin says about 52 Loaves, “Serious, irreverent, funny, and informative at the same time, 52 Loaves reflects precisely the frustrating and infuriating—if not impossible—process of creating the perfect bread.”
How kind of Jeffrey Steingarten to reserve a first class seat to travel the world with him. Steingarten must literally be the man who ate everything and he accounts for every bite in this national bestseller. The book is not new, but every chapter and word reads fresh. One of my favorite chapters, True Choucroute takes me back to Alsace where I lived as a student and first tasted French sauerkraut. Steingarten advises, “A journey of a thousand meals begins with a single bite.” You’ll need more than an overnight bag for this journey, but traveling with Steingarten is worth it.
I want to break bread with Elizabeth Ehrlich. Her memoir, Miriam’s Kitchen, in which I feel like I am pulled up to the counter on the tall, four-legged stool in her grandmother’s kitchen, reads like familiar conversation. Ehrlich explores the mysterious connections between food and love and learns the importance of preserving Jewish traditions from her mother-in-law Miriam, a Holocaust survivor. Every month serves up a new discovery for Ehrlich, recipe (Granny’s Cheese Danishlekh are a must!) and pearls of wisdom. The chapter on Sabbath, July, may be one of my favorites. Y’all know I’ve had sabbath on my heart for a while and Ehrlich’s pithy two page conversation on how to keep the Friday night ritual, when to cook, how to orchestrate the rest in a world of busyness speaks to my heart.
My most dog-eared book is The Spirit of Food. I’ve highlighted, underlined, and re-read every word of this collection of essays compiled by Leslie Leyland Fields. For those of you who are Ann Voskamp fans, I first read her poetic prose in her contribution to The Spirit of Food, The Land that is Us. Each of the thirty-four writers—including Lauren Winner, Luci Shaw, Wendell Berry and Robert Farrar Capon’s famous onion passage—instructs, feeds, and nourish deeply with stories of food and faith. The Spirit of Food is an invitation to a continual feast.
If a sojourn to France isn’t in the cards, take a weekend to read the gastronomic diary of the Becks, an American family in France in Clémentine in the Kitchen. First published in 1943, the book chronicles the pre-war culinary feasts and the family’s love for their plump, Burgundian cook. The recipes (there are 170) are classic French and as much fun to test as pronounce. Unless you are an adventurous (read: fearless) cook, you probably won’t cook much from Clementine’s recipe box. But, as with all these selections, the recipes aren’t really the point. This book is best served with a favorite glass of wine and amandes grillées (the recipe for toasted almonds is easy). Clémentine in the Kitchen is one of many books chosen by Gourmet editor, Ruth Reichl, for the Modern Library Food Series. I’m working my way through this delicious set of books, one bite at a time.
In the Modern Library Food Series, I’ve read The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon and Life a la Henri the story of the world’s first celebrity chef, Henri Charpentier. Both are delightful.
Here are additional must-read books, I absolutely love:
The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
My Life in France Julia Child
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
So, there’s a dozen books for you to enjoy. One final addition, I downloaded Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson last weekend. I’m not far enough into the memoir yet, but his first few chapters on remembering his mother and early life in Ethiopia certainly are riveting enough to read on. . .
What about you? What are your favorite food books? Leave your recommendations in the comments so we can continue to feast.
margaret christine @ notes from maggie's farm says
I would add Jacques Pepin’s autobiography, The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, and the late Laurie Colwin’s books: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. Colwin’s, especially, are shopworn and losing their covers, always close at hand for those times that a laugh or a nudge to not take myself so seriously are required. I’m looking forward to adding a few of these to my bookshelves, upon your suggestion.
Oh Maggie! I haven’t read Laurie’s books. Thanks for the tip.
Kay Reeves says
Was delighted to see Clementine in the Kitchen on this list. I read it a few years ago, and thought it was so sweet. And there is nothing like it out there in the world. Thanks for list! PS My turkey marinade is from MFK Fisher, and is the best EVER.
I think we all should be so blessed to have a Clementine in our lives. Sigh. . .
What a treasure! I want to read them all!! Thanks for sharing!
Lauren @ Gourmet Veggie Mama says
Great list, although I have to admit I have only read one of them. Time to add to my wish list! I’d add The Omnivore’s Dilemma on there, too — it’s one of my all-time favorites.
Lauren – The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and all of Michael Pollan’s books are favorites! Glad you chimed in.
Kristin–I have yet to read many of these yet; but, own some of them awaiting to devour. I do love The Spirit of Food. I think I would love Miriam’s Kitchen. I’m a memoir lover and mix that with being at a grandma’s table–I’m in!
This is really amazing to see the books of cooking you have recommended. Thank you! I also love eating and my mom also loves cooking! Wish you a very happy new year! 🙂 Have a nice year end! 🙂
Michelle Hutton says
Hi Kristin, found your blog through Susie’s…I loved this post and am really excited about your 52 Sunday Suppers series! Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is one of my favorite reads of all time! Some other books that I think you’d also enjoy are The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Finn and The Dirty Life (On Farming, Food and Love) by Kristin Kimball.
I just made a list from your recommendations. A MFK Fisher-inspired book called An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler is one that cannot be missed. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. A must read!
Your blog inspires!
I know this is an “older” post, but I am just reading it and wanted to add another book for you to check out. It is called Bread and Wine” A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist. She writes about everyday life…family, faith, food, marriage, friends, etc. She also adds in a few of her favorite recipes. I have enjoyed reading it recently myself.
Gene Edwards says
“A bookman’s love of books is a love of books, not merely of the information in them.” – so true, so true – and that is what is so hard for today’s world of techies to understand.