The best food books

14 authors have picked their favorite books about food and why they recommend each book.

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The Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson,

Book cover of The Oxford Companion to Food

With entries on foods from Aardvark to Zucchini, this wonderful, wide-ranging reference book has a place of honour by my desk. The idea of a global guide to foodstuffs was conceived of by Alan Davidson in 1976 – before the digital age – and first published in 1999. Davidson, who edited it, brought his intellectual curiosity, knowledge, and humour to the project. The result is a seminal reference book which instead of being dull or stodgy is lively, engaging, and interesting. A book that I never tire of using, as always come across something that catches my attention in the most beguiling way.


Who am I?

I am a food writer who has long been interested in seeing food in its cultural, historical, and social context. Food is too often put in a neat little box, whereas actually it offers a fascinating prism through which to explore the world. Researching and writing The Missing Ingredient – in which I explore the role of time as the universal, invisible ‘ingredient’ in the food we grow, make, and cook brought this home to me.


I wrote...

The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

By Jenny Linford,

Book cover of The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

What is my book about?

The Missing Ingredient is about what makes good food, and the first book to consider the intrinsic yet often forgotten role of time in creating the flavours and textures we love.

Written through a series of encounters with ingredients, producers, cooks, shopkeepers, and chefs, exploring everything from the brief period in which sugar caramelises, or the days required in the crucial process of fermentation, to the months of slow ripening and close attention that make a great cheddar, or the years needed for certain wines to reach their peak, Jenny Linford shows how, time and again, time itself is the invisible ingredient. From the patience and dedication of many food producers in fields and storehouses around the world to the rapid reactions required of any home cook at the hob, this book allows us to better understand our culinary lives.

On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee,

Book cover of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen

Truly a remarkable book, this seminal work has been – and continues to be - profoundly influential in shaping our understanding of food. The book’s subtitle – An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture – expresses its huge breadth Writing with great clarity and concision, McGee shares the history of foods – such as cheese, chocolate, grains, sugar – and explains the science of how humans use, cook and preserve them. If you’re at all interested in understanding food better, then this is the book for you.


Who am I?

I am a food writer who has long been interested in seeing food in its cultural, historical, and social context. Food is too often put in a neat little box, whereas actually it offers a fascinating prism through which to explore the world. Researching and writing The Missing Ingredient – in which I explore the role of time as the universal, invisible ‘ingredient’ in the food we grow, make, and cook brought this home to me.


I wrote...

The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

By Jenny Linford,

Book cover of The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

What is my book about?

The Missing Ingredient is about what makes good food, and the first book to consider the intrinsic yet often forgotten role of time in creating the flavours and textures we love.

Written through a series of encounters with ingredients, producers, cooks, shopkeepers, and chefs, exploring everything from the brief period in which sugar caramelises, or the days required in the crucial process of fermentation, to the months of slow ripening and close attention that make a great cheddar, or the years needed for certain wines to reach their peak, Jenny Linford shows how, time and again, time itself is the invisible ingredient. From the patience and dedication of many food producers in fields and storehouses around the world to the rapid reactions required of any home cook at the hob, this book allows us to better understand our culinary lives.

Much Depends on Dinner

By Margaret Visser,

Book cover of Much Depends on Dinner

This wonderful, engaging book will change the way you think about food. Margaret Visser unpicks an “ordinary meal” in North America, digging beneath the surface of everyday ingredients such as butter, lettuce and chicken to reveal fascinating stories. Visser – who writes with a shrewd and perceptive intelligence - weaves together history, science and social observation to great effect. The ‘ordinary’ meal proves to be no such thing.


Who am I?

I am a food writer who has long been interested in seeing food in its cultural, historical, and social context. Food is too often put in a neat little box, whereas actually it offers a fascinating prism through which to explore the world. Researching and writing The Missing Ingredient – in which I explore the role of time as the universal, invisible ‘ingredient’ in the food we grow, make, and cook brought this home to me.


I wrote...

The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

By Jenny Linford,

Book cover of The Missing Ingredient: The Curious Role of Time in Food and Flavour

What is my book about?

The Missing Ingredient is about what makes good food, and the first book to consider the intrinsic yet often forgotten role of time in creating the flavours and textures we love.

