Recipe Books Make Good Reading!

Although, as a person who always liked to read and spent a lot of time reading novels and collections of short fiction, my reading preference was usually for non-fiction.

The term “non-fiction” covers a wide variety of books, and in my earlier years I read a lot of philosophy and history.

Over the years, as age humbled me, mellowed me, and encouraged my light-hearted, more basic tastes in books to surface, I came to enjoy books on gardening, animal life in the wild, and . . . yes, recipe books!

As an avid reader, I also loved to write, my writing usually reflecting what I read.  My mother loved to read, too, but writing was not one of her many talents,  though she was literate in both German and English.

The only writings I have of hers are a collection of her occasional letters to me, and a box of recipes, most of which she wrote herself (with a few recipe clippings stuck in here and there).

I mention her recipes, because recipe books are non-fiction “literature” I enjoy reading and applying.

That may sound strange, but they are some of the best selling books on the market.  And some are entertaining, some, “literary,” and some very informative.

My youngest daughter is a book designer in New York, and has designed many popular cookbooks.  Portlandia is is a fun book she designed, as well as containing good recipes (as well as one of my drawings of ants carrying raw vegetables on their backs).

Food for Thought (probably a half dozen with this title) was not a best seller, but it contained a number of my haiku, as well as other poems of mine and poems by other poets.  And one of my recipes.   Yes, cookbooks can be  “literary.”

It seems to me that cookbooks like the Blue Zone series by Dan Buettner, consisting of four books including 100 Recipes to Live to 100, are nutritionally informative as well as informative in other ways.

I did use a few of Mama’s Wendish recipes in my first book, It Must Be the Noodles, but “translating” her recipes was not always easy, and many were recipes found in other Wendish cookbooks.

You see “clarity” was not always a virtue Mama possessed, whereas “brevity” was her most noticeable attribute.  She used the usual cookbook abbreviations that most chefs understood, e. g., tsp., tbs., etc., plus some of her own like “van” for vanilla, “pder” for powdered as in “powdered” sugar., etc.

And she often used interesting word choices, such as the slang word “spuds” for “potatoes.”  Perhaps “spuds” was easier to spell than the German word for potatoes, “Kartoffel,” or even “potatoes” itself.  She did often use German words in her recipes.  It wasn’t uncommon for her at the end of a recipe to add statements like, “You might need more flour,” or “May not be enough pecans.”

She assumed you, the cook, using her recipes, knew what any chef should know, so she did not include basic instructions like “grease the pan” “dust with flour,” or “sprinkle freshly baked bread with water.”

Even though her recipes were sometimes vague and confusing, I always enjoy reading through that little box of gems.

While some folks may find it strange to read recipe books, I find they arouse my interest and my appetite.

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and author of three books, It Must Be the Noodles, Open Prairies, and Tanka Schoen.

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