Cooking the Books: A Taste of Cookbook Clubs


If you’ve ever wanted to get out of your cooking comfort zone, sample multiple new recipes, and get to know a variety of cookbooks, a cookbook club — where members choose a cookbook, prepare recipes at home or together, sample and discuss, might be for you. We talked to clubs cooking up the books at gatherings from coast to coast — in libraries, bookstores, living rooms, kitchen stores, and a farm, to find out the ingredients for successful events. Here’s a taste.

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Food For Thought dishes up appetizers from Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook

Food For Thought dishes up appetizers from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book

Food For Thought Book Club
East Granby, Connecticut
(6 members, meet in members homes)

From member Julie Ann Poll:

WHAT: Several friends who all enjoy cooking and are curious to try new things and learn from each other.

HOW: The host chooses her recipe entree and members then builds the dinner menu. After sampling all the dishes we discuss the recipe and its preparation including level of difficulty, whether we would make the recipe again, modifications needed, and new cooking techniques learned. In a successful meeting the group members share what they’ve learned, have the opportunity to taste new and delicious foods – and have fun.

FAVORITES: Bobby Flay’s Boy Meets Grill and Jody Williams’ Buvette. The meal generated from the Flay had so many amazing flavors—a few of the dishes made at that dinner have become regulars in our cooking rotation. Buvette, a French cookbook, intimidated us initially. But once we dove in, we realized that we didn’t need to be, and it was an amazing dinner with delicious and gourmet-looking foods. Also, The Pollan Family Table Cookbook. All ten recipes were good and directions were clear. We love the photographs and stories within the cookbook.

TIP: In addition to the meal’s menu items there is always a “take home treat.” It allows us to extend the meal beyond our members and share something special with our families. Members have become very creative with the take home treat.

Bookstore: Fiction Addiction
Greenville, South Carolina (11 members)

The Fiction Addiction Book Club

The Fiction Addiction Book Club

From coordinator Jill Hendrix:

WHAT: A fun idea for a bookstore

HOW: We divide into three subgroups for appetizers, sides, entrees and desserts, and rotate groups and post choices on wiki pages. We sample dishes and discuss whether we had trouble finding the ingredients or following the instructions, whether we liked the dish, and whether it was time-consuming to prepare.

FAVORITES. The Lemonade Cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof, The Jerusalem Cookbook, The Epicurious Cookbook, and Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.

TIPS: Have a large enough group (minimum 9) so that you have coverage in case of conflicts. We have so much food that we have takeout containers and people take a bit of their favorites back with them.

Whitehall Public Library: Cook Book Club
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (16 members)

Whitehall Public Library''s Cookbook Club delves into Katie Workman 's DINNER SOLVED

Whitehall Public Library’s Cookbook Club delves into
Katie Workman’s Dinner Solved

From Brandon Taper:

WHAT: Get-together for members who enjoy their monthly experience of intimate talk over meals of their own making.

HOW: A member searches the library’s catalog for cookbooks that are broad enough to appeal to all members and have ample copies in the library consortium. The selection should appeal both to the culinarily adventurous as well as to the faithful “Crockerites.”

FAVORITES: A theme proved the most fun. “Quirky” was the month’s watchword. One member reviewed a cookbook featuring recipes chosen by chefs for their deathbed meal (My Last Supper by Melanie Dunea). Another member selected the cookbook parody 50 Shades of Chicken by FL Fowler. Another had the dizzying experience of reading Katie Shelly’s Picture Cook whose pages contained no written directions. Though some of the members found certain books’ styles to be frustrating or “just too different,” the resulting conversation and meal was one of the more varied and entertaining in our history.

TIP: It’s best when discussions become less about the food and more about what that food means to the person, when the conversation can answer: How does preparing a meal affect your day differently from nuking a small box inside a larger box? How does the tactile process of cooking reveal itself in your life outside of the kitchen? Do you appreciate food more if you can identify its strengths and weaknesses, its boiling points and ripest periods? Can food mean more than sustenance? Can it be art?

Neenah Public LibraryCookbook Book Club
Neenah, Wisconsin (6-25 members)

From coordinator Richie Zaborowske:

Neenah's Cookbook Book Club's favorite recipes are compiled in in a book.

Neenah’s Cookbook Book Club’s favorite recipes are compiled in a book.

WHAT: A group that brings in patrons who might not otherwise use the library.

HOW: We started as a club to discuss cookbooks, where each member reviews a different cookbook, but now we are recipe focused and use themes such as baking, holiday and vegan cooking, to guide the meetings. Besides cookbooks and recipes, people really enjoy talking about traditions, sharing kitchen tips, and anecdotes.