Written through a series of encounters with ingredients, producers, cooks, shopkeepers, and chefs, exploring everything from the brief period in which sugar caramelises, or the days required in the crucial process of fermentation, to the months of slow ripening and close attention that make a great cheddar, or the years needed for certain wines to reach their peak, Jenny Linford shows how, time and again, time itself is the invisible ingredient. From the patience and dedication of many food producers in fields and storehouses around the world to the rapid reactions required of any home cook at the hob, this book allows us to better understand our culinary lives.

The Culture of Food

By Massimo Montanari,

Book cover of The Culture of Food

A really satisfying read for anyone with an appetite for culinary history. Montanari, a medieval historian who teaches at the University of Bologna, describes the evolution of European cuisine as the clash between the wheat-, grape- and olive-based Mediterranean food traditions of the Roman Empire and the beer-, pork- and animal fat-based cooking of the Teutonic tribes that descended from the North. The invaders introduced their foods to Northern Italy, while the monks traveling north to spread the teachings of Christianity carried with them the wheat and grapes essential for celebrating the Eucharist. A slow assimilation ensued.


Who am I?

As an American living and cooking in Sicily for almost sixty years, I have soaked up Sicilian cuisine and culture both through research and by osmosis, delighting in discovering how the food I was preparing reflected the island’s position in history and geography, a meeting point for almost all the civilizations of the Mediterranean. My first book, a memoir of my life here entitled On Persephone’s Island, was followed by Pomp and Sustenance. Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food, the first book on Sicilian cuisine to be published in English. Six more books on different aspects of Sicilian food and culture, in English or in Italian, have followed.


I wrote...

Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons

By Mary Taylor Simeti,

Book cover of Sicilian Summer: An Adventure in Cooking with my Grandsons

What is my book about?

Join me and my four grandsons as we cook the boys’ favorite summer dishes and prepare a birthday dinner for their grandfather. With this book I welcome you once again to the Simeti farm in western Sicily, first described in my earlier book, On Persephone’s Island, and to the dinner table where three generations of my family gather each summer to celebrate our multicultural heritage with good food and great affection. Part memoir, part family recipe collection, part delightful photographic record of an extraordinary experience, it is also a meditation on the role that food can play within the family in bonding, creating memories, and consolidating tradition and identity.

Food in the Civil War Era

By Helen Zoe Veit,

Book cover of Food in the Civil War Era

Of the many reference resources we encountered in the midst of our obsessive research for our Little Women Cookbook, this one was a favorite (along with the incomparable YHF). It’s just so satisfying to find the perfect book for a project, isn’t it? When we first started out, we thought, “We’d be so lucky to find anything about food from the Civil War era that doesn’t focus on soldiers’ rations, rich people, or the South — especially if it touches on the role of women in everyday culinary culture.” And as if our local university library were a magical genie who heard my wish, there this book was.

In Food in the Civil War Era: The North, editor Helen Zoe Veit provides a bit of background so you can understand the trends behind five Civil War-era cookbooks. Her engaging commentary made this one a surprisingly quick read.…


Who are we?

Miko and Jenne are librarians who love to eat. Their love of classic children’s literature led them to start their 36 Eggs blog, where they recreate foods and experiences from their favorite books. In 2019, they published the Little Women Cookbook, which required extensive research into the food of the Victorian era.


We wrote...

The Little Women Cookbook: Novel Takes on Classic Recipes from Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Friends

By Jenne Bergstrom, Miko Osada,

Book cover of The Little Women Cookbook: Novel Takes on Classic Recipes from Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Friends

What is our book about?

You already adore the story of these four sisters who, with little means, find their own paths in a tale full of laughter, love, loss, and family. Now, experience Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel in an entirely new and delightful way—as a cookbook. You’ll learn to make ice cream with Meg, molasses candy with Jo, baked squash with Beth, pickled limes with Amy, and so much more. For a creative twist, these delicious step-by-step recipes are adapted from vintage Civil War-era cookbooks for the modern kitchen.

Pillsbury's Best 1000 Recipes

By Ann Pillsbury,

Book cover of Pillsbury's Best 1000 Recipes: Best of the Bake-Off Collection

This was my favorite childhood cookbook (my mom wanted it back recently but I begged). As a kid, I made quite a few dishes from that book for my family and was even allowed to make the Butter Cream Orange Cups for my brother’s bar mitzvah. I got loads of compliments for them and walked around in a happy glow for the rest of the day. The cookbook is chock full of unusual recipes, so I love revisiting them for inspiration for my food columns. Though out of print, it’s worth a search on eBay or used book stores.


