spring 2022 cookbook club: legendary women cookbook authors, part 1

person typing on typewriter

It just happened to be International Women’s Day when the request came for the next seasonal theme for our cookbook group. It also happened that I was pondering how to incorporate the most requested cookbook of them all, simply referred to as “Julia“.

That’s a big, giant, elephant of a book to bring into a line up. That book is legendary. And the woman who wrote it, even more so. Only other legends could hold their own with her. Now there’s a theme… Legends. And women.

This season of  92nd Street Y and Kitchen Arts & Letters cookbook club begins on May 10, 2022 (click that link above for more information). As of the day I’m posting, there’s still time to register and receive your books so you can get cooking! I’ll personally get you caught up on the upcoming assignments and early discussion.

I’d love to have you join us live on Zoom if you’re able. But if not, I’ll be posting about each book as we go, so you can follow along here on Wander Eat and Tell too.

Let’s start with more about our theme, and of course, what books we’ll be cooking from…

women’s work

The predecessors to what we now know as cookbooks were often household manuals. These manuals, often written by women for women, provided instructions for training household staff in all things from laundry to cleaning to preparing and serving proper meals.

Then came the time-saving appliances. And away went most of the reliance on household help. But the books stayed. And they evolved. They were now instructions on how to get the most out of those appliances. And that was often best done with recipes. The books were still written for women. And, often, women still held the pens, as well as the pans.

Through cookbooks, women have been catalysts for change beyond their home kitchens. The evolution of food science and technology, culinary education, history, and literature all have women at their core. The list of legends is long and rich.

Please note that I am purposefully simplifying history here and skipping over complex and often unjust realities that I am very much aware exist(ed).

how do you choose?

I could have easily chosen scores of books for this theme. When I began the conversation with Matt Sartwell of Kitchen Arts & Letters, we had a list of several dozen names within 15 minutes. Did I bite off more than I can chew?

Of course I did! But that’s normal. So, we’ll do more seasons, hence calling this Part 1.

So, we needed some parameters:

  1. The books must be in-print and accessible given current supply chain challenges. They must also fit into an established budget.
  2. Only authors we have not already included in past cookbook clubs.* And none of the authors I have scheduled for future themes (you’ll have to wait to find out who they are).
  3. This round will not include baking-only or dessert-only books (future seasons might).
  4. Diversity is important to us all; In heritage, culture, voice, subject, and all the big things.
  5. The first round must include Julia Child and Marcella Hazan. Just because.

* Past season legends include (but are not limited to) Edna Lewis, Julie Sahni, Naomi Duguid, and Nancy Singleton Hachisu. We’ve also worked with several legendary men – as I mentioned, diversity is important to us.

so, who made the cut for part 1?

4 cookbook covers by legendary women
all books available from http://www.kitchenartsandletters.com

Introducing Legendary Women Cookbook Authors, Part 1.

about the books 

(Several of these descriptions are adapted from Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore website)

King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan

Subtitled “A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking From Around the World,” I felt this book was a wonderful segue from our last season, Cooking off the Beaten Path. In this book we get to explore many of the same regions (and several others we missed) through cultural, historical, and personal stories of the Jewish people who have called those places home. 

Joan Nathan is an award-winning author and respected authority on Jewish culture, especially food. She is a founding member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an appointee to the Kitchen Cabinet of the National Museum of American History, and former PBS television host of Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan, after her book by the same name. 

(bio adapted from the book’s cover)

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

The late beloved Hazan was known affectionately among her students as a woman who did not gladly suffer fools. Her keen intelligence and passion for Italian food left her little tolerance for shoddy ingredients or poor technique. This book is considered Hazan’s masterwork. It was published in 1992, the result of her synthesis of two earlier cookbooks, Classic Italian Cooking (1973) and More Classic Italian Cooking (1978).

The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young and Alan Richardson

Wok hay (or the breath of a wok) is the prized taste detected by connoisseurs of wok cooking when the food has been properly prepared. Grace Young (with award-winning photographer Alan Richardson) creates a fascinating guide to the creation of wok hay and the techniques and sensibilities that underlie it. This book aids in understanding of all the ways in which a wok can be used, and the selection and informed care of fine-quality wok itself. Drawing on lessons from renowned teachers and chefs, and offering recipes gleaned from and inspired by her travels in Hong Kong and China, Young makes it clear that a wok can be a tremendously versatile and rewarding tool, as well as a window into Chinese cultural attitudes toward food, both there and in the United States.

