We asked OLLI members for their recommendations for a book about food for this issue of Bookshelf. The book might be one in which food serves to underscore the book's theme, something that focuses more directly on food or the people involved in the food industry, such as a book about food writing, food politics, chefs, cooking, or eating.

Elizabeth Abraham

For fun, a novel by Adrianna Trigiani, Rococo. Every once in a while, a recipe.


Kathy Alexis

My favorite food book is The Sweet Potato Queen's Big Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) (really!) by Jill Conner Browne. The adventures of a REAL group of women who march in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Jackson, Mississippi as the Sweet Potato Queens. It tells their story through recipes for all the events in their lives. Their four food groups: sweet, salty, fried or au gratin. Included recipes are chocolate gravy and biscuits, grilled bologna Po-Boy, fatten-you-right-up rolls, no-pain-no-gain coffee cake. I am always asked for the recipe when I make something from this book (and I'm telling you I have tabbed 27 of them in my paperback book!). Most are so easy to make. These are truly Southern belles with a great sense of humor and unique cooking skills!


Listen to an NPR Interview with Lynne Oliver on "Picnicking through the Ages".

Compiled by reference librarian Lynne Oliver, The Food Timeline is an extensive source of information about food history and related topics.

From the grains in 17,500 BC to "cronuts" in 2013, the timeline includes recipes, historical food prices, links to online cookbooks and menu collections.



Cheryl Binch

I read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain many years ago and loved it. It may keep you from going to restaurants again, though.


Samuel Bostaph

I highly recommend Bill Buford's book Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. Especially amusing are Buford's adventures in the kitchens of several of Mario Batali's restaurants in New York. Being around Batali is like running the bulls in Pamplona.


Chris Catanzarite

My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals (Portraits, Interviews, and Recipes).  Award-winning photographer Melanie Dunea asks 50 famous chefs what they would eat and drink for their last meal, where it would be set, and who would be their dining companions. The answers range from the lavish to the humble, and each entry is accompanied by recipes and amazing photos (including a characteristically provocative one of Anthony Bourdain, who also provides the book's introduction).


The 8 Nerdiest Food Articles of 2013 is a complilation of scientific, historical and anthropological food articles from 2013. Subjects include the science of addictive junk food, the search for the hottest chili, and moonshine.


Judie Christensen

For anyone interested in what it takes to become a chef, I recommend The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman decided to enroll in the CIA in Hyde Park, New York and write about his experience. He gives a fascinating picture of the demands placed upon the students and the personalities and skills of the faculty at this preeminent culinary school.   


Pauline Cochrane

Any book by Elizabeth David, who was so popular back in the 70s and 80s. Her books are still available, sometimes in new editions.


Willis Colburn

My favorite book about food is The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I'm currently reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which I'm also enjoying.


The 25 Best Selling Cookbooks
of All Time

When the Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook was published, no one expected that cookbook authors without television shows or world-renowned restaurants would outsell Lord of the Rings.


Lou Crabtree

I have been making recipes from Nora Ephron's Heartburn ever since I read it waaaay back when. She gives recipes such as Lillian Hellman's pot roast, a key lime pie, Chez Helene's bread pudding and others. Recipes are immersed in the "true story" of her second marriage break-up. 


Craig Cutbirth

I'd like to recommend Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen. It's a wonderful non-fiction book dealing largely with Soviet Russia, where obtaining food was frequently a difficult, merit-worthy accomplishment. This is definitely not a cookbook, it's an excursion through Soviet culture as experienced by Von Bremzen in the 60s and her mother in the era of Lenin and Stalin. The fact that food was not simply something to be eaten and enjoyed, but was a sign of status and accomplishment, was quite illuminating to me. We take food for granted here, but Von Bremzen observes that in the Soviet Union "every edible morsel was politicized and ideologized." There was literally a language of food in the Soviet Union, and this is a compelling introduction to it. This is worth your time!


Marilynne B. Davis

One of my all time favorites is a cookbook, but every recipe has the story behind it - and it was the book that really helped me learn to bake bread and understand what was happening and why. The book is The Secrets of Jesuit Bread Making: Recipes and traditions from Jesuit bakers around the world by Brother Rick Curry, S.J. The introduction is a really helpful, useful and easy to understand introduction to bread making. Each recipe has a bit of the history about it and usually a story about the Jesuit bread maker who contributed the recipe. And the recipes work!


Tamara Ducey

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl - An autobiographical, bittersweet memoir of a former editor of Gourmet magazine - complete with recipes of comforting foods that reminded her of important people in her life. Beautifully written. The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Divakaruni - Spices are administered to cure customers' ailments, both physical and spiritual ... it makes me want to eat Indian food!


