We Are Family

Just as we saw with the words “table” and “kitchen” a while back, there’s a battle going on for the soul of “family” in cookbook titles.  What is a family cookbook, exactly?  What, or who, counts as family, and what does a family cookbook need to accomplish?

The what, or who, used to be easy. Family was family, by blood or marriage – the people you eat dinner at home with.  Then the restaurants started publishing cookbooks based on the “family meal”  (i.e., staff meal served at 4pm before service) and everybody from Danny Meyer to Ferran Adrià became family too.

So there’s that kind of family cookbook. But what does your average, get-it-together-on-a-weeknight-for-3-to-6-people-of-different-generations cookbook look like?

The way I see it, there seem to be two different approaches. One is prescriptive – a way of helping you get through the time crunch with something fairly nutritious, tasty, and filling.  Like Debra Ponzek’s recent The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook, these tend to be good resources for the five-ingredient quickie meal, although they are susceptible to mission creep (if one parent is at home blogging about food as their job, it’s not that hard to end up writing recipes that stretch to one hour…and then two – I speak as a guilty party here).  I’ve liked Melissa Clark’s books in this genre.

The other approach is descriptive: great cooks run in my family, so I have lots of treasured recipes (formerly kept secret by Nonna or Tante Marie or Great-Aunt Sal) that I would like to share.  These often turn into scrapbooks – half memoir, half cookbook – and while they can be inspiring and engaging, they only rarely end up compelling your attention enough to tear you away from your busy round of errands, repairs, and chauffeuring.

Speaking of busy schedules, a quick followup to the doughnut post –  I finally did bake those doughnuts!  And they were pretty good, but really more like a sweet roll than anything else.  On the whole, I’m not sorry I spent a perfectly good Sunday morning trying, but I probably won’t spend another.

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  • ellabee  on  September 21, 2013

    And zee rice crackaires, zey are coming… when? <g>

  • tsusan  on  September 24, 2013

    <g> I keep thinking any day now! Will keep you posted.

  • tsusan  on  September 24, 2013

    Actually, I should add that the main problem is this: The recipe makes 38 crackers and takes maybe 45 minutes to make, most of which goes into the irreducible time sink of pressing each cracker individually in a tortilla press. I will then eat those 38 crackers in 7 minutes. The calculus is not favorable.

    However, if one can roll and cookie-cutter them, well, then we may have a deal.

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