Did you know you can study for a Ph.D. in food studies at New York University? To support the program The Fales Library at NYU created a door stopper of a book, 688 pages – 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes from Fannie Farmer to Thomas Keller – compiled and edited by an academic committee (of course).
The first half of 101 Classic Cookbooks is the canon of cookbooks, beginning with Fannie Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cook Book (1896). Books by Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Emeril Lagasse and Betty Crocker, James Beard and, of course, Irma Rombauer’s bible – The Joy of Cooking are a few of the famous included. Just flipping through the glossy pages, you will see clear copies of cook book covers and recipe pages excerpted from each; the editors also offer a short introduction on the history and significance of each cookbook (which I confess I did not always read). The collection crosses regions from Southern cooking to international, and from comfort food to Alice Waters’ farm to table.
The editors include a few spiral bound cookbooks (we all have a few) from the Junior Leagues of Charleston and Augusta, and one of my favorites – The Moosewood Cookbook. Mark Bittman and Thomas Keller are the anchors, finishing the collection with books from 1998 and 1999. The current century is still in committee.
Recipe pages in the first section copied directly from the cookbooks are not readable, but the second half of 101 Classic Cookbooks becomes 501 Classic Recipes, the best ideas culled from all and clearly printed (with an editor’s caveat warning older recipes may not always work). With ten categories, from Drinks and Nibbles to Baked Goods and Desserts, this section is overwhelming – too much even for those of us who like to read cookbooks. But this is a textbook.
The Index is the place to start. Recipes, authors, and books are cross-referenced – a map to finding your favorite cookbook author or honing in on a recipe you might like to try. The recipe for Lord Baltimore Cake caught my eye.
An ambitious undertaking, 101 Classic Cookbooks 501 Classic Recipes is a first in reference books for food studies, but it also could be a happy diversion for anyone who would rather cook than study – or just likes to read cookbooks.
Related Review: My Visit to Thomas Kellor’s French Laundry
Reviews on Other Cookbooks: