Putting America's Home-Grown Cookbooks on the Map
If you saw our Big Fall Books Preview, you might have noticed my pick, Provence, 1970, the story of the weeks that Julia and Paul Child, M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones spent cooking, eating, and arguing in the South of France.
The Americans in this influential circle had long considered France their culinary homeland.
But by the time they went home to the States, something had shifted. They each returned with a desire and appreciation for a new home-grown food culture that embraced simpler preparations of locally sourced ingredients. This was also the same year Paul Aratow and Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in Berkley. It was, arguably, the year modern American food culture was born.
Forty-plus years later, the trend toward embracing local food traditions and ingredients has gone mainstream. Pride in our own regions’ standout chefs, restaurants, and food bloggers has swelled.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing more innovation and cross-pollination than ever: foodies picking up ideas from across the country and the world via blogs and social media, and giving the dish their own spin.
Eaters are becoming more adventurous, as more exciting options become available to them. Some of us even plan vacations around visits to restaurants and bakeries--or wish we could.
As I happily drowned in this fall's flood of gorgeous, endlessly inspiring new cookbooks—many of them from renowned restaurants from New York to Napa, many with a strong regional flair--I got curious about the other American cookbooks I admired that weren’t assertively regional.
Where were they coming from? Which states had the most influential cookbook authors? Which classic regional cookbooks were inspiring a new generation of chefs and home cooks, rediscovering the canning, preserving, fermenting, and nose-to-tail cooking techniques that every American cook worth their salt used to know?
So I came up with a list of over 360 cookbooks. I started with my favorite recent and upcoming releases, the cookbooks from my collection that I love most, plus the books Amazon customers have rated and reviewed most favorably over the years. Then I added winners of awards like the James Beard and did additional research (largely in hometown newspapers) to supplement regions that seemed too light. And I added a few more suggestions from our Facebook fans. Together, they're all Great American Eats.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting the best (and best-selling) cookbooks from each region. Some parts of the country have much more prolific cookbook cultures that others, due to larger or wealthier populations or healthier restaurant scenes. Many of the books included here revel in the traditional cuisine of a given region, but you’ll also discover powerhouse chefs, home cooks, and bloggers drawing on the culinary of countries around the world--as Americans have always done--and influencing their regional food culture in ways you may not expect.
Channeling the spirit that Michael Pollan brought to Cooked, I hope looking at cookbooks this way will inspire the casual cooks and serial microwavers among you to buck the trend of cooking as spectator sport and play with the flavors from the tastemaking cooks in your community—or a place you've always wanted to visit. --Mari Malcolm