Would would a kitchen be without a bookshelf? We’ve listed some of our favorites below—rest assured that we’re not getting any financial support from the authors or publishers aside from a tiny commission from Amazon. Your purchases help keep us in canning lids!
If you have no other books on canning and food preservation, make sure you have a copy of Ball’s Blue Book. It includes step-by-step, USDA-approved instructions for both water-bath and pressure canning, with recipes for jams, jellies, preserves, chutneys, relishes, pickles, soups, and even canned fish and meats. It’s also a terrific comparative resource when you want to alter water-bath canning recipes.
When we want to make pickles, Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling is the first place we turn. Now available in a revised and expanded edition, this has everything from half-sours and dilly beans to sauerkraut and brined grapes. Quick pickles, fermented pickles, vinegar pickles—if you can pickle it, she’s got it.
Karen Solomon’s Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It is quickly becoming a new classic for modern cooks interested in home food preservation. It’s less fussy than some of the others, with great photos. It’s a hair on the “crafts are fun!” side, with much emphasis on “DIY” foods as gifts (case in point: marshmallows). There’s a time and place for everything, though, and if you want to give all of your relatives homemade bacon, I can’t think of a better place to start.
Our comrades-in-canning also recommend these books:
Nick Sandler, Preserved
Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan, Putting Food By
Eugenia Bone, Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Food
Judi Kingry and Lauren Divine, The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Chris Schlesinger, John Willoughby, and Dan George, Quick Pickles
Steve Dowdney, Putting Up: A Seasonal Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition
Karen Ward, Canning and Preserving for Dummies
Jennifer MacKenzie, Jay Nutt, and Don Mercer, The Dehydrator Bible
Once you get the hang of pressure cooking, you won’t need a book. Until then, you need Miss Vickie’s Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes, by Vickie Smith. Miss Vickie is the self-proclaimed queen of pressure cooking, with resources on grains, meat, desserts, and her specialty, pan-within-the-pan cooking. She’s also a big fan of stacking things to be cooked within the pressure cooker—something I myself have never mastered.
Lorna Sass’s Cooking Under Pressure is a classic, chock full of useful information on vegetables, meats, puddings, and more. One note: Sass is a big believe in European pressure cookers and says many discouraging things about jiggle-top cookers. Rest assured that intrepid and/or experienced jiggle-top pressure cooker uses will still find this useful—just skip the introduction.
We also recommend:
Doris was temporary vegetarian during a part of grad school; Jilly went through a vegan phase but succumbed to meat while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. While we now both eat meat (and cheese! glorious cheese!), both of us rely heavily on our tried-and-true vegetarian cookbooks for weekday meals.
The most used cookbook in both of our kitchens is Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It’s sort of like Joy of Cooking, only for vegetarians. It’s not particularly glossy, or even particularly stylish, but there’s not a bad recipe in the book. Side notes on what flavors go well together lend themselves toward improvisation, which is important when you’re eating locally or subscribing to a CSA.
Before Deborah Madison became a cookbook queen, she was associated with Greens Restaurant in the Bay Area. So, it’s no surprise that we’re also both big fans of Annie Sommerville’s Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant. Again, everything in this book is wonderful, and, being a restaurant cookbook, the recipes have a bit more polish than Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It’s perfect for cooking for company.
A new contender for best vegetarian cookbook, ever, has to be Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. Bittman is the king of improvisation. His cookbooks are thorough, methodical, and meant to teach you to cook without a book. Keep in mind that his New York Times column is The Minimalist—Bittman wants to keep it simple. His books are also wonderful for their international perspective: Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, Caribbean, whatever. If it’s delicious, it’s here.
And finally, what would a list of vegetarian cookbooks be without Moosewood? There are many, many Moosewood cookbooks. Start with the classic—Mollie Katzen’s classic Moosewood Cookbook—and then work your way down the list of other favorites (see below). Some of the “casseroles” in this book have not aged particularly well, but the baked goods remain delightful. And hey, if you’re looking for a good recipe for a four-grain-kale-and-wheat-berry hot dish, Moosewood will probably have it.
Other vegetarian cookbooks we have known and loved:
Moosewood Collective, Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
Moosewood Collective, Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
Mollie Katzen, The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest
Anna Thomas, The New Vegetarian Epicure
Madhur Jaffrey, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian Cuisine
Jeanne Lemlin, Main Course Vegetarian Pleasures
Yamuna Devi, Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking
Where would any of us be without Irma Rombauer, Marian Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker’s Joy of Cooking? It’s got all the basics, with comprehensive sections on meats, fish, and vegetables. The section on condiments is surprisingly good, with chutneys, ketchups, mustards, and marmalades. Generations of women swear by the baked goods. If you only own one cookbook, you could do much worse than Joy.
Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything delivers just what the title promises. A somewhat chatty cookbook author, Bittman encourages his readers to learn how to improvise. Although the book is chock full of recipes, the whole point of this book is to teach you to cook without them. You’ll never want to throw the book away, but you get the impression that nothing would make the author happier (assuming you threw out all your other cookbooks, too).
Gourmet may be gone, but the recipes are still with us. Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook collects old and new favorites. If you want to learn to roast the perfect turkey, look here. It’s also strong on baking and aspirational saucemaking. A word to the wise: the editors really, really like butter. Just cut all the butter amounts in half and you’ll be fine.
And last but hardly least, no kitchen is complete without Rose Berenbaum’s The Bread Bible. This is truly a book for bread obsessives. Berenbaum is famous for her fastidious, scientific approach to baking. Most recipes span more than 5 pages and includes a chemical analysis of the dough for water, fats, and proteins. All measurements are provided by weight rather than by volume to ensure accuracy. It’s may not be the most relaxed way to bake, but every loaf is perfect, every time.