Book Review: Local Flavor
Five Austin cookbooks to sink your teeth into
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., June 14, 2013
The Austin Food Blogger Alliance CookbookThe History Press, 192 pp., $22.99 (paper)
Soon after the Civil War, American women began to collaborate on community cookbooks, sharing their treasured "receipts" in order to raise money for churches, aid societies, political causes (temperance!), and civic organizations. These books provide revealing information about the culinary trends, popular ingredients, and entertaining styles of the communities they represent. A copy of what is most likely the first such book published in Austin is currently on display at the Austin History Center: Our Home Cook Book, put out by the ladies of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1891. I see a certain kind of symmetry in the fact that the 122-year old recipe collection has reemerged in the same spring that Austin's newest community cookbook is for sale. A collection of recipes and anecdotes from cooks in a virtual community is the natural evolution in this time-honored practice.
The Austin Food Blogger Alliance was founded in 2011 and now has a membership of more than 150 area food writers. In 2012, about half of the members collaborated on the group's first cookbook. Mostly women, but a few men, contributed everything from recipes and recipe testing to food photography, copyediting, and design skills to complete the project. Short profiles of each contributing blogger can be found at the end of the book. In keeping with classic community cookbook tradition, proceeds from sales will support classes and events sponsored by the Alliance, as well as their local philanthropy. The book features a diverse selection of voices, cooking styles, and ethnic backgrounds, making it a realistic representation of Austin's fascinating food scene in the early 21st century.
However, this cookbook is more than just a worthwhile and interesting cultural artifact. There are plenty of tempting recipes, of course, as well as informational sidebars, such as Hip Girl Kate Payne's tips on organizing food swaps and gardener Carla Crownover's suggestions about preserving. Fresh sweet corn from the farmers' market went into Rachel Daneman's Thyme and Four Cheese Mini Corn Muffins as well as the Gulf shrimp and corn chowder from Kristi Willis. The mouthwatering cover photo of Maggie Perkins' Savory Peach & Gorgonzola Galette inspired me to use some of my precious early summer peaches on a recipe try-out. I'm pleased to have one of the family kolach recipes from Dawn Orsak's Texas-Czech heritage and Amy Kritzer's update of her Bubbe's Dark Chocolate Mandel Bread looks like a keeper, as well.