I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post. I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters. These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).
If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:
- Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur. It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
- The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking. As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
- The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
- James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian. One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
- Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast. She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
- Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce. Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books. I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
- Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home. This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook. It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.
And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:
- Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine. She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone. The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
- The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim. The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.
And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:
- Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender. Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
- Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
- Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes. Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
- Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
- Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.
Disclaimer: Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it. Doing it wrong, as usual. But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.