Shortly after we announced the theme and book titles for this season, we learned that author Grace Young received the prestigious James Beard Award for Humanitarian of the Year 2022 for her work advocating for Asian-American communities in the wake of rising hate crimes and discrimination. “Young worked tirelessly in partnerships with Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE) and Welcome to Chinatown to raise funds and to provide aid and security to the AAPI community.” (quoted from Tasting Table).

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

The book that made Julia Child a household name in America. Thorough and meticulous, hence the multi-page recipes that intimidate as much as they intrigue. Very few books take this kind of care to educate a cook, and Mastering’s legions of fans are a testimony to the rewards of the book’s approach.

Writing along with two French-born cooks, Child spent many years perfecting this groundbreaking guide to French cuisine. It is rigorous and sometimes demanding, the way one can easily imagine a grandmother would be as she teaches you dishes that you might have absorbed from childhood had you only had the good fortune to be raised in France.

I really can’t wait to see how this season takes shape – we certainly have our work cut out for us as we don the aprons of these legendary women!

the cooking part…

For each cookbook the club cooks from, I create a menu featuring a selection of recipes from the book in order to provide some structure for the prep and for our conversations. These are only suggestions, and many people experiment with whatever strikes their fancy. Here’s just a hint at the recipes we’ll chose from this season:

From King Solomon’s Table

Matzo Brei – or Chilaquiles-style Matzo Brei
Socca (Chickpea Pancakes with Fennel, Onion & Rosemary)
Homemade Herbed Labneh with Beets & Puy Lentils
Spanakit (Spinach Salad with Walnuts & Cilantro) 
Tchav (Chilled Soup with Sorrel, Rhubarb, & Greens)
Bene Israel Fish Curry
Syrian-Mexican Chicken
Ukrainian Mexican Rugelach
Libyan Saefra, King Solomon’s Cake

From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Carciofi alla Romana or Carciofi alla Giudia
Risi e Bisi 
Passatelli
Orecciette with Broccoli and Anchovy Sauce 
Fricasseed Chicken
Pan Roasted Veal 
Braciole
Easter Lamb
Glazed Semolina Pudding 

From The Breath of a Wok
Chicken with Sichuan Peppercorns 
Susanna Foo’s Mango Chicken
Martin Yan’s Five Flavors Pork Chops 
Ken Hom’s Stir Fried Peppers with Scallops 
Mandarin Fish Slices with Chrysanthemum 
Ming Tsai’s Mandarin Fried Rice
Aromatic Vegetable Fried Rice 
Scallion Ginger Lo Mein 
Moo Shoo Pork 

From Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Oeufs à la Bourguignonne
Galettes au Fromage
Fish Fillets in White Wine Sauce 
Poulet Poêlé à L’Estragon
Navarin Printanier
Blanquette de Veau à L’Ancienne
Salade Niçoise
Tarte au Poires à la Bourdaloue
Reine de Saba

cookbooks have come a long way…

Styles and trends continue to evolve, and despite some hiccups along the way, they show little sign of loosening their hold on our imaginations. We don’t just cook from our cookbooks. Reading a good cookbook can lead you to aspire, dream, learn, travel, and experience new cultures, make new friends.

For more about these and other legendary women cookbook authors, you can check out a recent book by another legendary woman, Anne Willan, Women in the Kitchen: Twelve Essential Cookbook Writers Who Defined the Way We Eat, From 1661 to Today If you’d like to read a great article about that book, click here.

gratitude and more

As always, I want to thank Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore and the 92nd Street Y in NYC for creating these programs that provide great opportunities for furthering food and drink scholarship and enrichment. 

Register HERE on the 92nd Street Y website. Or follow along here! I’ll be writing more about all four books we’ll cook from here on this blog as we go!

Reminder, if you would like to catch up with the past seasons’ books, you can get started HERE.

Note: all the links in this post are here because they’re products or services I personally support. I do not receive any sort of payment for having them here. My compensation is in no way tied to your clicks, purchases, or registrations. 

Sign up for my newsletter and follow @Wander.Eat.and.Tell on Instagram to be one of the first to know when registration opens for the next season of Cookbook Club!

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