5 Literary Cookbooks to Make You Feel Like You’re in Your Favorite Book!

5 Literary Cookbooks

Many readers dream of being able to travel into their favorite book–or at least dream of being able to try the food! Below we review five literary cookbooks that will take readers from Middle-Earth to Regency England.

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The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate MacDonald, Evi Abeler

Anne of Green Gables Cookbook

This book is charmingly illustrated with aptly-named recipes that correspond key moments in the story from Diana’s raspberry cordial mishap to Anne’s liniment cake. There are quotes from the Anne books scattered throughout, so readers know which lines inspired each recipe. Regrettably, however, there is no information on cooking history and only a brief biography of L. M. Montgomery at the end. I wanted to see fun facts about cooking in Anne’s time, even if the recipes are modernized for convenience.

The recipes look easy to make and generally require common ingredients, which is nice. However, perhaps because the book is geared towards children, many of the recipes seem pretty standard, like egg salad sandwiches, shepherd’s pie, and macaroni and cheese. There is nothing I could not already easily make without this book; even the raspberry cordial recipe is just raspberry lemonade.

I did appreciate the cooking tips at the beginning of the book, which make it–along with the simplicity of the recipes–a wonderful gift for children. I do not see myself purchasing a copy, however, since the recipes are so standard that I can already do most of them.

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Dinner with Mr. Darcy by Pen Vogler

Dinner with Mr. Darcy

This book is a delightful foray into the dining and cooking of Austen’s time. I loved the interludes explaining things like when meal times were taken or how tables were set, as well as the notes about how many of these conventions changed during Austen’s own life. The recipes are really interesting as many are probably not meals most would cook or eat today. Many of the meals are very meat-heavy, however, which is not really appealing to me. So any recipes I try out will likely be from the dessert and tea sections.

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The Little Women Cookbook by Wini Moranville

Wini Moranville clearly appreciates Alcott’s work and attempts to offer a cookbook that acknowledges Alcott’s beloved book while also providing recipes for authentic period dishes–thankfully updated for the modern cook. Recipes are mostly based on actual meals and food mentioned in Little Women. But other recipes are those found in the “receipt” book Meg consulted, or recipes that would have been common at the time. The result is that readers will feel confident that they are really experiencing something akin to what diners in the 1860s would have.

Fascinating historical facts and explanations intersperse the book, making it an interesting read for fans of Little Women, even if an individual does not feel like making any of the recipes. For example, Moranville illuminates readers as to the nature of the “messes” Meg cooked for Beth; discusses how the Marches, though poor, managed to afford lobster; and explains what a blacmange is. Other historical notes explain why Louisa May Alcott’s work was filled with apples, or talk about how her father was what we would now call a vegan. Moranville ends up answering questions about Little Women and its author that readers may not have even known to ask.

Easy-to-make recipes paired with full menu suggestions make this a cookbook that I actually use. I have tried the apple orchard chicken, the pickled lime cookies, the Dijon mustard, and the hot milk sponge cake–and I make the sponge cake regularly. I intend to try more recipes since they have all been delicious!

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The Secret Garden Cookbook: Inspiring Recipes from the Magical World of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden by Amy Cotler

This beautifully-illustrated cookbook was precisely the type of book I wished to find after reading The Little Women Cookbook. Period dishes are paired with explanations of how food would have been prepared during Mary Lennox’s time. The author also clearly explains the different types of food that might have been available in the countryside versus the city, and how people of different social classes might have eaten. There is even a section on recipes that were imported from or inspired by the British presence in India. Many of the recipes look delicious, and I have bookmarked a few to try out in the future.

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An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery by Chris-Rachael Oseland

I have to admit that I was expecting more recipes directly inspired by Middle-earth, so I ended up merely flipping through this book and not cooking anything. The dishes are mainly English countryside Victorian fare that J. R. R. Tolkien might have eaten. I was not particularly interested in recipes for things like steak and ale pie, venison cobbler, porter cake, and Yorkshire pudding, however, so maybe I am not the target audience for this book. Also, there are similar recipes in here as contained in The Secret Garden Cookbook–and I thought The Secret Garden Cookbook was superior. I did appreciate the historical notes about cooking and food in Tolkien’s day, however.

