The EMD Summer Reading Guide

With beach season upon us, there's nothing we'd rather be doing than reading about other people eating, cooking, and talking about eating and cooking. We polled some of Eat Me Daily's contributors and friends, asking them for a list of their own gastronomic required reading that doesn't require kitchen proximity. We divided them into three categories: Culinary Anthropology, Memoir & Fiction, and Readable Cookery. Collect them all!

Culinary Anthropology

Much Depends on Dinner, Margaret Visser (buy on Amazon)
This is the book that eradicated the last worry for me that food was not a noble enough profession after leaving the NYTimes the first time. Canadian “anthropologist of everyday life” Margaret Visser had a brilliant concept: Take one classic meal and riff on the ingredients historically, mythologically, nutritionally and every which way from Sunday dinner. Corn, salt, butter/margarine, chicken, rice, lettuce, olive oil, lemon juice and ice cream are examined with scholarly intelligence and writerly flair. Amazing read. She was Pollan before Pollan (certainly Pollan before Bittman).

–Regina Schrambling, Gastropoda

Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky (buy on Amazon)
If not the first book to take a sweeping look at the entirety of the world through the prism of a single item, it's certainly the best. Kurlansky's take on the story of salt is riveting, epic, human, and the epitome of the "___: A Natural History" genre — don't even bother with any of the other variations on this theme out there (tea, tuna, steak, orange juice, what have you) until you've read this one — though fair warning, it might ruin you for all the others.

– Ed Baker

Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany, Ben Schott (buy on Amazon)
Ben Schott's second volume of miscellany offers kitchen wit and wisdom, baroque measurements and menus, feast days and famous last meals, and that's on just one page. 49,938 words, from absinthe to zoo eating, encompass enough cocktail party banter to last you through Labor Day. And as the book was published back in 2004, there's no reference to bacon or mixology, the molecular or organic, bloggers or foodies, so you'll have something almost original to say or Tweet all summer long.

–Adam Robb, The Life Vicarious

The Time-Life Foods of the World Series (buy on Amazon [if you can])
This series is indispensable. Comprising 27 hefty volumes on different regions around the world, they were published by the millions in the late 60s/early 70s. For me, these tomes are fairly essential to planning each of the trips for Swallow Magazine. Some are grossly outdated — relics of a time passed — whereas others remain current and vital, giving clues to things we've missed over the years. Strongest, perhaps, is the American cooking series, delivered over 5-6 books and showing just how much the US has lost (and the potential to regain) in terms of its regional food identity.

– James Casey, Swallow Magazine

Memoir and Fiction

The Gastronomical Me, M.F.K. Fisher (buy on Amazon)
Fisher's culinary memoirs of her young adult life in France and California are classics — possibly, as far as food books go, THE classics. This particular volume is a story about love and a story about food and a story about how those things are the same, without being as cloying and obnoxious as you'd expect a book that goes by that description to be (I'm looking at you, Eat, Pray, Love). The Gastronomical Me once actually made me realize I was in love with someone. It is that good.

–Paula Forbes, Ars Coquinaria

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Fuchsia Dunlop (buy on Amazon)
Having grown up in Hong Kong, I have a huge yearning for authentic Chinese food (Cantonese and otherwise). Dunlop's books on both Sichuan (Land of Plenty) and Hunanese (Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook) food serve to transport. Her recent memoir, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, gives good insight as to why Chinese food is (barring my personal love for Middle Eastern tastes), the best cuisine in the world.

– James Casey, Swallow Magazine

Heat, Bill Buford (buy on Amazon)
Someone gave me this book as a gift when I announced vague goals of "doing something with food." Buford, not a professional chef by any means, spent some time on the line at Babbo to write an article for the New Yorker, where he was an editor. That grew into an almost religious pilgrimage walking the path of Mario Batali, from his training under Marco Pierre White to an apprenticeship with a crazy Tuscan butcher. Buford wound up giving up his job to write this book, and it's to his credit that after reading it, that decision seems like the most obvious one in the world.

– Helen Rosner

The Debt to Pleasure, John Lanchester (buy on Amazon)
This darkly humorous novel is narrated by arrogant and self-deluded epicurean Tarquin Winot as he sets out on a culinary journey from England to his spiritual home of Provence. The debut novel of a former restaurant critic of Britain's The Observer newspaper, this cookbook and murder mystery still remains fresh even though it was published more than a decade ago. Built around a series of seasonal menus, and acclaimed as a prime example of literary food writing, it led to the author being hailed as “an heir to Nabokov.”

– Eugen Beer, Coldmud

Readable Cookery

Summer Cooking and An Omelet and a Glass of Wine, Elizabeth David (buy on Amazon)
Elizabeth David is the only food writer who can make you want to put down her book in bed at midnight and track down fresh grape leaves to roast mushrooms with garlic just to taste what she describes, and experience how she puts it all together. Summer Cooking is indispensable; An Omelet and a Glass of Wine not only has an enviable title but also a great overview of her singular thinking and phrasing.

–Regina Schrambling, Gastropoda

The Great American Candy Bar Book, Ray Broekel (buy on Amazon)
Though I would hesitate to call this book part of a literary canon, it is one of my secret obsessions. At the time it was published, it was the historical account of the evolution of American candy bars. I still flip through the pages for inspiration.

–Matt Lewis, Baked

Eat Me, Kenny Shopsin (buy on Amazon)
Inexplicably, his book was completely and utterly snubbed at all the major cookbook awards last year — not even a single nomination! Why, because he used dirty words like "pussy"? Idiosyncratic? Sure, but that's sort of the point: from the terrific design to the life stories, raw humor, and philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, Eat Me challenged and more or less demolished the conventions of the cookbook genre. For what it's worth, this is the only cookbook I've ever read cover to cover.

–Raphael Brion

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, Amy Sedaris (buy on Amazon)
This is one of my favorite cookbooks. Yes, it's hilarious, fine, but don't think for a second that Sedaris doesn't know what she's talking about. Fabulous, readable recipes — try the moussaka, or anything with "Southern" in the title — and geniuinly great entertaining ideas. For example, did it ever occur to you to make a book of your favorite short stories to put in your guest room? No, of course not, but isn't that awesome?

–Paula Forbes, Ars Coquinaria

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