Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Joy of Random Cookbooks

I mentioned in my post on homemade pizza that I've started a collection of rather random and kitschy cookbooks. I think they fit in perfectly with some of the ideas within this research project that is Americana Kitchen. Think about it: sociologists and historians love every sort of written record of a person or group of people because it speaks to the culture of that time and place. The same is true for cookbooks. They say something about the person who owns them and the time in which they were published or were popular.

Take, for example, a shelf full of cookbooks like Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals and Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade. What do those books say about the cook? Probably that he or she wants to put full, tasty meals on the table without a ton of prep work and kitchen time. What do they say about the times? Well, for one, it shows just how popular food media has become. And two, if these cookbooks are popular (and the cookbook section at my local Borders suggests they are), that means people are probably steering away from ready-made meals and fast food and instead are trying some recommended shortcuts to apply the whole DIY thing in the kitchen. That's quite a bit of information from a few cookbooks on a shelf.

I've always been a bit more attracted to the idiosyncratic, and that's why my little collection is more random than perhaps your everyday cook's resource shelf. These books include:

Alcatraz Women's Club Cook Book
Dewey or Don't We? Librarians Cook
How to Gorge George Without Fattening Fanny

From the Alcatraz women's enjoyment of using molds (to present rice in a ring around cooked meat) to the diet-type recipes from a 1970s model, these cookbooks (and the others I procure over time) will probably say some interesting things about the nature of food culture in America and how it's changed over time.

And then we can ask... what does the fact that they're all on my cookbook shelf say about me?

1 comment:

Treasures By Brenda said...

I agree that cookbooks define both ourselfs and our times. What is your favorite cookbook? Please visit the page that I have written, Recipe For Finding Good Cookbooks, and contribute your favorite to our discussion.