The Little Women Cookbook: Tempting Recipes from the March Sisters and Their Friends and Family by Wini Moranville

Information

Goodreads: The Little Women Cookbook
Series: None
Source: Download from Edelweiss
Published: October 2019

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Review

I am a huge fan of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, so when I saw there was a cookbook for the book, I had to try it out. Recipe books based around other books can be hit-or-miss. Oftentimes, it feels like the creators wanted to cash in on a popular title more than they really wanted to pay homage to it or even offer some actually tasty meals. The Little Women Cookbook, however, surpassed my expectations. Wini Moranville clearly appreciates Alcott’s work and attempts to offer a cookbook that acknowledges Alcott’s beloved book while also providing recipes for authentic period dishes–thankfully updated for the modern cook.

Moranville largely bases her recipes around actual meals and food mentioned in Little Women. Entries typically have a quote from the book, reminding readers of passages such as Jo’s famous ruined dinners and Amy’s failed picnic. Readers then have the opportunity to cook something similar to what the Marches and their friends would have enjoyed. Other times, Moranville will offer a recipe that was actually found in the “receipt” book Meg consulted, or a recipe that would have been common at the time. The result is that readers will feel confident that they are really experiencing something akin to what diners in the 1860s would have. (Updates such as allowing for the use of a temperature-controlled oven or gelatin in lieu of calves’ feet allow readers to modernize the experience a bit.)

Fascinating historical facts and explanations intersperse the book, making it an interesting read for fans of Little Women, even if an individual does not feel like making any of the recipes. For example, Moranville illuminates readers as to the nature of the “messes” Meg cooked for Beth; discusses how the Marches, though poor, managed to afford lobster; and finally explains what a blacmange is. Other historical notes explain why Louisa May Alcott’s work was filled with apples, or talk about how her father was what we would now call a vegan. Moranville ends up answering questions about Little Women and its author that readers may not have even known to ask.

I also appreciated that Moranville provides several full menu suggestions for readers who want to do something like create their own picnic–just like the Marches and Laurie. Sometimes new recipes can be confusing. What are you supposed to pair them with? Are they supposed to constitute a full meal or are you supposed to add side dishes? Moranville takes the guesswork out, and, really, I wish more cookbooks would do the same.

To give a full review of The Little Women Cookbook, I decided to try out some of the recipes myself. At times, I did feel a little bit like Jo, somehow running into absurd dilemmas while cooking, but, ultimately found the recipes relatively easy to follow and ultimately delicious. I chose to cook: apple orchard chicken, Jo’s lettuce salad, and black raspberry jelly cake with lemon cream.

The apple orchard chicken was pretty easy to make. You simply cook your chicken on the stove top, then prepare a sauce made of apple juice, chicken broth, and cream to pour on top. The only problem I had was that the liquid is supposed to reduce on the stove top before you add the cream to complete the sauce. I kept it boiling, but for some reason, it didn’t want to reduce. My chicken was ready, however, and I was hungry so I gave up and ate a soupy sauce. I would make this recipe again, but I will have to boil the sauce a lot longer than I had anticipated. I recommend cooking the sauce while you cook the chicken, to account for this added time, even though the book says to make the chicken first and then to wrap it in foil while you make the sauce.

For Jo’s lettuce salad, I prepared a Dijon mustard and egg yolk-based dressing that Moranville assures readers “was among the most common ways to dress salad a the time.” You are supposed to pair it with an “assertively flavored green” like arugula, since the salad does not call for anything other than the dressing and greens. The only arugula I could find, however, seemed pricey for the amount, so I just used iceberg lettuce and dressed up my salad with tomatoes, green olives, and banana peppers–I figured that would make the salad taste assertive enough. I did really enjoy the dressing, however, which basically tastes like really tangy Dijon. I acknowledge, however, that the dressing may be acquired taste, since my test subject went to look for a different dressing. Fortunately, the book recommends that you make the dressing separately rather than tossing it in with the leaves, since it is so heavy. This makes it easy for your guests to taste the dressing before committing to dumping it all over their greens.

For dessert, I chose to make the hot milk sponge cake, which you can then transform into the black raspberry jelly cake with lemon cream. The store only had grape jelly and strawberry, however, so I turned it into a strawberry jelly cake with lemon cream. Moranville instructs cooks to make the hot milk sponge cake, let it cool, then cut it in half. You are then supposed to spread the jam in the middle, put the top make on, and put the lemon-flavored whipped cream on top. I found these instructions a little strange since the cake recipe only makes one round 8-inch pan’s worth of cake, which is rather thin to cut in half. Gamely, however, I tried. And failed. I ended up spreading the jam on top of the cake and then spreading the whipped topping over it. It really didn’t matter; it still tasted delicious and was probably the best part of the meal. I also forgot to add the sugar to the lemon cream topping, but, since it was spread on top of jam, that also did not matter. (Though it did make me feel rather like Jo trying to cook!) In future, I will double the hot milk sponge cake recipe and make two cake pans’ worth if I want to create a layer cake.

