Hall of Fame Authors
some of the greatest in honor of Women's History Month
March is Women’s History Month. You can always tell by the girl boss endcaps at Target and the random IG posts highlighting female employees that appear as soon at the calendar switches over from February. So this week I (Michelle, the female half of Bad Manners) is going to highlight some of the female cookbook authors that have shaped the way I cook and think about food.
I tend to hate these kinds of lists because these are not just female cookbook authors that I love, these are cookbook authors that I love. I don’t want to diminish their impact or their importance by ghettoizing them based on their gender. Every single person on this list has left an indelible mark on the history of food. These women have all pushed North American cuisine forward and we owe them a debt of gratitude. The natural foods movement, vegetarianism, and veganism would have never entered the mainstream without these authors standing up and sharing their genius with all of us. In fact, all these books were published before smartphones or widespread social media, the “newest” hitting the shelves in 2004. These books came to me through friends, word of mouth, or spotting them in other people’s kitchens. The fact that all of these books were huge successes shows just how much value there is in sharing the food and recipes you love with the people in your life. The lessons I learned from their books are reflected in every single thing I cook and every recipe I write. So here I am passing them along to you.
Laurel’s Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey
Laurel’s Kitchen was one of those books I always saw around when I was growing up. First published in 1976 and reissued 1986, this cookbook was in the kitchen of every cool, sorta hippie woman I met growing up in the Bay Area. The kind of person who made their own yogurt, sprouted their own seeds and beans, and bought in bulk from a neighborhood co-op they helped found- all of which this book teaches you. This book shows you how to do everything from scratch including how to make your own soy milk, crackers, and tons of different styles of bread. When I first flipped through its pages decades ago, I couldn’t believe that I could do all of that stuff myself. It was such a revelatory moment for me as a young girl to learn that I could demystify the foods that I loved and I could make them from scratch.
Despite being banished to the dusty annals of history, the impact of Laurel’s Kitchen on the popularization of vegetarianism and as a countercultural lifestyle guide cannot be overstated. The original copy sold over a million copies and the later reissue was arguably even more popular. The book was compiled by 25 women, with the listed authors Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey doing most of the heavy lifting. In anticipation of pearl-clutchers everywhere decrying vegetarianism as an unhealthy way to eat, the creative women of Laurel’s Kitchen enlisted doctors from nearby UC Berkeley to discuss the many health benefits and best ways to practice this diet in the back half of the book. Genius.
Modern day veganism owes so much to works like this that propelled the natural foods movement out of the Bay Area and into kitchens across North America. You wouldn’t have almond milk in coffee shops across the country or vegetarian options at restaurants without the work these women put in to make this alternative way of eating increasingly mainstream.
Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
This was the first cookbook I fell in love with. I remember flipping through it in a friend’s kitchen and being mesmerized by the font, illustrations and recipes. It was perfect. This friend’s mom was a great cook and she told me all about the Moosewood restaurant that this book is an outgrowth of and cooked me some of the recipes while I crashed at their house. I couldn’t get enough and was set on being just like the author Mollie Katzen. Or at least how I imagined her.
I would constantly check this out at the library before I saved up enough money to get my own copy and then gifted it to anyone I knew who was learning to cook. Sure, the recipes are a little dated as tastes changed over the decades but there is still so much good stuff in there. The lentil soup, her stir-fry sauce, and gazpacho were all recipes that I made over and over again for years when I was learning to cook. Her peanut sauce recipe I lived on during college. Moosewood has been a vegetarian touchstone for decades and one who’s flavors never quite go out of style. I know that I’m far from the only person who’s been changed by Mollie’s work but I can confidently say I would have never written a recipe or even learned to cook without this book.
World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey
World Vegetarian is one of those massive cookbooks you rarely see getting published these days and it’s a shame. This book, full of more than 650 recipes, rightfully won Madhur Jaffrey a James Beard award and was my go-to book to flip through and imagine cooking recipes before food blogs were a thing. I’d read this book cover to cover flagging recipes I wanted to cook when I had enough money to buy all the ingredients. I’d get so hungry despite the lack of photography. Madhur Jaffrey has such a warm and evocative way of writing that it was easy to imagine each step and serving the finished dish to an applauding crowd hovered around a dinner table that I didn’t have.
Every single recipe in this book is absolutely exploding with flavor which made it a good balance to the hippie and macrobiotic cooking styles that were popular in vegan and vegetarian cooking in the late 90’s. Her crisp potato cake and mulligatawny soup were what I cooked the most but even those relatively simple recipes taught me so much about cooking. The way I add dried spices early in all my recipes to this day is because that is how she said to do it and I’ve never looked back. Her debut cookbook, An Invitation To Indian Cooking, is credited with helping to bring Indian cooking in western audiences and was inducted into the James Beard Hall of Fame in 2006. She is a culinary powerhouse and I know all my recipes are better because of what she taught me in this book.
Vegan With A Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Yes, this is the only vegan book on the list but that’s because there weren’t tons of vegan cookbooks that got published before Isa Chandra Moskowitz came on the scene. You could find zines and small co-op cookbooks if you were lucky and knew where to look but the success of Vegan With A Vengeance showed the world that there was a demand for this kind of food. A friend recommended this book to me in college (in a women’s studies class, naturally) and it changed my life. Her unapologetic attitude and killer recipes made all her books worthy of a spot on your shelf but her first book will always have my heart. I still make the pumpkin waffles and sparkling ginger cookies from this book all the time. Hell, she just dropped a brand-new book this year and it looks fantastic as usual. I was the only vegan I knew when I made the change in 2003 and Isa’s books helped me feel so much less weird and alone. Plus, she taught me how to bake up vegan cookies which made people a lot less freaked out because they were fucking delicious. If you don’t own any of her books you need to fix that shit immediately. I wouldn’t have a career without all of the work Isa did to normalize veganism and show that vegan food could be fucking delicious.
Thanks for joining us here in The Broiler Room. Do you have a cookbook or author that helped change your life? Let us know in the comments!
Michelle (and Matt)
Laurel’s Kitchen and Moosewood really take me back. I love The Vegetarian Epicure. I saw Frances Moore Lappé speak last year - gotta give a shout out to Diet for a Small Planet. Not so much the recipes but the mindset. Thanks for helping me appreciate these authors and books all over again.
I am so glad you gave that shout out to Isa. I love her and her books, every one.