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Cookbooks to be thankful for, part two. November 16, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Now that we’ve tackled great autumn-themed cookbooks in Part One of this series (which see), let’s turn our attention to baking. Whether you’re planning to make a pumpkin, apple, or pecan pie, bake some bread or dinner rolls, or make coffeecake for the family breakfast, most cooks intend to bake something for the Thanksgiving celebration. Here are some favorite cookbooks to give you inspiration and make sure that whatever you bake comes out great.

Country Baking (Gooseberry Patch, 2000). If you’ve never had the good fortune to enjoy a Gooseberry Patch book before, prepare yourself for a treat! I simply love this series of warm, homey, hand-illustrated cookbooks. Just looking through one cheers me up no end. There are many to choose from, but this one focuses on baking: biscuits and rolls; quick breads, muffins and coffee cakes; yeast breads; cakes and pies; cobblers and bread puddings; turnovers, tarts and dumplings; and cookies and brownies. Sound inviting? It is!

Heartland Baking by Charla Lawhon (Dell, 1991). This one’s a treasure. Four generations of women in Charla’s family have run the famed Jerre Anne Cafeteria in St. Joseph, Missouri, and they all add their voices—along with plenty of tips and favorite recipes—to this cookbook. The Jerre Anne started as a bakery, and you’ll see why it’s lasted so long when you read these recipes. Unlike the other books in today’s list, this one has a chapter on main dishes and vegetables as well as pies, cakes, cookies and bars, and breads and muffins. But keeping to the theme, all the dishes have to be baked!

The Great American Bake Sale by Alison Boteler (Barron’s, 1991). If you’re a devotee of bake-sale treats, or would like some tips on which baked goods make the best gifts and creative ways to package them, this book is for you. From M&M Cookies, Seven Layer Bars, and Pecan Tassies to Kentucky Derby Pie, Red Devil Mayonnaise Cake, and Country Fair Caramel Apple Cupcakes, all the classics are here. Who knows, you might just decide to have a bake sale of your own!

Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie by Bill Neal (Knopf, 1996). When it comes to baking, the South is a bit different. If you’re a Southerner like I am or simply enjoy good Southern food, Bill Neal’s book is a must-find. Ambrosia, Persimmon Pudding, Christmas Compote, Chess Pie, and Robert E. Lee Cake are just a few of the sweet treats inside, along with more savory fare like Hushpuppies, Sweet Potato Corncake, Souffleed Corn Bread, Virginia Spoonbread, and the dreaded Beaten Biscuits. (I’ve always felt that, after taking such a beating, the poor biscuits died and were mummified before baking—they remind me of hardtack or really big, really hard common crackers. Consider yourself warned—these are NOT the light, flaky, luscious biscuits you eat in the South for breakfast; they’re served as an appetizer with shaved sugar-cured ham. Fortunately, Bill Neal includes conventional biscuit recipes, too.) This is more than a cookbook—it’s a wonderful compendium of Southern cooking lore and folkways, with very evocative black-and-white photos.  

Martha White Southern Baking Book (The Benjamin Company, 1983). As a native Nashvillian, I grew up with Martha White Flour—nobody would have even considered using anything else. So I was thrilled to come on this slender spiral-bound book in an antiques mall. Unlike the flour, these recipes are not particularly Southern (apart from the cornmeal chapter), but there are a few gems like Chess Cake, Delta Pecan Pie, Dixie Cobbler, Smoky Mountain Jam Cake, and Cheese Grits Casserole.

Judy Gorman’s Breads of New England (Yankee Books, 1992). We’ve traveled to the Midwest and South (and to the Southwest in Part One), so let’s head up North. This book has everything from homemade doughnuts, popovers and scones to bagels, pizzas and calzones—along with breads, rolls, muffins, pancakes and waffles, steamed and batter breads, and much more. You’ll find classics like Boston Brown Bread, Date-Nut Bread, Jonnycakes, and Steamed Pumpkin Gingerbread rubbing shoulders with Prosciutto Bread Sticks, Red Onion and Gorgonzola Pizza, Whole Wheat Pita, and English Muffins.

The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey (Random House, 1984). As any of you who grew up with the classic Laurel’s Kitchen know, these ladies take their bread-baking very seriously. This book’s subtitle, “A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking,” lets you know that you’re not going to find white-flour biscuits and cakes inside. But like Laurel’s Kitchen, this book is bright, endearing, comprehensive, and easy to follow, illuminated with Laurel’s wonderful woodcuts and Carol’s inspiring introductory essays. If breadmaking has always intimidated you, or if you’re trying to make more healthful food for your family, this is the place to start. You’ll definitely feel like you’re working with a good, caring friend in the kitchen.

The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown (Shambala, 1970). Like The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, the focus here is on wholesome baking, and while some of the recipes from this Zen monastery and retreat house are more successful than others, I find the book, with its low-tech, friendly approach, very endearing. Maybe it’s just nostalgia—I learned how to bake whole-wheat biscuits and whole-wheat bread from it back in the day. (Both are straightforward and good, by the way.)

The Bread Book by Ellen Foscue Johnson (Storey Communications, 1994). This “Baker’s Almanac” has been chugging along since its original release back in 1979, and a look inside will tell you why. Storey can usually be counted on to produce delightful, no-nonsense cookbooks, and they’ve come through with another winner here. Organized by month, with evocative black-and-white photos and bread lore, the book presents recipes like French Bread with Beer, Mill Hollow Bread, Fay’s Spicy Batter Bread, Posy’s Russian Black Bread, and even (gulp) Erotic Tomato Rye Bread. Cottage Cheese Biscuits, Cider Muffins, Carrot Corn Bread, Granola Batter Bread, Jamaican Gingerbread, Squash Rolls, and Hungarian Crepes let you know there’s a lot more than yeast breads in here, too.

You’ll hear more about bread books in Part Three, which will focus on cookbooks that emphasize gratitude and the sacred aspects of cooking. Meanwhile, enjoy these! And, as always, if you have any favorite baking books that I’ve overlooked, please sing out and let us all know about them and why you love them.

              ‘Til next time,




1. Amanda - November 16, 2008

My favourite baking book is How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (Hyperion, 2001). It’s got some fantastic recipes. My copy falls open at the Chocolate Brownie page!

Ha! Nigella is quite a goddess, domestic and otherwise, isn’t she, Amanda? Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check that chocolate brownie recipe out!

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