Books That Cook

The Making of a Literary Meal

384 pages

8 halftones

August, 2014

ISBN: 9781479830213



Also available in


Jennifer Cognard-Black is Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she teaches creative writing, women’s literature, and the novel.

All books by Jennifer Cognard-Black

Melissa A. Goldthwaite is Professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University, where she teaches writing.

All books by Melissa Goldthwaite

Marion Nestle is Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University as well as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. Nestle is the author of three prize-winning books, including Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, and What to Eat.

All books by Marion Nestle

Whether a five-star chef or beginning home cook, any gourmand knows that recipes are far more than a set of instructions on how to make a dish. They are culture-keepers as well as culture-makers, both recording memories and fostering new ones.
Organized like a cookbook, Books That Cook: The Making of a Literary Meal is a collection of American literature written on the theme of food: from an invocation to a final toast, from starters to desserts. All food literatures are indebted to the form and purpose of cookbooks, and each section begins with an excerpt from an influential American cookbook, progressing chronologically from the late 1700s through the present day, including such favorites as American Cookery, the Joy of Cooking, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The literary works within each section are an extension of these cookbooks, while the cookbook excerpts in turn become pieces of literature—forms of storytelling and memory-making all their own.
Each section offers a delectable assortment of poetry, prose, and essays, and the selections all include at least one tempting recipe to entice readers to cook this book. Including writing from such notables as Maya Angelou, James Beard, Alice B. Toklas, Sherman Alexie, Nora Ephron, M.F.K. Fisher, and Alice Waters, among many others, Books That Cook reveals the range of ways authors incorporate recipes—whether the recipe flavors the story or the story serves to add spice to the recipe. Books That Cook is a collection to serve students and teachers of food studies as well as any epicure who enjoys a good meal alongside a good book.


  • Books that Cook is a savory concoction of prose, poetics, and recipes that narrate U.S. history and memory through the optic of the cookbook since the eighteenth century….Because food anchors our humanity in the ways that it is consumed, circulated, produced and represented, Books that Cook is a delicious, accessible, and versatile contribution to the growing field of food studies, particularly as it relates to issues of history, memory, and identity.”

    American Studies

  • "Books that Cook, an ingenious collection of food-themed American writing, is organized like a meal, from starters to dessert….No matter what your food or reading preferences are, you’ll find something delectable in Books that Cook.”

    Southern Maryland Magazine

  • “Because food anchors our humanity in the ways that it is consumed, circulated, produced and represented, Books that Cook is a delicious, accessible, and versatile contribution to the growing field of food studies, particularly as it relates to issues of history, memory, and identity.”

    Blog of the American Studies Journal

  • "A book that cooks isn't just a cookbook. A book that cooks can also be a memoir with recipes, an essay collection that embeds cookery into the writing, or a foodie fiction that includes instructions on making various dishes to reveal character, build a climax, or create symbolism. Authors of such cooking books want readers to consume them in more than one way: with the eye, the mind, the heart, and the mouth."

    Huffington Post

  • "The volume includes poems, stories, and essays, along with recipes, and some of each are original. There are beloved bits, too, from Laurie Colwin’s classic piece on three repulsive meals to Maya Angelou’s caramel cake. The perfect gift for your summer hostess who loves to read, cook, and consider."

  • "The perfect book to accompany a meal, this anthology also contains recipes ideal for literary discussions. The editors, both professors of English and writing, have sifted contemporary American literature for poems, essays, and fiction in which food plays a prominent role. The pieces they’ve gathered use dishes as touchstones for exploring culture, ethnicity, and more."

    Politics and Prose

  • "This delightful collection of prose, poetry, and essays, all introduced by excerpts from important, American cookbooks dating back to the 1700s, explores the way food reflects and creates culture. An important addition to the study of gastronomy, it features the work of such contemporary authors as Maya Angelou, Nora Ephron, and Alice Waters, and is organized like a cookbook with each section including at least one delectable recipe.”

    Ms. Magazine

  • "An observation made by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor in Books that Cook explains the broad appeal of this enjoyable collection of contemporary American writing about food: 'Everybody eats!' As the anthology also shows, however, cooking and eating are shaped by society, culture and individual needs more than by simple nutrition."


  • "I hadn't considered that cookbooks are a form of literature before, but I'm sure thinking about it now. It explains why I hate to cook but I love reading cookbooks... It's a lovely book for any foodie or for anyone with an interest in how we write and talk about food."

    Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

  • "Readable and entertaining. . . . The editor's skill at serving up mouth-watering selections is repeatedly demonstrated throughout the text. . . . From their enthusiastic flour-to-elbows perspective, Books that Cook is more than simply another anthology, it's a living text to be taken into the kitchen and spattered with sauces and gravy."


  • "A buffet of poems, stories, essays and recipes. . . . Food lovers and cookbook collectors will savor this literary stew."

    Kirkus Reviews

  • "Books that Cook offers lively, varied reading . . . this is a collection well worth the devoted food reader's time."


  • "Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite have compiled a fabulous collection to satisfy even the hungriest of literature lovers. . . . Because it is a mixture of new and old treasures, you will feel like you've just finished a meal and provided impeccable table service. It's that good."

    San Francisco Book Review

  • "This book is a collection of stories, memories, literature, and poetry of food and cooking. With various writers and chefs sharing their experiences with and thoughts on food, this book takes the reader into the world of food literature and food sociology. . . . The work is one a reader could happily read cover to cover, or, as with a good meal, savor one piece at a time. . . . This book will delight foodies, food historians, anthropologists, cookbook enthusiasts, and any literature fans who like to eat."

    Library Journal

  • "With much to be savored, this collection shows the ways that poetry, prose, and fiction can act just as cookbooks do—moving their readers to bake, to roast, to sear and sauté. Cookbooks really do cook: they act in everyday life, are read and re-read, are dog-eared and oil-stained, their pages rumpled by errant splashes of water and tomato sauce. The same, I suspect, may happen with this book. Books That Cook belongs not on the nightstand in the bedroom, or on the bookshelf in the office, but on the counter in the kitchen!"

    —Daniel J. Philippon, University of Minnesota

  • Books That Cook reveals how food is fundamental in marking distinctions of power, gender, race, and sexuality within literature, history, and the contemporary moment. Jennifer Cognard-Black and Melissa A. Goldthwaite offer a smorgasbord of recipes to tempt our palates as well as our minds, engage our senses and our kitchen cookery. You will not be able to put down this delicious addition to the field of food studies.”

    —Psyche Williams-Forson, University of Maryland, College Park

  • Books That Cook offers a delicious collection of contemporary American writing that treats the human condition in relation to food, eating, and cooking. Food serves as a powerful hook into conversations about class, ethnicity, gender, politics, and aesthetics; this collection’s juxtaposition of cookbook and story, poem, or essay makes that conversation possible.”

    —Scott Miller, Director, Sonoma State Writing Center