Three books that blend the literary with the culinary: by a novelist, an editor, and a passionate reader.
Laurie Colwin was a novelist who also wrote enough essays on food and cooking to make two books’ worth, this being the first. She’s a beautiful writer, and tells stories about the cooking and eating in her life in an opinionated, down-to-earth voice that makes for delicious reading. “I do not believe that you have to spend a lot of money to eat well,” she writes, “it is hard to beat a plain old baked potato.” Chapter titles are tantalizing and Colwin delivers every time: “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant,” “Bread Baking without Agony,” “How to Disguise Vegetables,” “Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir.” There are recipes at the end of most chapters (so far I’ve made the gingerbread with chocolate icing—yum).
Judith Jones was the editor who recognized Julia Child’s brilliance and convinced Knopf that they had to publish what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The story of her life—in which she travels to France, falls for French cooking and meets her life partner, follows her passion for food and becomes the editor of many esteemed cookbook writers (including Marcella Hazan, Madhur Jaffrey, and Edna Lewis)—is a most happy one. Jones inspires, in that she continually stretches herself and is always game to try new things—like a recipe for fried beaver tale from the L.L. Bean Cookbook she helped publish (making use of a beaver hunted on her Vermont property). There’s also an enticing collection of recipes from her childhood, her time in France, and the final chapter of her life spent in Vermont.
The author describes the book as a literary and culinary almanac that celebrates the year with reading and cooking. Here are reflections (with recipes) on what you might like to cook and read in each season. I have not yet tried any of the recipes but have enjoyed simply reading through them—each one begins with a musing paragraph that often links the recipe to the author’s reading. Curry puffs, she tells us, are mentioned in a story of Gerald Durrell’s, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko has her craving kimchi and wanting to make it, and her recipe for coffee butter and biscuits is inspired by a breakfast described in The Color Purple.