What does your favorite cheese say about you? What were Martha Stewart's best tweets ever? How are Rachel Ray's dog food recipes rated by actual dogs?


Beth Felts

Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence tells the charming story of an English couple (the author and his wife) who buy a 200-year-old stone house in Provence, and their trials with French workers, wine, and food. A very good read with great anecdotes on food.


Mike Fisher

I would like to recommend a cooking book by Deborah Madison, Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and gardening with twelve families from the edible plant kingdom, with over 300 deliciously simple recipes" (from the cover page). An example would be chapter six, devoted to the nightshade family. You'll find five wonderful recipes for potatoes, ten using a variety of peppers, eight using eggplant and ten using tomatoes. Many are fresh and original. Another example might be chapter ten, about the grass family. This chapter abounds with recipes for farro, spelt, oak groats and other grains, corn, and varieties of rice. Gardeners will appreciate the suggestions. A great book, and beautifully produced, by a well know vegetarian author. As I am not a vegetarian, these are also useful recipes for side dishes and those "meatless Mondays" we may be incorporating into our diets.


Margret Hoffman

The book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by food writer and culinary editor Ruth Reichl is a good read about some of her experiences reviewing fine restaurants in New York City.



50 Best Food Memoirs

"There is a special skill required to making food sound interesting on the pages of a book and that means you should pick your food memoirs carefully.

Publishers see 'foodoirs' as a lucrative genre these days and if I see another one about moving to France and cooking traditional French cuisine I may go mad."...Richard Davies


Bonnie Hudson

One of the more fun books I have ever read is A Trip to the Beach by Melinda and Robert Blanchard. It's the story of a couple who moved from NYC to Anguilla with the intention of opening a restaurant. The book is their journey, challenges, surprises, and survival as well as several fun recipes. I originally read this in 2001 and reread it in 2010 for the recipes. The story is great; the recipes are simple and good. In 2010, they still had a successful restaurant on this lovely, simple island. Their Caribbean cornbread recipe - made with pineapple, cheese, and creamed corn - is available online at the First Look, Then Cook blog.  


Lenrose Jahiel

I would like to recommend Pandora's Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner. It is well written, entertaining, and very informative. It's about many foods we eat without thinking about them. A good read.  


Charles Jordan

From out here in California, what else would I recommend but the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book by Alice B. Toklas? Look out for the brownies. See you in April.


Mary Kinney

I happened on a book called Kidney Health Gourmet: Diet Guide and Cookbook by Nina Kolbe, RD CSR LD. It's a diet guide and kidney friendly recipes for people not on dialysis. It has some really delicious recipes that will appeal to many people, not just those looking for something to fit a certain profile. There is also a wealth of nutritional information, comparison of store-bought products (soups, etc.) as opposed to homemade products. It is in a soft-covered binder form with notes after each recipe - very easy to use!


Frank Knowles

I recommend The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.


Eileen Kohen

Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan. Not only does this book include wonderful recipes, but Joan Nathan provides the background stories behind the recipes. These insights about both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish culture and history in America are fascinating. Sometimes when I'm browsing for a recipe, I become more engrossed in reading the background stories than in finding a recipe.


Our own Illini Union has established an absolutely delightful Pinterest board for "Orange and Blue Treats". Check out the Truffle Football Cupcakes (with recipe!) and an insanely great buffet star - Memorial Stadium created from deli meats, cheese, and sandwiches!


Lil Levant

The book that has made a real impact on the way I eat has been Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I am not a full-fledged vegetarian but I am definitely headed in that direction largely because of this book.  


Judith Liebman

I highly recommend The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin. Some of his experiences are hilarious. It is rated 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon and every chapter ends with one if his favorite recipes. I used to watch his cooking shows on TV and still use several of the recipes he demonstrated.


Sharon Lumsden

I've recently enjoyed Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine and Love in Italy by Michael Tucker, of TV's L.A. Law. Tucker finds great joy in cooking, eating, and describing his Umbrian meals. The fortunate reader shares his experiences. Another treasured find is Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything. Steingarten is, or was, the food critic for Vogue magazine and a sometimes snarky judge on The Food Network's Iron Chef program. This book is a rich, widely varied collection of his articles for Vogue. If you want to read more than recipes, look for these books.


Dirk Mol

Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year in the Life of Food.

Farm tour, recipes, excerpts from the book, indices to the book.


Pam Olson

 Pei Mei's Chinese Cookbook (3 vols.) by Pei Mei Fu and Chinese Cuisine by Huang Su-Huei (beautiful illustrations). Both have authentic cooking, not Americanized.


John Palen

I recommend A People's Ecology: Explorations in Sustainable Living by Gregory Cajete.