FUTURE PLANS: Inviting area restaurant owners and chefs in to add to the discussion, have a cookbook swap, and maybe a cooking class.

Farm, Nature Society, and Book Store Collaboration: Coverdale Cookbook Club, Coverdale Farm
Greenville, Delaware
(with Delaware Nature Society and Hockessin Book Shelf)

From coordinator: Michele Wales

WHAT: Opportunity to bring to life some of the best cookbooks on our farm using food we have grown or raised, and cook from the pages in our beautiful farm kitchen.  We wanted to connect the dots from bookstore to farm to table. We have fostered quite a nice community of food, farm, and cookbook loving folks.

Coverdale Cookbook Club cooks up THE BROAD FORK

Coverdale Cookbook Club cooks up THE BROAD FORK

HOW: Two days before the program, participants receive an email reminder of the program logistics, a few reflections about the book, and a menu selected from the pages.  A long dining table is decorated and ready and our kitchen will have three cook stations set up with ingredients and tools (sometimes with special written notes from me) needed to make the meal.

After a welcome, we give a brief talk about the book, the recipes and an orientation to the kitchen. A copy of the book is at each cook station. Participants divide up between the stations and working in groups, members dissect the recipes, select tasks, and make the meal. I work as a conductor keeping time, helping when groups run into trouble. I’ll cook a few side items if needed and make certain we have a complete meal by 8:30 p.m. Once we are done, we plate up and sit down at our table and talk about what we are eating.  We talk about how easy or challenging the recipe is to prepare and how it tastes and of course, our favorite dish.

Kitchen Store: Adventure Cooks, Sage Gourmet
Hendersonville, North Carolina (16 members)

From members Laurie Bakke and Chrissy Filka:

HOW: Choose at least three books for the club to vote on. We have a Facebook group
where members post their recipe choices.

Club dinner at Sage Gourmet

Club dinner at Sage Gourmet

We discuss how each person adapted and cooked the recipe and if they liked or disliked it, cooking techniques, tips for cooking, and kitchen equipment and gadgets. We also serve wine with the dinner since we have a wine cellar. Members are truly interested in how to become a better accomplished cook.

FAVORITES: Foolproof by Ina Garten and The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman.

Cook the Book
Seattle, Washington
(100 members, 35 members attending, meet in members homes)

From member Traca Savadoco:

Cook the Book, Seattle, Washington

START: At the time, I knew a bunch of chefs, cooking instructors, and avid home cooks and I thought it would be fun to focus on one book and build a potluck around it.

HOW: I compare choices with local library inventory and see if there is availability as well as a reasonable number of recipes from the book available online. I narrow the list down to 12 cookbooks to choose from. I steer clear of chef cookbooks – the recipes are more elaborate. If a book is super popular — like Ottolenghi’s books — I’ll put it on the list for next year. It’s been fun taking a look at classics, too. Last month we covered Silver Palate, and discussed its impact on cuisine in America. Members can reference a Facebook page list to avoid duplications.

Generally we do a simple potluck, but once a year, we take on a project-based book. We’ve made tamales together from Tamales 101–everyone brought a filling, I made the masa, and we stuffed and steamed tamales together. We also covered Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumpling cookbook and made dishes together.

Early on, we would Skype with the author. We talked with Paula Wolfert, Naomi Duguid, Maria Speck and others. As the group bonded, we wanted more socializing.

We discuss challenges with the dishes and what we learned. In a successful meeting, people push their skills and try something new. Adam started in our group saying he didn’t make dessert. He took on that challenge and now he’s quite good. The last time I saw him, he made a layered chocolate cake and buttercream frosting!

We have a wide range of people from different backgrounds and a book can spark a lot of conversation around travel or personal reference.

Restaurant: TR Cookbook Club, Upcountry Provisions Bakery & Bistro
Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina (8-20 members)

Contributions from the Upcountry Provisions meeting

The TR Cookbook Club gathers

From Nichole Livengood of, a local food website, and Cheryl Kraus of Upcountry Provisions Bakery & Bistro:

START: Founders decided Traveler’s Rest needed an outlet for local home cooks and chefs and wanted to support the local cooking community.

HOW: Each quarter we choose a chef whose recipes we will prepare. We don’t require members to buy a cookbook. Rather, we choose a chef that has an online presence and we pick recipes from their collection. Members post recipe choices on a Facebook page.

Cookbook Club is a very welcoming environment to newcomers and encourages new and veteran cooks alike to join our cookbook club and share in the love of food with us. Once we all fix our plates and sit down, we talk about our recipes, how we sourced our ingredients and whether or not we ran into problems or funny disasters.