Gift Guide 2017: Unusual Books for Cooks

December 19, 2017

Everybody offers book suggestions in their gift guides. I’m generally more inclined to remind you about vintage books, which are a welcome addition to any library. This year however, a few new food books flew mostly under the radar, and every one of them would make a great gift.

There is, for instance, the wonderful Julia Turshen’s Feed the Resistance, which is the perfect present for people who understand that cooking is a political act. The little book is not only inspiring, but also filled with easy and unusual recipes you really want to make. An extra incentive?  The proceeds go to the ACLU.

History?  There’s never been a book quite like Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene. It’s high time African-American cooks began to set the record straight. History belongs to those who choose to write it – and much of our own food history has been written right out of the record. Here Twitty chronicles his own ancestral food journey with remarkable results.

Setting the record straight is also the mission of Unforgettable.  Paula Wolfert is one of America’s most influential cooks, and until now she has never received the attention she deserves.  Her greatest recipes are here, along with a lovely biography of one of our most fearless, adventurous and intrepid cooks.

I’m not generally a fan of chef’s books; I don’t think home cooks should feel they need to cook like professionals. But here are two books written straight from the heart that would make perfect presents for the right people.

Chris Cosentino has always been a fan of the fifth quarter – the unloved, and mostly unused parts of animals.  His Offal Good is a great guide for cooking heart, tripe, oxtails, tongue, kidneys and the like. This would be a great gift for an adventurous cook.

And for people who are sincerely interested in the seasonal, local, nose to tail ethic, Zac Pelacio has written Project 258: Making Dinner at Fish and Game.  Pelacio is not only living the chef’s dream – he’s also putting everything on the line here, living with the land. His allegiance to the notion means that when he uses fish sauce at his restaurant, he’s actually made it himself. This isn’t just recipes: it’s passion on the page.

And finally, a shout out to the farmers.  If you want a beautifully written ode to the hardest way of American life, you can’t do better than Ted Genoway’s This Blessed Earth.  Eye-opening.

Wait – one last thing. I couldn’t resist this. If you’re really stumped, you might consider giving a vintage manual.  Surely you know someone who’s longing to learn to paint dead trout?

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