Who am I?

I’ve loved cooking and baking since I was a little girl. I attempted to bake a chocolate cake when I was nine without a recipe and put the resulting glop in a plastic bowl in the oven. Luckily, I forgot to turn the oven on and my mother discovered it later, no harm done. I was always a foodie but also a tremendous reader with a great love for the English language, so food writing marries my two passions. My published works include The New York Times bestselling The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (over a million copies sold), and I write a food column for a women’s magazine.


I wrote...

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

By Dinah Bucholz,

Book cover of The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook

What is my book about?

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook makes dining à la Hogwarts as easy as Banoffi Pie! With over 150 recipes and a guide to where the foods can be found in the series, you can create perfect Potter meals drawn straight from the pages of your favorite stories. With a dash of mystery and a dollop of creativity, you’ll conjure up the entrées, desserts, snacks, and drinks you need to transform ordinary meals into culinary masterpieces sure to make even Mrs. Weasley proud.

Cuisine and Empire

By Rachel Laudan,

Book cover of Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History

I love this book primarily for the ambitiousness of its breadth. It begins thousands of years ago with the role of early grain domestication in empire-building and stretches to the roles of modern cuisines in global trade, industry, and capitalism. Although a whirlwind of peoples and places from across human history, this beautifully written and illustrated book is easy for any reader interested in the subject to digest. 


Who am I?

I am a Professor of History at Texas A&M University and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.  I teach and research broadly in the histories of Britain and its empire, North America, and the Atlantic world. I am the author of four books, including Making Headlines: The American Revolution as Seen through the British Press and The Weight of Vengeance: The United States, the British Empire, and the War of 1812. I am especially fascinated with how imperialism shape colonizers’ cultures.


I wrote...

Eating the Empire: Food and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain

By Troy Bickham,

Book cover of Eating the Empire: Food and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain

What is my book about?

When students gathered in a London coffeehouse and smoked tobacco; when Yorkshire women sipped sugar-infused tea; or when a Glasgow family ate a bowl of Indian curry, were they aware of the mechanisms of imperial rule and trade that made such goods readily available?

In Eating the Empire, Troy Bickham unfolds the extraordinary role that food played in shaping Britain during the long eighteenth century (circa 1660–1837), when such foreign goods as coffee, tea, and sugar went from rare luxuries to some of the most ubiquitous commodities in Britain—reaching even the poorest and remotest of households. Bickham reveals how trade in the empire’s edibles underpinned the emerging consumer economy, fomenting the rise of modern retailing, visual advertising, and consumer credit, and, via taxes, financed the military and civil bureaucracy that secured, governed, and spread the British Empire.

Mourjou

By Peter Graham,

Book cover of Mourjou: The Life and Food of an Auvergne Village

Few visitors to France venture to the Auvergne, the sparsely populated, south-central region where until recently most of the now-aging population still spoke the medieval language known as Occitan. Englishman Peter Graham moved there in 1978 and became captivated with the land and its inhabitants. Mourjou communicates his love for this little-known region and its hearty food. Graham collected extraordinary recipes that can't be found in other books about French food (an eggy pudding made with buckwheat flour, ham, Swiss chard, and prunes; a charlotte made with chestnut flour, chestnut cream, pumpkin, and quince). He intersperses recipes with beautifully crafted essays that dive deep into the region's history and culture, chronicling a way of life that is rapidly disappearing.


Who am I?

I've been thinking and writing about food ever since I spent a year in the Soviet Union many decades ago and discovered that food is a wonderfully immediate way to enter into another culture. My first cookbook led to a stint as a spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US—a fascinating exercise in cross-cultural communication during the Cold War. In 2001 I founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which deepened my interest in culinary cultures around the world. Cookbooks aren't just about recipes. For me, the best ones include personal stories and history that transport you to other realms.


I wrote...

Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

By Darra Goldstein,

Book cover of Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

What is my book about?