Altogether, The Little Women Cookbook is a pretty useful cookbook. The recipes are things you might actually want to make and they typically do not require odd ingredients. For my meal, the main things I had to buy that I don’t usually stock were things like heavy whipping cream*, lemons, jam, and apple cider vinegar. If the book were ever updated, I do think it would be helpful for Moranville to include advice such as how to store certain recipes–what type of container, cold or room temperature, how many days, etc. Possibly most cooks will not need this information, but I find it reassuring to be told my storage choices are correct, and I think new cooks in particular might benefit from this information. Altogether, however, I can say that The Little Women Cookbook was a delightful read as well as a culinary success.

*Part of me regrets not also buying an electric mixer since it took me at least 15 minutes to whip the cream by hand, but I like to think this added to the authentic March family experience.

4 stars

The Collagen Diet: A 28-Day Plan for Sustained Weight Loss, Glowing Skin, Great Gut Health, and a Younger You by Josh Axe

The Collagen Diet cover

Information

Goodreads: The Collagen Diet
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: December 31, 2019

Official Summary

Dr. Josh Axe, bestselling author of Keto Diet and Eat Dirt, explains how to lose weight, prevent disease, improve your digestion, and renew your youth by taking advantage of dietary collagen.

Today, interest in dietary collagen is growing at an astounding rate, and with good reason. The benefits of a collagen-rich diet are remarkable, ranging from better weight control to enhanced digestion, clearer skin, reduced inflammation, and improved immune function.

Dietary collagen provides a unique blend of amino acids and other compounds, making it critical for everyone, including infants, young children, the elderly, athletes, pregnant women, new mothers, and adult men and women. Simply put: When we don’t get enough of the beneficial compounds found in collagen-rich foods, we experience more injuries, chronic aches and pain, digestive issues, and other symptoms associated with aging. And most people don’t get enough. Collagen is the missing ingredient that can help all of us live longer, healthier, more vital lives.

In The Collagen Diet, Dr. Axe describes how collagen helps maintain the structure and integrity of almost every part of the body. You’ll learn how your skin, hair, nails, bones, disks, joints, ligaments, tendons, arterial walls, and gastrointestinal tract all depend on the consumption of collagen-rich foods.

Featuring a twenty-eight-day meal plan, seventy mouthwatering recipes, and specific advice for supporting your body’s collagen production with exercise and lifestyle interventions, The Collagen Diet provides everything you need to take advantage of this overlooked cornerstone of modern health.

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Review

I picked up The Collagen Diet not because I’m actually interested in a new diet, and particularly not specifically around collagen, but because I wanted to know what the health benefits of eating collagen might be and why someone would propose an entire diet based on it. Personally, I’m skeptical of any author who encourages “cleanses” and even more skeptical of an author who has an entirely different book advocating for an entirely different diet—keto (So which is better, Dr. Axe?  Collagen or keto?), but I did learn some interesting things about the research on collagen, which was my main goal.

There are several chapters in the front of the book about collagen and its benefits and the research that has been done on it, much more information than I would expect to get just Googling “benefits of eating collagen,” which is certainly something I could have done instead of reading this book.  Dr. Axe posits it as life-changing, good for everything from helping his mother’s cancer to aiding in the alleviation of arthritis.  Personally, I’m convinced enough from the research he cites to believe that, yes, this could be worth adding to your diet…if only it weren’t in so few foods. 

There’s also a lot of technical information about different types of collagen, how they work, what foods they can found it, and what foods they should be eaten in combination with to get the full benefits.

The idea that there is a collagen diet is still a bit unconvincing to me, however, based on the fact that it is found in so few foods—including egg shell membrane, which is basically impossible to just eat.  The basic gist of the diet is honestly that you should just eat tons of bone broth and buy a collagen supplement and maybe try to get in some gelatin here and there.  Really, that’s it.  Many of the breakfast recipes, for instance, are smoothie recipes to which you add a collagen supplement.  The other recipes largely call for getting in bone broth somehow, such as making a tomato or squash soup with bone broth.  I don’t think anyone needs an entire book to suggest eating a supplement and eating tons of bone broth to them.  And the other information is general diet advice—eat a variety of fruits and vegetable, avoid sugar, get enough sleep, and exercise.  Not exactly ground-breaking.

