Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Once and Future Classic Cookbook

Over the past six years or so, I've probably looked at hundreds of cookbooks. Working in publishing facilitates this, naturally; my job has afforded me the luxury of writing about great works of culinary education, like The Gourmet Cookbook, and it has also subjected me to mining the sorry excuse for a cookbook that is a Suzanne Somers collection, trying to find some redeeming quality.

So when I saw an article in the April issue of Gourmet singling out recent cookbooks that writer Cynthia Zarin believes have "staying power," I was of course interested. "It seems like a new cookbook is published every few minutes," Zarin writes. "Which of the most recent crop are destined to become classics?" And what, you may ask, makes a cookbook a classic? My definition of a classic cookbook is one that serves as a standard of excellence in its genre, that will endure and be pulled off the shelf for consultation for years to come.

Here's Zarin's list (in alphabetical order):

1. Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon by Claudia Roden
2. Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
3. Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini
4. The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider
5. In Search of Perfection by Heston Blumenthal
6. Kaiseki: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant by Yoshihiro Murata
7. The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater
8. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt and Ted Lee
9. The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa by Marcus Samuelsson
10. Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells

I remember flipping through Samuelsson's book and mainly being struck by the vibrant colors and overall high quality of the book itself, though I can't say I ran home to try the recipe for Ethiopian bread (though I also must say I haven't seen too many gourmet African cookbooks, so I can see how this one could qualify for "classic" status). I heartily second Zarin's mentions of both Baking and The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. Greenspan's collection of desserts is fabulous; her almond biscotti came out wonderfully both times I made them, and the book is a pleasure to leaf through. The Lee brothers, meanwhile, have created a terrific volume on Southern cuisine. I learned tons from their book, not the least of which was how to make good old fashioned sweet tea.

Now, to the real reason I posted Zarin's list: so I could offer up my version of the most-likely-to become-classic recent cookbooks. Drumroll, please:

1. Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
2. The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman
3. The Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild
4. Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore by Jennifer McLagan
5. The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker
6. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt and Ted Lee
7. A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti

There you have it, seven cookbooks recently published (I dug as far back as 2005) that I think will become classics. Fire away with your suggestions!--S

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