Cookbook Love and Hate

gillmorIn their quest to explore the library’s vast cook book collection, The Taste Buds Cook Book Club held an open meeting at Fort Garry Library with special guest speaker Alison Gillmor. Alison tests recipes in her small but well used galley kitchen for her weekly Winnipeg Free Press column Recipe Swap.  She spoke from the perspective of an enthusiastic but (in her words) occasionally incompetent home cook on the topic of “Cookbook Love and Hate” and investigated what makes a really good cookbook and what separates flash-in-the-pan trends from tried and trusted cookbook classics.

While she rarely buys cook books her collection consists of inherited or gifted titles, some swag and some purchased from the sale bins at Home Sense. Due to a lack of space she ruthlessly culls on a regular basis. Books that do make the cut are well designed with glossy photographs because we “eat with our eyes first.”

Here are a few books that have earned a spot on Alison’s shelf:

feastFeast: Food That Celebrates Life by Nigella Lawson

Gillmor is a fan of Nigella’s unctuous, sensuous, earthy approach which conveys her emotional connection with food. Lawson shares what is primal and timeless about feasting. “I am not someone who believes that life is sacred, but I know it is very precious,” she writes in the last chapter about funeral feasts which include comfort food like meatloaf and “heavenly potatoes” to remind the bereaved “that life goes on, that living is important.”

pedantIn The Pedant in the Kitchen Julian Barnes asks “Why should a word in a recipe be less important than a word in a novel?”  Annoyed by vagueness in trendy cookbooks, he wonders what is a “a wineglass full,”  “a glug,” “a drizzle,” “a knob”?  Barnes goes on to chastise a certain young English cook (ahem) for his woolly instructions and general bashing about in the kitchen. While not a cook book, it does give helpful kitchen hints along with witty food writing.

masteringAlison inherited Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child  from her mother and keeps it  for sentimental reasons. Other than “grown up, sophisticated” dishes like beef bourguignon, chocolate almond cake and coq au vin she rarely cooks from it. She fondly remembers her mother’s hostess book which chronicled menus and guest lists, a useful practice that should be revived.

bittmanHow to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is the “hip Joy of Cooking.” While not inspirational (there are no illustrations to make your mouth water) it is a reliable, trusted, go-to reference for making the perfect omelet or pot roast.


bitterBitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor by Jennifer McLagan investigates that complex, sophisticated and adult taste. McLagan has previously researched other misunderstood food groups like Odd Bits which explores nose-to tail cookery and Bones, a reaction to the boneless skinless chicken breast.

As for Alison’s own Recipe Swap column, some of the most asked for recipes include Belgian Bakery meat pies and tortes, Tea Cozy gingerbread, and Tec Voc  butter tarts. While not much of a gadget user, Alison does have a fondness for her ice cream maker, kitchen scale and cast iron frying pans.

In honor of the Queen of “12 Days of Christmas Cookies” the evening culminated with a tea party and sampling of the Taste Buds’ Christmas Cookies. But that is “food” for a future column!


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