Books that Cook.  NY, NY: New York University Press, 2014.

Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal 

Edited by Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite

With a foreword by Marion Nestle

New York: New York University Press, 2014
ISBN:  9781479830213

Whether a five-star chef or beginning home cook, any gourmand knows that recipes are far more than a set of instructions on how to make a dish. They are culture-keepers as well as culture-makers, both recording memories and fostering new ones. 

Organized like a cookbook, Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal is a collection of American literature written on the theme of food: from an invocation to a final toast, from starters to desserts. All food literatures are indebted to the form and purpose of cookbooks, and each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, the Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The literary works within each section are an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature—forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own. 

Each section offers a delectable assortment of poetry, prose, and essays, and the selections all include at least one tempting recipe to entice readers to cook this book. Including writing from such notables as Maya Angelou, James Beard, Alice B. Toklas, Sherman Alexie, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, and Alice Waters, among many others, Books that Cook reveals the range of ways authors incorporate recipes—whether the recipe flavors the story or the story serves to add spice to the recipe.  Books that Cook is a collection to serve students and teachers of food studies as well as any epicure who enjoys a good meal alongside a good book.


Praise for Books that Cook

"Cognard-Black and her co-authors Melissa Goldthwaite and Marion Nestle have concocted a delicious salmagundi in this combination of cookbook and literary tribute."

— Bethanne Patrick, The Washingtonian

"This book will delight foodies, food historians, anthropologists, cookbook enthusiasts, and any literature fans who like to eat."

— Library Journal

"A buffet of poems, stories, essays and recipes.... Food lovers and cookbook collectors will savor this literary stew."

— Kirkus Reviews


"An observation made by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor in Books that Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal explains the broad appeal of this enjoyable collection of contemporary American writing about food: 'Everybody eats!'"

— Times Literary Supplement


"With much to be savored, this collection shows the ways that poetry, prose, and fiction can act just as cookbooks do—moving their readers to bake, to roast, to sear and sauté."

— Daniel J. Philippon
University of Minnesota

"Offers something that writing teachers have been hankering for: a delicious collection of contemporary American writing that treats the human condition in relation to food, eating, and cooking. Food serves as a powerful hook into conversations about class, ethnicity, gender, politics, and aesthetics; this collection’s juxtaposition of cookbook and story, poem, or essay makes that conversation possible."

— Scott Miller
Sonoma State Writing Center

"The perfect book to accompany a meal, this anthology also contains recipes ideal for literary discussions. The editors, both professors of English and writing, have sifted contemporary American literature for poems, essays, and fiction in which food plays a prominent role. The pieces they’ve gathered use dishes as touchstones for exploring culture, ethnicity, and more." 

— Politics and Prose


"A buffet of poems, stories, essays and recipes.

Editors Cognard-Black (English/St. Mary’s College of Maryland; co-editor, Kindred Hands:  Letters on Writing by British and American Women Authors, 2006, etc.) and Goldthwaite (English/St. Joseph’s Univ.; The Norton Pocket Book of Writing by Students, 2010, etc.) organize this anthology like a cookbook, with literature and recipes that relate to a particular part of a meal, from appetizers to dessert. Each section opens with an entry from a cookbook; arranged chronologically, these may or may not have anything to do with the section that follows. 'Starters,' for example, is introduced by an excerpt from Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (1796), which offers 'Directions for Catering, or Procuring the Best Viands, Fish, etc.,' such as 'How to Choose Flesh' and how to roast mutton. An excerpt from Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896) is more relevant, introducing 'Eggs' with instructions for boiling, scrambling and poaching them. The editors explain that the book 'is deliberately organized so that readers can achieve their own equilibrium between the individual selections and their overall experience of the collection,' just as they might sample food at a buffet. For readers seeking some logic to their choices, the editors offer thematic reading menus: 'Food and the Environment' features a piece by Terry Tempest Williams and a poem by Gary Snyder. 'Love and Desire' includes a selection by Nora Ephron and an excerpt from Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1987). Of the collection’s 49 pieces, 11 were written specifically for the book. Among the well-known authors represented by previously published work are James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Sherman Alexie and Maya Angelou. Laurie Colwin contributes a delightfully funny piece about three repulsive dinners; Ntozake Shange chronicles her trip to Nicaragua to find the house where poet Rubén Dario was born and raised—and a recipe for 'a very sexy little dish' of raw turtle eggs.

Food lovers and cookbook collectors will savor this literary stew."

— Kirkus Reviews


"This delightful collection of prose, poetry, and essays, all introduced by excerpts from important, American cookbooks dating back to the 1700s, explores the way food reflects and creates culture.  An important addition to the study of gastronomy, it features the work of such contemporary authors as Maya Angelou, Nora Ephron, and Alice Waters, and is organized like a cookbook with each section including at least one delectable recipe.”

— Ms. Magazine

"The volume includes poems, stories, and essays, along with recipes, and some of each are original. There are beloved bits, too, from Laurie Colwin’s classic piece on three repulsive meals to Maya Angelou’s caramel cake. The perfect gift for your summer hostess who loves to read, cook, and consider." 


"A book that cooks isn't just a cookbook. A book that cooks can also be a memoir with recipes, an essay collection that embeds cookery into the writing, or a foodie fiction that includes instructions on making various dishes to reveal character, build a climax, or create symbolism. Authors of such cooking books want readers to consume them in more than one way: with the eye, the mind, the heart, and the mouth." 

— Huffington Post


Food and cooking are infused with culture and meaning, steeped in stories and history, salted with memory. This book is a collection of stories, memories, literature, and poetry of food and cooking. With various writers and chefs sharing their experiences with and thoughts on food, this book takes the reader into the world of food literature and food sociology. Selections range from poetry and fiction to cookbook excerpts. All are arranged as one might arrange a cookbook, starting with appetizers and ending with dessert. Each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day. The work is one a reader could happily read cover to cover, or, as with a good meal, savor one piece at a time. The selected authors are all American, but the topics covered are a melting pot from 100-year-old eggs to turkey gumbo to commodity foods. Authors include Sherman Alexie, Julia Child, Fannie Flagg, and Alice Waters.

Verdict: This book will delight foodies, food historians, anthropologists, cookbook enthusiasts, and any literature fans who like to eat.

— Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen, Oregon Inst. of Technology, Portland
Library Journal