It’s that time of year again, when retailers deck their halls, radio stations relentlessly jingle and cookbooks go forth and multiply.
The dawn of the holiday season also marks an onslaught from the publishing world – a rush of food books that begins in August and refuses to slow down until every family in America has gifted (and perhaps regifted) at least a dozen. Or maybe it just feels that way.
The upshot of all this is that there truly is a food book for everyone on your shopping list. Should you care to go that route, we’ve sussed out some of the best to help streamline at least that leg of your shopping trip.
For cookbook geeks
Fancy a sunderland pudding? Ever wonder how to dress a calf’s head? Publisher Andrews McMeel has teamed up with The American Antiquarian Society to publish reproductions of 100 cookbooks documenting the early American cooking experience. American Cookery (Andrews McMeel; $22.99) by Amelia Simmons was originally published in 1796 and is believed to be the first cookbook to document American culinary techniques.
Also part of the series is America’s first Jewish cookbook, Jewish Cookery Book: On Principles of Economy (Andrews McMeel; $28.99) by Esther Levy. It originally was published in 1871 and includes recipes for fish balls and frimsel (noodle) soup. Its recipes, menu suggestions and household management tips aimed to help European immigrants adapt to their new country while maintaining their religious heritage.
For regular geeks
The Science of Good Cooking (America’s Test Kitchen; $40) by the folks behind Cook’s Illustrated magazine doesn’t just offer 400 recipes engineered for perfection, it also covers 50 basic concepts explaining why the recipes work. Useful sidebars showcase tips and techniques – use a skillet, not a wok to stir-fry – and charts that check your measurements (a cup of all-purpose flour should weigh 5 ounces) make it a handy reference guide.
Modernist Cuisine at Home (The Cooking Lab; $140) is even sexier. The laboratory that last year produced Modernist Cuisine, a six-volume encyclopedia of molecular gastronomy by Nathan Myhrvold, has turned its blow torches and sous vide machines on home cooking. It’s a monstrously fun and shockingly practical cookbook that truly lets you get your geek on in the kitchen.
For nostalgia hounds
Americans have been hungry for nostalgia, and publishers are happy to feed them. 101 Classic Cookbooks: 501 Classic Recipes (Rizzoli International Publications; $50) boils down the classic, most iconic cookbooks to 501 recipes, drawing from books that span Fannie Farmer’s 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book to Thomas Keller’s 1999 The French Laundry Cookbook.
Sneaking in between are recipes such as sole meuniere from Jacques Pepin’s La Technique, Bengal red lentils from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, and banana bread from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Essays about each book and its importance make this an excellent gift for the person who loves cookbooks even more than cooking.
For the world traveler
Love pho, but want to branch out? Charles Phan, the chef behind San Francisco’s famed restaurant The Slanted Door, offers Vietnamese Home Cooking (Ten Speed Press; $35), devoted to bringing tamarind, star anise, fish sauce and lemon grass to a kitchen near you. While many of the recipes are a little too chefy, they go a long way to introducing the flavors and techniques.
The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from Around the World (University of California Press; $39.95) by Linda Lau Anusasananan captures the flavors and stories of an often overlooked Chinese diaspora. Fried eggs and bitter melon, tangy-sweet raw fish salad, and chicken stuffed with preserved mustard greens offer new insights to even the savviest fan of Chinese food.
Among the steady supply of books on Latin food, three stand out. Muy Bueno: Three Generations of Authentic Mexican Flavor (Hippocrene Books; $22.50) by Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, Veronica Gonzalez-Smith and Evangelina Soza, preserves recipes spanning old world Mexican dishes like pork tamales to fusion creations like scallop and cucumber cocktail.
For the baker
Piece of Cake: Home Baking Made Simple (Rizzoli; $29.95) by David Muniz and David Lesniak offers more than 120 recipes for classic American treats – think brownies, peanut butter cookies and blueberry muffins. Black and white cheesecake, an honest-to-goodness New York crumb cake, and cakes from bundts to babkas join the fun.
Home-baked pies are the aspiration of many a cook. A Year of Pies (Lark; $19.95) by Ashley English offers strawberry, rhubarb and ginger hand pies for spring, pumpkin tiramisu pie in fall and pies for all the days in between. Savory pies like curried winter vegetable and galumpkis pie – the pie version of Polish stuffed cabbage – mix things up in the colder months.