Last week at a gathering I told some new acquaintances about a book club I'm in, a group that discusses cookbooks and other food literature. "But what kind of 'food literature' is there besides cookbooks?" one of them asked. I was reminded that, unlike the eat-seeking gastronomy addicts in my reading circle, not everyone knows how jammed library catalogs are these days with titles on food history, food politics, food fiction, food humor, food art and food memoir (not to mention actual recipe collections supplemented with the aforementioned).
Among these is an impressive accumulation of publications by local authors. 'Tis list-making season, so below is a list of some recently issued ones. Think of them as gift ideas for the history buffs, politicos, fiction hounds, comics, art lovers, nostalgists - and oh, yes - cooks in your life:
Apple Betty and Sloppy Joe: Stirring Up the Past with Family Recipes and Stories, by Susan Sanvidge et al. (Wisconsin Historical Society Press). Four sisters from Oshkosh pay droll, heartwarming homage to Mom's cooking in a collection that will resonate especially with baby boom Midwesterners. As noted on the title page: "No garlic was harmed in the production of this book." It's scheduled to be in stores by Dec. 15.
Six Spices: A Simple Concept of Indian Cooking by Neeta Saluja (Jones Books). A Madison-based, first-time author gives us this elegantly straightforward approach to a complex cuisine. With full-page color photos, lucid recipes and helpful overviews on technique, it's worthy of the coffee table or a spot front and center on the kitchen countertop.
Potluck! Home Cooking from Wisconsin's Community Cookbooks, by Toni Brandeis Streckert (Trails Books). "Bits of living, still-unfolding history can be discovered in the recipes found between the pages of community cookbooks," says the author, a Madison writer. Her thoughtful compilation proves how Wisconsin's "potluck culture" celebrates and strengthens community and heritage.
Brewed Awakenings: An Illustrated Journey to Coffeehouses in Wisconsin (and Beyond), by Jeff Hagen (Itchy Cat Press). Another little chuckle-inducing treasure from the artist who portrayed Wisconsin fish fries in Fry Me to the Moon.
A Recipe for Success: Lizzie Kander and Her Cookbook, by Bob Kann (Wisconsin Historical Society Press). Geared for grade-schoolers but of interest to anyone curious about one of Wisconsin's first "celebrity chefs," this is a biography of the woman who wrote The Settlement Cook Book, the most profitable charity cookbook ever published.
Madison Originals Cookbook (Madison Originals). With a foreword by Odessa Piper, this collection offers recipes from local, independent restaurants.
Also in the category of food-related writings: Renewing the Countryside: Wisconsin (Renewing the Countryside), an engaging compilation of essays about sustainable living endeavors around the state, with many "food stories" about organic farmers, artisan cheesemakers, farm-to-school programs and the like; Odd Wisconsin: Amusing, Perplexing, and Unlikely Stories from Wisconsin's Past, by Erika Janik (Wisconsin Historical Society Press), a quirky, winking guide to the weird in Wisconsin; operative here is the "Palatable Peculiarities" chapter (whiskey-stuffed cat's bladder, anyone?)
Then there is In a Pickle: A Family Farm Story, by Jerry Apps (Terrace Books), a poignant tale about a small-town pickle factory, from Wisconsin's guru of rural life. And last but not in the least bit serious - Mustard on a Pickle, a children's book written by Mount Horeb's own master of mustard, Barry Levenson, and illustrated by Chris Miles (Chapter Eleven Press).