Cookbooks at the Library – Or, Confessions of a Food Freak

Did you know that the Library has  a huge collection of cookbooks?  Thanks to the needs of the Hotel, Restaurant & Institution Management Program and a very dedicated former colleague of mine, you can find historic cookbooks, regional cookbooks, innumerable national cuisine cookbooks, as well as cookbooks that focus on specific techniques, ingredients, and much more.  Included in this glorious collection are plenty of excellent and informative cookbooks from US minority and ethnic groups.  It might sound strange but cookbooks are often good choices for learning about history, traditions, and cultural practices of people from across the world.  There’s a growing trend in fiction to combine history, stories, and recipes, perhaps initiated by Laura Esquivel’s famed Como agua para chocolate.  But there are so many foodies in the US that there’s a growing readership for non-fiction books about food that include a few recipes.  Genre bending aside, I could blog for a year non-stop and still not discuss every cookbook of interest, so here are just a few recent samples:

The Filipino-American Kitchen: Traditional Recipes, Contemporary Flavors, by Jennifer M. Aranas.
(TX724.5 P5 A73 2006)

Published in 2006, this lavishly illustrated cookbook includes careful ingredient lists, often listing translations and substitute ingredients, and easy-to-follow instructions.  As she details in her Foreword, author Jennifer Aranas was “born and raised in Chicago” but surrounded by Filipino culture and traditions.  She founded Chicago’s first Filipino-American restaurant, and calls Filipino cooking the “original fusion cuisine”:

  • “It is hard to resist the vibrant flavors of ginger and lemongrass, the glorious triumvirate we lovingly call sofrito (sautéed onion, garlic, and tomato), or the crispy crunch of egg rolls in various incarnations.  On the surface, Filipino food is entirely familiar.  Noodles, rice, stews, and stir-fries are neither new nor Filipino inventions. But the interplay of exotic flavors, balanced and harmonious, is uniquely Filipino and anything but ordinary.  … Modern Filipino cuisine is a collage of ethnicities starting with a native Malay base flavored with layers of Chinese, Spanish, and American accents.”

Puerto Ricans and other Latin Americans will certainly recognize sofrito, the basis of many a savory dish!  Recipes include Suman Nga Baboy (Steamed rice cakes with bacon & caramelized onions, wrapped in banana leaves); Pancit Guisado (Stewed Noodle Dish), Adobong Pato a la Monja (Duck adobo with pineapple and dates – looks like this preparation originally came from a convent – a la Monja means “in the style of nuns”); Pineapple and Cassava Tarts, Halo Halo (Filipino fruit sundae), and much more.  Check it out!!

Recovering Our Ancestors’ Gardens:  Indigenous Recipes & Guide to Diet and Fitness, by Devon Abbot Mihesuah.  (TX715 M6364 2005)

      Primarily a nutrition and fitness guide, with a good dollop of history, the cooking advice and recipes begin on page 113 of this 194-page book, and end on page 160.  Recipes included come from many different tribes, or feature well-known indigenous ingredients such as tomatoes, corn, beans, and squash.

Most recipes have been contributed by women and men from the Choctaw, Comanche, Osage, Dakota, Cree, Cherokee and Eastern Cherokee, Luiseño, and Seminole nations, along with a number of Mexican / Southwestern traditions, such as guacamole and salsa.

A number of the recipes include traditional preparation techniques, such as the recipe for Dakota Waskuya (Dakota dried sweet corn soup).  The ingredients are dried sweet corn and meat, with suggested meats being “venison, buffalo, elk, or beef.”  No quantities are listed, so you know this is a recipe for experienced cooks!

The preparation begins with instructions on how to dry boiled and shelled corn in the sun, a process that takes days and which the author frankly calls “labor-intensive.”  Much later when the corn is dried, it is cooked with the meat until tender.  For those interested in understanding traditional ways of preparing traditional foods, this book can provide some useful insights along with recipes.

Other interesting recipes include Ta-pashe (Osage pounded meat), Luiseño Weewish, Choctaw Banaha, and Wah-zha-zhe wa-dsiu-e cta-i-ge (Osage persimmon cakes), along with many recipes for game meat (venison, elk, buffalo), breads, and numerous vegetables.   I think I’m going to have to try Mamaw Helton’s creamed corn tonight!

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America, by Jessica B. Harris
(TX 715 H29972 2011)

Here’s another very fascinating book that combines history and family stories with a few (maybe 20 tops?) recipes.  As a book review in the New York Times points out, Harris celebrates both home-style cooking and the “aspirational and omnivorous” traditions of   “Big House cooks who prepared lavish 

 banquets, caterers who created a culinary cooperative in Philadelphia in the 19th century, a legion of black hoteliers and culinary moguls and a growing black middle and upper class.”

Ms. Harris provides essays that detail the historic and cultural foundations of these two culinary traditions, beginning of course with chapters on African foods and ceremonies, the Middle Passage and the resulting profound influences of African food traditions on American food from the earliest days to the present.

Recipes (a number of which appeared in Harris’s earlier cookbooks, The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent; TX725.A1 H284 1998, and The Welcome Table: African American Heritage CookingTX715 .H31443 1995)  begin on page 247 thru page 265, and include the glorious triumvirate of okra plus tomatoes plus fiery hot chili peppers as Sauce Gombo to be splashed atop rice; Summer Southern Succotash (again, tomatoes plus okra plus corn and those super hot peppers).

Side note:  You can’t help but notice the fusion of Latin American indigenous ingredients – xitomatl (tomatoes); chilli (chili peppers); elotl (corn) meeting up with Africa-native okra.

Nguba & xocolatl

We know the historic reasons for that fusion are the slave trade and Spanish and Portuguese colonization of the New World – Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.  The slave trade brought foods from one part of the world to another, including the diffusion of these foods into European cuisines.  The mundane yet heavenly peanut butter cup, formerly advertised in the US as a marriage between peanut butter and chocolate, is a child of this same African-New World diffusion.  But I digress!

There’s also an interesting western cowboy stew called Son of a Gun Stew (note: an organ meat lover’s delight); the classic Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese, and several good recipes for greens.  This is obviously a good choice for learning about African American foodways, while Ms. Harris’s previous books mentioned above will be great choices for many, many more African and African American recipes.

Taking a quick break to go make dinner – thinking about Pastel de pollo, one of my own “go to” dishes… but before I head off, here’s how you can find cookbooks in our collections.

Take a look through our cookbook collections – you are sure to find something you’ll enjoy!  To find national or ethnic cookbooks, just go to Quick Search and type in cooking AND <group of choice>, as in…

  • cooking AND african
  • cooking AND french
  • cooking AND puerto rican
  • cooking AND korean

… and so on

Make sure you select BOOKS with Quick Search’s 1st drop-down menu.  You should be able easily to browse your results from there.  (Obviously, if you know the title of book you want, type that in Quick Search, as in…

  • mastering the art of french cooking
  • cocine a gusto
  • simple art of vietnamese cooking
  • african american kitchen
  • la cocina colombiana
  • kimchi chronicles

Call numbers will most likely begin with TX… and are housed on the Lower Level of Parks Library.  Enjoy!!