Local lifestyle columnists

Cookbooks, a popular mainstay at the library

By April 19, 2014

One of the roles of a librarian is to evaluate “the collection” (what we call all the materials in the library) to make sure it has the breadth and depth necessary to meet the needs of the community.

As I was evaluating the cookbook and culinary arts section, I came across “The Twinkies Cookbook.” With the demise (and then resurgence) of Twinkie manufacturing and perhaps the less than delectable recipes, the book hadn’t been checked out in three years. One recipe, a Mandarin Orange Cake, featured ingredients that were either manufactured from chemicals or drowned in sugar: canned mandarin oranges in heavy sugar syrup, artificially flavored vanilla Jell-O mix, non-dairy creamer . . .  .

The book with its recipes for Pigs in a Twinkie, Twinkie Wedding Cake, and Kebabals (marshmallows, fruit and Twinkies on a skewer) gave me a good laugh. I’ve considered re-cataloging it in the humor section, but passed given the lack of interest in the Twinkie.

Books about cocktails, wine, Twinkie hotdogs, and big, coffee table cookbooks by famous chefs with recipes only a veteran chef could make are definitely not capturing the attention of Solano County residents. Did you know that cookbooks are among our library system’s most popular subjects? Our customers often drive what we buy – and that’s the secret to good collection management.

Vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian and healthful eating in general is the trend along with canning, fermentation, juicing, raising chickens and beekeeping. We seem to be recovering some of our earlier home cooking roots in new cookbooks along with a philosophy towards sustainable farming and family activities.

I thought of my own ancestral cookbook, in which a great-aunt instructs the cook to “throw huckleberries into the pie crust and bake until done.” I liked her generation’s ease with cooking, of not having to rely on a cookbook, of knowing how to cook, combine or experiment with ingredients, and display the finished recipe in an attractive manner. While many of us don’t have that ease, we can find inspiration from a cookbook.

When I first started my library career, a colleague told me to be sure to purchase cookbooks with color photos of well-arranged food. She said the photos would encourage readers to know that they could make the recipes and have some sense of what the dish should look like. It was good advice in an age where we often don’t receive instruction from a relative in how to cook. It’s true, the cookbooks with photos are borrowed more frequently.

Cooking is about both tradition and experimentation – not unlike families and public libraries. During this season of holidays and winter weather, consider trying a family recipe, a new recipe from a cookbook, or improvising on a favorite. Your children might enjoy cooking with one of our cookbooks written just for children. For older children, “The Silver Spoon for Children” features lively how-to illustrations for cooking classic Italian meals.

“Blue Moon Soup: A Family Cookbook” has beautiful storybook illustrations accompanying healthful, easy-to-make soups.

“Passport on a Plate: A Round-the-World Cookbook for Children” takes children around the world to sample various cuisines and cultures. I think one of the greatest gifts a parent can give is to teach their children how to cook, starting them on a lifestyle of healthful food shared with friends and family.

Among my favorite cookbooks from the library include: “River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, “Italian Family Dining: Recipes, Menus, and Memories of Meals with a Great American Food Family” by Edward Giobbi and Eugenia Giobbi Bone, “Biba’s Italy: Favorite Recipes from the Splendid Cities” by Biba Caggiano, and “Tomatoes Garlic Basil: The Simple Pleasures of Growing and Cooking Your Garden’s Most Versatile Veggies” by Doug Oster.

Each cookbook features writing by passionate cooks, healthful recipes, and a nice, low-key sensibility to eating and sharing food.

Solano County Library publishes a monthly email newsletter devoted to the news about cookbooks. News and recommendations come to your inbox each month and you can reserve a book directly from the links in your email. To sign up go to the e-news sign up page under the Library News Link in the right corner of the home page, http://solanolibrary.com/signup.

The staff at the Fairfield Civic Center Library, Fairfield Cordelia Library and the Suisun City Library hope you will find some inspiration in our cookbook and entertaining aisles as well as time to share good food with family and friends.

Serena Enger is the Supervising Librarian at the Fairfield Civic Center Library, Solano County Library. She is currently reading “The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame” by Peter Dreier.

Serena Enger


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