I love the icy beauty of cold climates, which I've written about in several of my cookbooks. For Beyond the North Wind, I traveled to remote regions of the Russian North to explore the true heart of Russian food and show how foods from a harsh climate can be surprisingly sophisticated. The book celebrates whole grains, preserved and fermented foods, and straightforward but robust flavors, with recipes for a dazzling array of pickles and preserves; infused vodkas; homemade dairy products and baked cultured milk; a pantheon of pies; large, lacy blini; and seasonal vegetable soups.

Beyond the North Wind is a home-style cookbook with a strong sense of place that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.

Black Sea

By Caroline Eden,

Book cover of Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes, Through Darkness and Light

Caroline Eden is an intrepid traveler, and her culinary travelogue Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes through Darkness and Light beautifully captures the romance of the Black Sea region. You experience all the bumps and jolts of her journey as she moves along the coasts of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, repeatedly forsaking comfort for more strenuous modes of conveyance and lodging. The book's shimmery cover is alluring, as are the generous photographs of people, places, and food. Eden's lyrical, evocative prose has an immediacy that communicates the distinctiveness of each place she visits. The book goes beyond history, culture, cuisine, and geopolitics to tell the personal stories of the people who inhabit the Black Sea coast.


Who am I?

I've been thinking and writing about food ever since I spent a year in the Soviet Union many decades ago and discovered that food is a wonderfully immediate way to enter into another culture. My first cookbook led to a stint as a spokesperson for Stolichnaya vodka when it was first introduced to the US—a fascinating exercise in cross-cultural communication during the Cold War. In 2001 I founded Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, which deepened my interest in culinary cultures around the world. Cookbooks aren't just about recipes. For me, the best ones include personal stories and history that transport you to other realms.


I wrote...

Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

By Darra Goldstein,

Book cover of Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore

What is my book about?

I love the icy beauty of cold climates, which I've written about in several of my cookbooks. For Beyond the North Wind, I traveled to remote regions of the Russian North to explore the true heart of Russian food and show how foods from a harsh climate can be surprisingly sophisticated. The book celebrates whole grains, preserved and fermented foods, and straightforward but robust flavors, with recipes for a dazzling array of pickles and preserves; infused vodkas; homemade dairy products and baked cultured milk; a pantheon of pies; large, lacy blini; and seasonal vegetable soups.

Beyond the North Wind is a home-style cookbook with a strong sense of place that offers a rarely seen portrait of Russia, its people, and its palate.

Spoon-Fed

By Tim Spector,

Book cover of Spoon-Fed: Why Almost Everything We've Been Told about Food Is Wrong

Tim Spector is a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and one of my favorite health researchers. In Spoon-Fed, Dr. Spector examines top myths about health, such as “nutritional guidelines and diet plans apply to everyone,” “calories accurately measure how fattening a food is,” and “gluten is dangerous.”


Who am I?

I’ve been interested in diets ever since I watched my mom diet while I was growing up. For decades, I enthusiastically jumped on the diet roller coaster myself, and thus began my quest to find the “perfect” way to eat. Not one of these “diets” ever worked for me for long-term weight loss, however, and I became more and more confused about what I “should” be eating. Finally, I was able to lose over 80 pounds thanks to intermittent fasting, but I was still confused about what I should be eating. Once I figured out the when (intermittent fasting), the what followed, thanks to the work of these authors.


I wrote...

Clean(ish): Eat (Mostly) Clean, Live (Mainly) Clean, and Unlock Your Body's Natural Ability to Self-Clean

By Gin Stephens,

Book cover of Clean(ish): Eat (Mostly) Clean, Live (Mainly) Clean, and Unlock Your Body's Natural Ability to Self-Clean

What is my book about?

In Gin Stephens's New York Times bestseller Fast. Feast. Repeat., she showed you how to fast (completely) clean as part of an intermittent fasting lifestyle. Now, whether you’re an intermittent faster or not, Gin shows you how to become clean(ish) where it counts: you’ll learn how to shift your choices so you’re not burdening your body with a bucket of chemicals, additives, and obesogens it wasn’t designed to handle. 

Instead of aiming for perfection (which is impossible) or changing everything at once (which is hard, and rarely leads to lasting results), you’ll cut through the confusion, lose the fear, and embrace the freedom that comes from becoming clean(ish). As you learn how to lower your toxic load through small changes, smart swaps, and simple solutions, you’ll evolve simply and naturally toward a clean(ish) lifestyle that works for your body and your life!

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