A SoFAB Reading List: Our All-Time Favorite Food Books

As June quickly comes to an end and we conclude our month long spotlight on the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library, we find it only appropriate to give it the celebration and acknowledgement that it deserves. Starting with a brief synopsis of its history and evolution to what is existing, operating, and thriving at 1609 Oretha C. Haley Boulevard today!

An initial donation of 1000 books from a former Alabama food writer was the seed for the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library. After Hurricane Katrina, as the Southern Food and Beverage Museum was getting off the ground, the International Association of Culinary Professionals met in New Orleans.  They issued a call to book publishers that resulted in many more donations of new cookbooks.

The New Orleans Public Library is a vital partner of the Boyd Library.  After Katrina, ideas were floated to enhance library services around the unique NOLA heritage of music, architecture, food and medicine.  Rather than re-create or duplicate services, NOPL and Boyd Library joined forces to make the Boyd Library the culinary library presence in the city. 

In 2013 the Library landed in its current location on OC Haley Blvd in Central City and is growing into a well-respected source for books, menus and culinary-related ephemera

 Since then the Boyd Library has acquired donations from notable chefs and food writers:  Chef Paul Prudhomme, Chef Kenneth Smith, Chef Norman van Aken, Louisiana Eats! own Poppy Tooker, and the papers of Chef Louis Osteen. As of present day, the library contains over 11,000 volumes of culinary books, food and cocktail menus, pamphlets, archival documents and a growing number of important collections collected by and donated to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum.

The library also houses the Menu Project, an ongoing effort to collect, catalog, and digitize menus from every restaurant throughout the South and beyond. The database records the public history of eating and equips scholars with a critical tool in their study of American foodways.

The American Library Association's annual meeting was in New Orleans this year, and Library Director Cindy Williams and Museum Director Liz Williams both spoke about the Boyd Library and its collections hoping to inspire librarians, book worms, chefs, home cooks, and everyday people across the country to pick up a cookbook and feast in the vibrant, flavorful world that is culinary literature.

If the idea of 11,000 culinary books, menus, and documents overwhelms you, don’t worry! The SoFAB staff has put together a list of a few of their favorites to start you on your journey towards expanding your palate and broadening your culinary knowledge!

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Liz Williams, Director

  • Title: Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History

Author: Sidney Mintz

  • Title: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Author: Marcella Hazan

Cuisine: Italian

  • Title: Food: The History of Taste

Author: Paul Freedman

  • Title: The Gift of Southern Cooking

Author: Edna Lewis

Cuisine: Southern

  • Anything by Julia Child!

Kelsey Parris, Associate Director

  • Title: Jerusalem: A Cookbook
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Author:  Yotam Ottolenghi

Cuisine: Middle Eastern

I love it because the recipes are always really delicious, and while they're not super simple, there's a real focus on interesting spices and simple cooking techniques that make it good for weeknight dinners as well as weekend cooking extravaganzas! The pictures are beautiful, and the two authors tell their stories with notes before recipes, which just makes for a lovely connection with the food and the people.

  • Title: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

Author: The Moosewood Collective

Cuisine: A Little Bit of Everything

This is one of my family's favorite cookbooks, and I've been carrying it around forever. I have bits of meal plans and notes stuck in there from my mom and dad, and the spine is totally falling off. It's vegetarian, which is how I grew up, but it's really creative and features recipes from all over the world.

Jyl Benson, Director of Culinary Programing

  • Title: Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

Author: Chef Paul Prudhomme

Cuisine: Southern

My sister gave this book to my father when it was first published in 1984. I was a miserable, surly, teenager, happier in the company of cookbooks than other people and I spent hours and hours poring over every image, every recipe, in this book. This was THE book that really put Louisiana heritage cuisine on the map and my father and I cooked many of these dishes together. Years later Chef Paul, always a hero to me, became a friend. It was after my father's death but Chef Paul inscribed the book to me and "Pops," Today the book is held together with rubber bands and still enjoys frequent use. I take it with m if I must evacuate. It is a treasured possession, every recipe is flawlessly executed and painstakingly tested. It never fails.

Jennie Merrill, Director of Education

  • Title: Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time

Author: Adrian Miller

Cuisine: Soul Food

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Adrian Miller writes with humor and honesty. In Soul Food, he dissects the history and cultural importance of several traditional dishes and drinks, such as Red Drink, yams, and fried chicken. He weaves his own personal experiences with anecdotal evidence from the black community about the place each food has in the cannon of Soul Food. I personally love etymology, and creation stories, so this was a really fun ride. I was also surprised consistently, such as Red Drink's ties to strawberry lemonade at the Circus and hibiscus tea in Africa. Some dishes you clearly associate with soul food are actually amalgamations of cultural interactions and are not solely the direct creation of African culture, while you see the way oppression and migration have influenced the final product. It was definitely a corner stone part of my research for my African Influence on Southern Food presentation I have for the kids.

  • Title: Imbibe!

Author: David Wondrich

Cuisine: Cocktails

I'm a beer drinker, pretty exclusively. When I first started at the Museum, I knew little to nothing about cocktails much less their history and culture. This book was essentially my starter-guide. I learned how cocktails morphed from punch, to flips and slings, and eventually to its medicinal cousin. While I mostly talk about New Orleans cocktail history when I give tours, this book both introduced me to the subject and filled in a lot of the gaps.

Cindy Williams, Library Director

  • Title: Gumbo Tales: Finding my Place at the New Orleans Table

Author: Sara Roahen

Cuisine: Southern

A fantastic book for anyone wanting to learn more about New Orleans food and where it comes from.  I didn't want this book to end.  I read it in 2013, while I was watching the HBO series Treme.  Both the book and the TV series are about New Orleans recovering/regrouping/resurrecting after Katrina and Rita (and I was living north of Asheville, NC in the Blue Ridge Mountains). Roahen's isn't a cookbook - it's a food cultural survey; want to know more about sno balls, po boys or red gravy?  Read this book!

  • Title: Cooking of Southwest France

Author: Paula Wolfert

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Cuisine: French

For the past 5 years, wines from the Bordeaux region of France have been my very favorites.  I haven't yet visited that part of the world, so I drink wine and read recipes from this gem.  I know I'm getting the real deal from a woman who has immersed herself in the culture of southwest France.

 

  • I also like the writing styles of Jancis Robinson and Michael Broadbent, both English writers and world authorities on wine.

 

  • There are also books which haven't yet been added to the Boyd Library's holdings by the NOPLibrary - Dishing Up Maine and Maggie Allen Cakes are two that come to mind.  Very different subjects - one covering everyday food prepared by Mainers, the other a stunning collection of decorated cakes (wedding cakes at about $10,000 each); both cover their subjects very well.

 

Anxious to dig into culinary history or browse through the recipes of one of the many books listed above? You can find most of these books and more on the shelves of the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library or for sale in the SoFAB Pantry, our gift shop located inside of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. Want to see if we have a particular book in our catalog? Browse our collection here and begin creating your very own culinary summer reading list!