Ask anyone to create a list of the basic human needs and, no doubt, food will be close to the top of every list. Not only is food part of our survival instincts, it's also intrinsic to our cultural identities. However, until very recently, the study of humanity's connection to food and consequently cooking wasn't given the respect it deserves. It seemed to mundane, too much the domain of housewives, and scholars weren't interested.
In recent decades, however, the study of food and cooking has been elevated to the point that there are college programs dedicated to the field of food studies. It naturally followed that once a program of food studies was established, one of these schools would need to study and develop a canon of cookbooks that would form the basis for these studies. This was created at The Fales Library at New York University which holds 55,000 volumes related to food.
With the advice of an expert committee of culinary experts such as Florence Fabricant, Ruth Reichl, Michael Pollan and others, they selected the 101 cookbooks deemed to be classics and included in this volume.
Divided in Two Distinct Sections
It's possible to consider this book as a two-for-one. The first half of this weighty tome covers the 101 cookbooks that have been selected as the classics. The second half is a cookbook with the most iconic recipes from each book, organized by food category.
Let's start with the first half - the listing of the 101 classic cookbooks. These books have been selected for the impact they made on the American food landscape or what they represent in terms of the change and evolution of our tastes and expansion of our knowledge of possible ingredients. For each book selected in this collection you'll find a history of the book and its author. You'll also have a photo of the book cover, and often reprinted pages with illustrations from these books giving you a feeling for the style and design of the original. The books are presented in chronological order, and when read in that order, present the history of the food experience in America. The list begins with "The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book" by Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1896 and ends with "The French Laundry Cookbook" by Thomas Keller in 1999.
Then There are the Recipes
The 501 classic recipes that comprise the second half of this volume were selected from each of the 101 classic cookbooks based on their popularity, their appearance in reviews of the book at the time of publishing, or as representative of a trend expressed by that book. Both halves of this book are nicely tied together. At the end of the discussion of each book is a listing of the recipes that can be found in the second half, with the page number for each one. When you turn to the recipe half of the book, you'll find them categorized by course including: Drinks, Hors d'Oeuvres, and Nibbles; Soups, Salads, and Sandwiches; Stews, Casseroles, and One-Pot Dishes; Vegetables and Legumes; Condiments, Pickles and James; Pasta, Noodles, and Rice; Eggs, Breakfast, and Brunch; Fish and Seafood; Fowl; Stocks and Sauces; Meats; Baked Goods and Desserts. Whether you're planning a menu for a cocktail party or a special theme dinner party, you can find all of the recipes you need in this interesting collection.
Interspersed throughout the coverage of the 101 classic cookbooks are a dozen bonus essays written by contemporary food notables such as Judith Jones, Alice Waters and Marion Nestle. These essays dig even more deeply into the significance of some of the choices for this collection, with personal stories that will bring the authors to life.