When it comes to Christmas gift giving, a cookbook is often an easy call. The subjects are palatable, and usually noncontroversial. Getting a cookbook, or even giving one, at least conjures the fantasy of having enough time to actually use it.
But how to pick one from the blizzard of releases that fill the stores? My own answer, evolved over time, is to start by looking in my own kitchen cabinet.
For inspiration I turn to the books stacked there at arm’s reach, the ones with creased spines, dog-eared pages and with other recipe clippings tucked between their covers.
Through time and frequent use, these are books that are imbued with my own stories, and some sauce stains. It adds a different value to the gift.
I’ll give you a few examples from far across the spectrum that sit on my own shelf.
One of the first New Orleans cookbooks I ever picked up was “La Bouche Creole,” by Leon Soniat Jr., from 1981. I read it cover to cover and got an education on calas, daube glace and chicken bonne femme. And also, thanks to the tales of old New Orleans written between the recipes, a primer on how much of our city’s food tradition runs through family. This is the book I think of for newcomers learning about New Orleans food.
Then there’s the outlier in my omnivorous cookbook cabinet, “Moosewood Cookbook,” Mollie Katzen’s vegetarian classic from 1977. Growing up, this book always seemed to be open when my mother was cooking for guests. She gave an updated edition to my wife the Christmas before we married. Today, I find a link to the first kitchen I ever knew.
If someone on your gift list has already dropped hints about a certain new release, then that’s the one to get.
But when your own stories are between the pages you’re giving something more than a product. And if one day your recipient cooks for you from that cookbook, well, that’s a gift that keeps giving, back to you.