 All the President's Menus

The evolution of American taste as reflected in presidential comfort food. From nachos to beggar's pudding and intriguing dishes such "yard of flannel" and "scootin-long-the-shore", a fascinating peek inside the White House.


Helen Parker

The book Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History by Mark Kurlansky, that was sort of the text for the Food, Glorious Food study group, is actually quite interesting - it contains many and varied items. Another book I have recently acquired is Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook: Feasting with Your Slow Cooker by Phyllis Good, which is about cooking in a slow cooker. The author thinks everyone should have more than one slow cooker and I am ALMOST tempted to get another one!

Don Pilcher

Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling, the unmatched New Yorker writer. Introduction by James Salter.


David Prochaska

Alice Waters and friends, 40 Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering. Alice Waters, graphic artist David Goines, cultural critic Greil Marcus, film person Tom Luddy -- the gang's all here. 


The goal of the Illinois Harvest/Large-scale Digitization Initiative is to enlarge the digital collections of the University of Illinois and to provide enhanced access to those collections, as well as to digital resources about Illinois and by Illinois scholars from collections and institutions around the country. Included is a subset of titles from a collection of over 600 Illinois community cookbooks donated to the University of Illinois Library by Mrs. Hermilda Listeman, who collected cookbooks her entire life. The cookbooks can be read for their 'receipts' as well as for their representation of American food preferences, the advancement of technology in the kitchen and the evolution of nutritional theory. All can be downloaded or viewed online.


Janice Rothbaum

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson is a history of how we cook and eat. It was on the 2012 New York Times list of the best books of the year. It focuses largely on common kitchen tools and is amazingly entertaining as well as informative.


Joe Rotman

The book The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is around 100 years old, and is a muckraker's account of the miserable state of unregulated food production at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States.


Marie Roy

Heartburn by Nora Ephron and Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin.  


Barb Selby

 The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais (fiction) is a great read with the differences between Indian and French cooking highlighted. 


Tim Smith

Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times by Rae Katherine Eighmey. A wonderfully creative approach to history and a good follow-up for those who enjoyed Guy Fraker's OLLI class on Lincoln, as well as for historical foodies.


Jerry Soesbe

Two classics: Barbara Ensrud, Wine with Food: A Guide to Entertaining Through the Seasons and M.F.K. Fisher, Consider the Oyster.


Cecile Steinberg 

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee is a very good history of the importance of Chinese restaurants to the Chinese immigrant experience.


 The hunt for General Tso

Reporter Jennifer 8. Lee talks about her hunt for the origins of familiar Chinese-American dishes -- exploring the hidden spots where these two cultures have (so tastily) combined to form a new cuisine.


Cheri Sullivan

For sheer fun, the creative food sculptures in Play with Your Food by Joost Elffers can't be beat (he also has a photo calendar). Jane Ziegelman's 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement gives a fascinating social history based on the food the immigrants ate, why they ate it, whom it influenced, and why it changed. Finally, Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink edited by David Remnick has topical pieces from throughout the magazine's history, including my favorite essay on food and family, Calvin Trillin's "The Magic Bagel".


Cynthia Swanson

Here are a couple of titles: Secrets of the Tsil Cafe: A Novel with Recipes by Thomas Fox Averill, and My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki, a comical-satirical-farcical-epical-tragical-romantical novel.


24 Best Quotes Ever About Food

A definitive graphic collection of the pithiest, smartest things ever said about cooking and eating.

Mohan Tracy

Here's one that I just finished reading: The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. It gave me some new perspectives on cooking and eating; food affects our hearts, minds and bodies in many ways. The book reveals how food can evoke not only emotions and memories, but also can also be a source of new experiences.


Ruth Wegman

I would recommend a fascinating book called What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. It's a colorful coffee table book put out by Ten Speed Press. It pictures a typical day's diet for 80 people from all over the globe, arranged by most to least caloric intake.


Chris Whippo

I am all about the food! A fun, quick read is Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, not so much for recipes as for her stories of eating and entertaining friends in a very small New York City apartment. The book was written in the 1980s and though I have never re-read it, I can't seem to remove it from my bookshelf.


Joan Zernich

A good book about food is The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten.  


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The OLLI Bookshelf is a spin-off from the OLLI e-News that began in December of 2012. Each issue features OLLI Illinois member responses to a different question about books.


OLLI Home Page 


e-News Committee: Cheri Sullivan (Chair), Frank Chadwick, Connie Hosier, Bonnie Hudson,  Barbara Meyer (Technical Coordinator).



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The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with support from the Bernard Osher Foundation, is part of a national network that recognizes learning has no age limits.  
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