If you want to learn about collagen, this book will work.  I wouldn’t personally recommend it for the actual diet.  At the least, I’d probably get the book from the library and skim through it first to see if the recipes are something you’d actually frequently make, or if you’d just go for a supplement and eat whatever you normally eat.

Briana
3 Stars

The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100 by Dan Buettner

The Blue Zones Kitchen book cover

Information

Goodreads: The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: December 3, 2019

Official Summary

Best-selling author Dan Buettner debuts his first cookbook, filled with 100 longevity recipes inspired by the Blue Zones locations around the world, where people live the longest.

Building on decades of research, longevity expert Dan Buettner has gathered 100 recipes inspired by the Blue Zones, home to the healthiest and happiest communities in the world. Each dish–for example, Sardinian Herbed Lentil Minestrone; Costa Rican Hearts of Palm Ceviche; Cornmeal Waffles from Loma Linda, California; and Okinawan Sweet Potatoes–uses ingredients and cooking methods proven to increase longevity, wellness, and mental health. Complemented by mouthwatering photography, the recipes also include lifestyle tips (including the best times to eat dinner and proper portion sizes), all gleaned from countries as far away as Japan and as near as Blue Zones project cities in Texas. Innovative, easy to follow, and delicious, these healthy living recipes make the Blue Zones lifestyle even more attainable, thereby improving your health, extending your life, and filling your kitchen with happiness.

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Review

The Blue Zones Kitchen includes recipes from the so-called “blue zones,” areas where the residents (particularly older ones who adhere to the more traditional diets) live longer than anywhere else on Earth, largely because of what they eat.

I’ve tried three of the recipes—roasted vegetables, sweet potato tarts, and a ratatouille—and all were approachable and included ingredients I was easily able to find at my local grocery store (some ingredients might be a little tougher).  The sweet potato tart recipe did tell me to use far more potatoes than I actually needed for the filling, but otherwise the recipes worked and were delicious.  I would be interested in making more or even purchasing a copy of the book to consult, since I initially borrowed it from the library.

I’ve seen some complaints in other reviews that the recipes aren’t “really” healthy because they sometimes include things like white rice and sugar, but the book is a record of what people in these areas actually eat—and they sometimes eat sugar.  If you want a zero sugar diet, that’s a different cookbook.  However, in addition to the recipes, The Blue Zones Kitchen includes information on the general diet of each area, the staple foods in each area that promote longevity (such as olive oil or sourdough bread), and other habits that the residents have.  This means that, while sugar is eaten, the people don’t have dessert every day.  (Also, the sweet potato tarts I made had no sugar in the actual sweet potato filling, just some brown sugar sprinkled on top, so it’s clear how this would be a much healthier dessert option than, say, a cupcake.)  Similarly, the people in these areas do eat meat but rarely, so the authors decided to make all recipes vegetarian (though I think fish might be mentioned occasionally).

A communal approach to food and strong social networks all also important for longevity, and the book clarifies this time and again.  It’s not just about cutting out bad foods or eating the “superfoods;” it’s a whole approach to food and living.

If you’re looking for a straightforward cookbook with simple whole ingredients and approachable recipes, I would recommend this.  I don’t personally cook a lot simply because I find it a bit boring and I have other people in my life who actually enjoy cooking, but I had no problem with any of the recipes I attempted so far, and I thought the meals turned out great.  (I also generally do like vegetables and prefer them to meat, however, so I can see how that might play a factor.)

Briana
4 stars

Cakes by Melissa by Melissa Ben-Ishay

Cakes by Melissa

Information

Goodreads: Cakes by Melissa
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: October 3, 2017

Official Summary

Cakes by Melissa is a mouthwatering collection of easy and imaginative cakes from the creative force behind the delicious bite-size cupcake brand Baked by Melissa.

Melissa Ben-Ishay, the baker, mom, and founder of Baked by Melissa—the tie-dye and fun-loving bite-size treats company—shares her secrets in this vibrantly illustrated cookbook that offers more than 120 recipes for fabulous cakes, icings, fillings, and toppings for endlessly delectable combinations.

