From Cookbooks to FoodFic and Foodie Lit, Happily

Books with style and tasteA dear aunt -- writer, avid reader -- told me she read cookbooks at night when she couldn't sleep. It was one of our first bonds after I grew up, a pleasure we shared as friends, not just relatives, since I too read cookbooks for pleasure and self-soothing. My aunt collected and told stories beautifully, so I imagine she delighted in the head notes above the recipes in some cookbooks, the mini-stories that paint a human framework around a set of ingredients.  My favorite cookbooks helped me imagine beyond the tomato pie to the the backyard table that holds it, or the cool feel of the pillowcase as one awakens in Grandmother's guest room to the smell of apple pancakes cooked in butter.

Perhaps the recipes are fewer, but many food-centered fiction and non-fiction books now tell stories in ways that charm and delight. I just read two such books I would have enjoyed sharing with my aunt.

In The School of Essential Ingredients (2009) Laura Bauermeister invents and describes the lives of eight students at a Monday night cooking school, creating an simple container for a series of stories about how food and cooking heal, comfort, and connect us. I thought the book might be too sweet or too preachy, but found it had lovely subtlety and even a bit of depth. Just right for engaging the reader without being tiresome.

I also read Novella Carpenter's Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (2009), a nicely written memoir about making a farm from scratch on someone else's land in a devastated neighborhood in Oakland, California -- and then growing chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, and finally two pigs, right in the raggedy heart of the city.

Novella applies her distinctive combination of curiosity, courage, and kindness to her neighbors as well as to the  fledgling vegetables, fruits, and honeybees and larger animals she nurtures in a forbidding place. With urban farming of various sorts sprouting all around me, I enjoyed reading at length about the experience from the inside.

As I read, I had quite a few "Wait a minute - I have to read that again" moments. My aunt would have enjoyed being astonished along with me, I'm quite sure.

Image Credit: Zatserkovnyy. Thank you!