As Halloween weekend nears, the nation’s culinary eye will turn to candy, bat’s wings, and other holiday foods. Before that happens, however, UIP wants to offer a more respectful tribute to National Cookbook Month with a stack of books that not only tell us how to cook, but the stories behind the dishes.

From origins to recipes, from the far-spanning cuisine known as soul food to the encyclopedia world(s) of herbs and spices, these books ladle out ideas for your next meal alongside the ur-knowledge that can transform a rather obsessive but personal food hobby into the YouTube foodie stardom that you deserve.

bowerAfrican American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture, edited by by Anne L. Bower
Ranging from seventeenth-century West African fare to contemporary fusion dishes using soul food ingredients, these essays introduce the interested to many aspects of African American foodways and provide a long-needed antidote to popular misconceptions about soul food. Examining the combination of African, Caribbean, and South American traditions, contributors offer lively insights from history, literature, sociology, anthropology, and African American studies to demonstrate how food’s material and symbolic values have contributed to African Americans’ identity for centuries. Individual chapters examine how African foodways survived the passage into slavery, cultural meanings associated with African American foodways, and the contents of African American cookbooks, both early and recent.

schumanFavorite Dishes: A Columbian Autograph Souvenir Cookery Book, complied by Carrie V. Shuman
Favorite Dishes is a celebrity cookbook of autographed recipes, accented by portraits of the distinguished contributors, that was compiled on the occasion of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It is a handsome sourcebook on nineteenth-century cookery as well as a testament to the desire of well-educated, well-placed women to use their position for social good. It is also a prime example of the genre of charitable cookbooks that began after the Civil War and extends to today’s Junior League community cookbooks.

The world’s fair in Chicago was the first event of its kind that offered women a conspicuous and responsible role. A Woman’s Building was designed by a woman architect, decorated with the statues and paintings of prominent women artists, and overseen by a Board of Lady Managers, comprised of 115 wives and daughters of prominent political and business leaders from every state and territory.

Carrie Shuman approached the president of this unprecedented body, Bertha Honoré Palmer, with the idea of producing a charitable cookbook, endorsed and autographed by the Lady Managers, of their prize recipes. The books would be offered to women of limited means—women who dreamed “longingly and hopelessly of the Exposition”—who could sell them to raise money to cover the expense of a visit to the fair.

rath and assmanJapanese Foodways, Past and Present, edited by Eric C. Rath and Stephanie Assmann
Spanning nearly six hundred years of Japanese food culture, Japanese Foodways, Past and Present considers the production, consumption, and circulation of Japanese foods from the mid-fifteenth century to the present day in contexts that are political, economic, cultural, social, and religious. Diverse contributors—including anthropologists, historians, sociologists, a tea master, and a chef—address a range of issues such as medieval banquet cuisine, the tea ceremony, table manners, cookbooks in modern times, food during the U.S. occupation period, eating and dining out during wartimes, the role of heirloom vegetables in the revitalization of rural areas, children’s lunches, and the gentrification of blue-collar foods.

allenThe Herbalist in the Kitchen, by Gary Allen
Both a cookbook and a supplement to other cookbooks, the The Herbalist in the Kitchen delves deep into the herbs, spices, leaves, and other plant materials we use—and can use–to add that delicious something to our meals. Truly encyclopedic in scope. the book provides detailed information about the uses, botany, toxicity, and flavor chemistry of herbs, as well as a listing for nearly every name that an ingredient is known by around the world.

Gary Allen organizes the archive into one hundred five sections, each consisting of a single botanical family. He also provides all the available information about the chemical compounds responsible for a plant’s characteristic taste and scent, which allows cooks to consider new subtleties and potential alternatives. Richly illustrated with fifty-six images from the Missouri Botanical Garden rare book collection, The Herbalist in the Kitchen promises to enlighten cooks of all levels, from beginning culinary artists to seasoned professional chefs.

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