Melissa believes baking should be fun and easy—and that incredible flavor can be in bite-size amounts. This ethos and her lively, personal style are infused throughout Cakes by Melissa. A simple-to-follow crash course in making baking more like crafting, it offers Melissa’s fresh takes on traditional cakes and inventive ideas to make dessert in any form extra sweet. The cookbook will encourage home bakers to be creative and spontaneous in their baking, even including fill-in-the-blank ingredient sheets to individualize their special treats.

From the very recipe that started it all—the tie-dye cupcake—to peanut butter banana cake batter and icings and crumbles that inspire the baker in us all to create scrumptious desserts, Cakes by Melissa is filled with unique and totally irresistible recipes to devour. Replete with 125-150 photographs and stunningly designed pages that mirror the down-to-earth and colorful Baked by Melissa aesthetic, Cakes by Melissa is a celebration of the joys of baking for experts and novices alike, and is a must for Melissa’s fans.

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Review

When I was in New York City last summer, I was disappointed I could no longer go to Crumbs for giant, delicious cupcakes, so I did the next best things–I went to Baked by Melissa and got mini cupcakes! Each mini cupcake is $1, which can seem a little steep, but it’s New York City prices and it’s clear a lot of work goes into each cupcake.  (Just imagine making tie-dyed mini cupcakes with multiple colors of batter, then filling it, then icing it, then adding toppings.  It will take a while.)  However, when I learned that Melissa would be releasing a cookbook in the fall and I could make my own mini cupcakes at home, I was thrilled. Apparently thrilled enough my friend remembered my excitement and bought me the book.

Overview

The book starts with an introduction and a look into Melissa’s life and her journey to starting her business.  I admit I haven’t read this part yet.  I know that cookbooks are getting harder to sell unless backed by a “celebrity,” so adding this personal part is key for a lot of publishers; however, I don’t care. I’m here for the recipes.

Melissa includes recipes for cakes, frostings, glazes, and toppings.  Most of the toppings are simple things like crumbles, so maybe less than impressive as “recipes,” but these are definitely useful suggestions if you want to make an impressive-looking cupcake or maybe try to mimic some of the cupcakes from the Baked by Melissa stores.

The book is beautifully designed and the overall organization makes sense. However, I was confused by the lack of a real table of contents that listed the recipes in order.  The table of contents literally just says “Cakes.”  This means I couldn’t just browse the table of contents to get a sense of what recipes were in the book.  (Maybe the idea is to force the reader to flip through the book itself and check out the bold photography?) If you want to know where a particular cake is, you have to check the index.

Alternatively, my favorite part of the book is at the end, where Melissa provides a list of recommended recipe combinations; she suggests a cake, filling, frosting, and topping for a large amount of cakes, in case you’re not sure offhand what frosting recipe you should match with which cake recipe.

Overall, a beautifully designed book with some staple recipes like vanilla and chocolate cake but also with some original ones (matcha green tea, cereal cake, etc.)

Recipe Reviews

I decided that since Melissa is known for mini cupcakes, I was going to make mini cupcakes, even though she gives baking temperatures and times for literally any pan you can imagine, from a standard 9″ round cake pan to mini bundt pans to doughnut pans.

I made the strawberry cake and matched it with sugar cookie dough icing, a pairing Melissa recommends in the back of the book.

General consensus: People really liked them. However, no one thought the cake really tasted like strawberry, perhaps not surprising because 1) Melissa admits she doesn’t really like fruity cakes and 2) I think fruit flavor in cakes often comes from including things like fruit chunks, jam, a fruity frosting, etc.  The sugar cookie dough frosting has flour in it, which people thought was weird before tasting it.  However, it went over well, and people who don’t love overly sweet frostings particularly liked it.

Strawberry Cake with Sugar Cookie Dough Icing

Next, I tried the chocolate cake and topped it with chocolate chip cookie dough icing.

General Consensus: I think the chocolate cake is a little dry.  The book does describe it as “light and fluffy,” so I guess I just prefer a moister, denser chocolate cake. I could see this cupcake working better if I had filled it with something that gave it a little more moisture. The chocolate chip cookie dough icing is similar to the sugar cookie dough icing, just with brown sugar.  Again, it includes flour, but this is more delicious than it sounds; it is kind of like eating cookie dough.  The recipe calls for the baker to mix micro chocolate chips into the icing, but I only had normal chips, so I just put some on top of the cupcake.  I would make the icing again, but I might stick to my Hershey’s chocolate cake recipe.

Briana