It all started when Adriana Trigiani s Cooking with My Sisters
(Random House, $24.95) landed on my desk. The author of the cookbook of family recipes bridged Bari, Italy, and Big Stone Gap, Va.
Within a couple of days, I found her name again, this time on the cover of Big Cherry Holler and Big Stone Gap.
Inside one novel, set in southwestern Virginia, was a recipe for Cousin Dee s Peanut-Butter Ball. I looked again at the cookbook, which had recipes I had not experienced when I lived in rural Virginia: Braciole and a gorgeous antipasto.
This was a two-fer: Not only did discover a cookbook, I discovered
new novels. I also realized that the memoir cookbook is a genre of
cookbooks that s gaining popularity.
Celebrity cookbooks are produced by well-known chefs who
own restaurants or have television cooking shows such as Emeril
Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, or Martin Yan. Some have two names, like
Jamie Oliver (the Naked Chef) or Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa).
Each of these celebrities has a new cookbook Emeril s Potluck
(Harper Collins, $24.95), Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy (Rutledge Hill
Press, $34.99), Martin Yan Quick & Easy (Chronicle, $24.95)), Jamie s Dinners (Hyperion, $34.95), and Barefoot in Paris (Potter, $34).
In the memoir cookbook, the author is likely to have a career
other than food. Four such cookbooks sit on my shelf. Just how good
is literary cooking, you may wonder?
We did, too, which launched us into a mini project of randomly testing
one recipe from each of the four.
We tested Corn Pudding from The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes
of My Life (Doubleday, $26) and found it a savory-sweet side dish.
Although I saw The Prince of Tides, the movie based on one of his
books, I knew nothing about Pat Conroy, who considers Beaufort,
S.C., home. His memoir cookbook begins with favorites of low-country cooking such as pan fried flounder and corn pudding, then meanders through his life with such dishes as Italian sausage with Crispy Sweet Potatoes and Sole en Papillote, Vidalia onions, and a chapter on eating in New Orleans.
With five pints of oysters, we discovered that the Oyster and Corn
Stew from Grace the Table by Alexander Small (Broadway, $17.95)
was a main dish meant for those who really love oysters. We downsized the ingredients to five cups, and even then there were plenty of oysters. The flavor of the recipe,however, is spectacular. Mr. Small, classically trained baritone known for Southern revival cooking, recounts his life from Spartanburg, S.C., to the cities of Europe and Manhattan s social circles. He is the owner of Smalls and Co., a catering business. Recipes include Caramel Cake, Steak au Poivre, and Stuffed Veal Chops.
From Maya Angelou s Hallelujah!: The Welcome Table (Random
House, $29.95), we made Fried Apples, a southern side dish which
is simple but tasty. Ms. Angelou includes recipes for fried meat pies,
chicken livers, beef Wellington, and a quick recipe for Puffed Pastry.
As for that Trigiani cooking tome, Cooking with My Sisters, we tried
Braciole, that glorious Italian dish of rolled, stuffed meat that you should order whenever you see it on an Italian menu. The flavor of the pinwheel entree served with pasta was great.
The verdict is in: The memoir cookbook is as much about storytelling
as it is recipes. Beware the temptation to read can be as great
as the temptation to cook.