Size does matter.
In the introduction of The Essential New York Times Cookbook , Amanda Hesser suggests ways to use the book, such as, "As


The Essential New York Times Cookbook Contains The Country's Culinary History

Size does matter.
In the introduction of The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser suggests ways to use the book, such as, "As a weight for pressing terrines - its size and heft are just right." She's not joking. This beast tips the scales at nearly 5 lbs. Inside its cherry-red binding are 900-plus pages and over 1,400 recipes, including some of the most popular recipes printed in the New York Times in the last 150 years.

The project of bringing together all the recipes began over six years ago. Hesser, then the food editor at the Times, began by asking readers to let her know their favorite recipes from the paper. In addition to the 400 recipes readers wrote in about, Hesser vetted recipes printed in the Times since the 1850s. What emerged is nothing short of a culinary history of our country, and a time capsule of how our palates have evolved and how American cooking has changed over the last century and a half.

Thumbing through this book however, readers will also note that while some tastes have changed a great deal, others have not. Recipes for Larded Potatoes (1879) - potatoes cored and stuffed with bacon - and the Bacon Explosion (2009) - a loaf of Italian sausage wrapped in 2 lbs. of bacon - reminds us that we have always been obsessed with bacon.

The book is divided into chapters for appetizers, salads, soups, desserts, etc. Within each chapter, the recipes are printed chronologically, so the chapter on soups begins with American standards like Tomato Soup and Clam Chowder, but ends with Gazpacho. Throughout each chapter readers can watch how travel, immigration, recessions, and affluence have shaped how we cook and what we eat.

Hesser points out that few of the recipes originated in the Times - the paper is a way station for recipes, which pass through on their way from chefs to home cooks to readers. She made it her task to translate the recipes and not change their integrity. Some recipes needed ingredients quantified while other's needed oven temperatures or pan sizes specified. Hesser's intention was to preserve the arc of history that The Essential New York Times Cookbook provides readers.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook is an tremendous compilation of recipes that will serve as a great resource for home cooks alongside other indispensable cookbooks such as How to Cook Everything and The Joy of Cooking. What it lacks in photographs in makes up for in the sheer volume of recipes. The book also includes several menus that suggest recipes for a variety of occasion: Bake Sale, Food That Travels Well, Superbowl, Afternoon Tea, and my favorite - Dinner on a Moment's Notice.

Read part II of this week's Cooking the Books and a recipe from The Essential New York Times Cookbook.

Meet Amanda Hesser on Thursday, November 3rd at the Palace Ballroom at 7pm. This "Cooks and Books" event for $65 includes, cocktails, retro appetizers and a signed copy of the book. More info at kimricketts.com.

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