Chow Town

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Books about food aren’t necessarily cookbooks

05/14/2013 4:10 PM

05/20/2014 10:44 AM

As any writer of cookbooks sadly knows, cookbooks aren’t used much any more.

We still buy them for our favorite author, the celebrity chef attached to them or if the food subject is something close to our hearts.

But most of these books end up on our bedside table for nighttime reading. Or when the photography is especially beautiful, they find a space on our coffee tables.

If we want a recipe we can access millions of them through our computers. And we can prop up our iPad right there in the kitchen and read the directions easily.

So I suggest you take your cookbook budget and move beyond cookbooks to some of the other wonderful literature available about all aspects of food.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

• Cooked by Michael Pollan. This is Pollan’s new book describing how he learned to transform edibles using fire, water, air and earth. In other words, cooking.

If you are new to Pollan, I suggest you start with The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. It’s the story of four plants — apple trees are one of them — and my personal favorite.

Move on to The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, his “big splash” bestseller where he traces the history of the content of four meals. Pollan makes the politics of food as engaging as a fast paced thriller.

• On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. The original On Food and Cooking, published in 1984, was hailed as a masterpiece. The 2004 version is updated and expanded.

McGee is the ultimate authority on how cooking works. Words of advice: Read this book.

• A Literary Feast, an anthology by Lilly Golden. A Literary Feast reveals food-centered writing by what we call “literary” writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Isak Dinesen.

This anthology includes the famous short story by Dinesen, Babette’s Feast.

• A Moveable Feast, edited by Don George. A Moveable Feast concentrates on food adventures around the world. It includes stories by modern day writers and food celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and Mark Kurlansky. If you love travel, this one is for you.

• Napa: The Story of American Eden by James Conaway. Yes, this is more than 20 years old but it is a riveting account of the creation of the modern wine-making capital we know as Napa Valley. Good gossipy stuff. This one caused quite a stir in Napa when it was released.

• Eat Drink Delta: A hungry Traveler’s Journey through the Soul of the South by Susan Puckett. This book, released this year, is part travel guide, part recipe book and part history of an area of the country. My friend, journalist Susan Puckett, brings the Mississippi Delta alive.

• Feast: A History of Grand Eating by Roy Strong. This English historical is worth seeking out for its accounts of the way formal dining has evolved. Babylonian to Victorian, it’s a true feast for history buffs.

Lou Jane Temple’s road to food has been a long and winding one. First as a rock-n-roll caterer back stage to the stars, then with her own Kansas City based catering company, Cafe Lulu, food writing, novelist, private chef. Lou Jane has written and had published nine culinary mysteries and one cookbook. She recently moved back to Kansas City and eagerly awaits the next chapter of her food career.

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