Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldtwaite

Whether a five-star chef or beginning home cook, any gourmand knows that recipes are far more than a set of instructions on how to make a dish. They are culture-keepers as well as culture-makers, both recording memories and fostering new ones.
Organized like a cookbook, Books that Cook is a collection of American literature written on the theme of food: from an invocation to a final toast, from starters to desserts. All food literatures are indebted to the form and purpose of cookbooks, and each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, the Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The literary works within each section are an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature—forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own.
Each section offers a delectable assortment of poetry, prose, and essays, and the selections all include at least one tempting recipe to entice readers to cook this book. Including writing from such notables as Maya Angelou, James Beard, Alice B. Toklas, Sherman Alexie, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, and Alice Waters, among many others, Books that Cook reveals the range of ways authors incorporate recipes—whether the recipe flavors the story or the story serves to add spice to the recipe. Books that Cook is a collection to serve students and teachers of food studies as well as any epicure who enjoys a good meal alongside a good book.
Jennifer Cognard-Black is Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she teaches creative writing, women’s literature, and the novel.
Melissa A. Goldthwaite is Professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University, where she teaches writing.
Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University as well as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. Nestle is the author of three prize-winning books, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, and What to Eat.

Some of my favorite things to read in books are descriptions of food, so this book sounded just right up my alley.

In Books That Cook The Making of a Literary Meal, readers are treated to excerpts from different selections (poems, cookbooks, etc.) that focus on food and its relationship to either the writer, the characters, or the characters' situations. Recipes are also included in most of the excerpts.

The selections in this book were quite diverse, but they all had such vivid descriptions of food. I was only familiar with a few of the selections chosen, such as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. As it turns out, it doesn't really matter as I found plenty of interesting and useful information in the other excerpts. For example, there are tips on choosing meat, poultry and fish. There are also recipes for roast turkey, roast goose and rabbit stew. The most useful recipe for me, however, was the one for scrambled eggs. I've been looking for the perfect recipe that will allow me to have delicious, fluffy eggs like the ones served in five-star hotels.

My favorite excerpt of the lot is Boiled Chicken Feet and Hundred-Year-Old Eggs. It reminds me a little bit of Amy Tan's work, but with more intense food descriptions. I also noticed a selection called Suman sa Ibos, which seems to me like it was written by a fellow Filipino. I rather enjoy the taste of Suman, even if it can be a little heavy in the stomach.

Thanks to NetGalley and NYU Press for the e-ARC. Publication date of Books That Cook The Making of a Literary Meal is on September 2, 2014.


  1. There's a diverse range of excerpts to explore.
  2. There are plenty of useful tips here.
  3. There are plenty of delicious-looking recipes.


  1. Not all the excerpts have accompanying recipes with actual measurements you can follow. 

What Rombaeur suggests here might be called the very beginnings of a fusion menu - Frenchified rabbit, soul-food southern fried chicken, and a pudding recipe from Merrie Ol' England. 

  1. You like reading about food.
  2. You like trying new recipes.
  3. You liked The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman. 




Note: This post contains Amazon and Book Depository affiliate links.


  1. Ooo this book really does sound like one I'd enjoy!! Thanks for the review, I'm going to have to order it :)

    I've just self-published my first book and I'm almost finished my second! Would you be interested in reviewing it? How do you work?? xxx

  2. Hi, Jade. :) I'm currently not accepting requests for book reviews, but if you would like me to feature your book (promo, excerpt, interview, etc.), just let me know. Thanks. :)


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