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After grabbing yet another cookbook to bring upstairs at bedtime, I knew it was officially time to start a cookbook club.
Reading a cookbook is similar to reading a novel (you are transported to another time and place, experience someone else’s story, and wake up inspired), and cookbook clubs are similar to regular book clubs. But cookbooks don't lend themselves solely to discussions of characters, plot, or theme. Instead, we eat our way through the chapters.
This winter, the Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook Club met for the first time, and we have continued to read, cook, and eat together ever since. Our cookbook club meetings are the ultimate potluck dinners, made even better by the obvious themes and flavors of the meal.
The evenings are informal, either hosted in a summery backyard or wintry kitchen, with a mix-match of plates, napkins, and platters. The conversation is always about the food: which recipes were surprising and those to make again. And we leave full, happy, and ready to dive into the next book.
This June we read, cooked, and ate from Kristen Miglore’s Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. How often can you say your dinner table is covered with recipes from Union Square Café, Heidi Swanson, Patricia Wells, and Nigella Lawson?!
Needless to say, the spread was impressive.
Here are my tips for starting a cookbook club.
(Jump to the section below to see exactly which Genius recipes we cooked.)
1. Aim for twenty-five members assuming three-quarters of participants can come to each gathering. This number results in a big meal but isn’t too large for hosts to manage.
2. Think seasonally. A raw food book will taste much better in warm weather, while February is the perfect time for that comfort food book you’ve been eyeing.
3. Cookbooks are not cheap, so contact your local bookstore and ask for a group discount. Typically, if five or more copies are sold to a group, a bookseller will offer 10 to 20% off. In place of buying, you can always request the book from your local library, share copies between friends, or photocopy recipes.
4. Look to the past. You don’t have to read only the new hot cookbooks—there are a lot of lesser-known gems out there! Ask your grandmother or neighbor what their favorites are.
5. Use a shared Google document for a dinner sign-up sheet so members don’t double up on an item and the meal is well-balanced.
6. Ask guests to bring a dinner plate, drinking glass, and cloth napkin. This will take a load off the host and make cleanup a snap (just rinse your plate and go). Also, encourage people to bring plastic containers for taking home the handsome leftovers.
7. Plan to meet every six weeks. A monthly meeting is a big commitment and bi-monthly get-togethers can squash momentum. We started off meeting on Saturday evenings but recently moved to Wednesdays as not to conflict with family time.
8. Choose the next book as a group over dessert to avoid lengthy email exchanges. We pick by a casual vote after an open discussion. Rather than choosing a book based on reviews, our picks are influenced by personal recommendations.
9. Keep a running list of book ideas so the conversation around what to pick next doesn’t have to start at square one each month. We have read Soul, Food, Love by Alice Randall; A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Renee Erickson, and Genius Recipes, and our long list of titles for the future includes The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi, and At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen by Amy Chaplin.
10. Still come if you don’t have time to cook. Everyone will understand. Just bring wine!
Snacks & Drinks:
- Union Square Café's Bar Nuts
- Louisa Shafia's Watermelon, Mint & Cider Vinegar Tonic (we topped our glasses with Sauvignon Blanc)
Soups & Salads:
- Michael Nischan's “Use a Spoon” Chopped Salad
- Fergus Henderson's Red Salad
- ABC Kitchen's Roasted Carrot & Avocado Salad with Crunchy Seeds
- Heidi Swason's Chickpea Stew with Saffron, Yogurt & Garlic
- Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup
- Shirley Corriher's Touch-of-Grace Biscuits
- Cory Schreiber's Salt-Baked Herbed Salmon with Red Onion-Caper Vinaigrette
- Suzanne Goin's Grilled Pork Burgers
- Patricia Wells' Green Lentil Salad
- Alon Shaya's Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Goat Cheese
- Roy Finamore's Broccoli Cooked Forever
- Nobu's Fried Asparagus with Miso Dressing
- Rose Levy Beranbaum's Fresh Blueberry Pie
- Nigella Lawson's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
- Kim Boyce's Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Sarah Waldman is a food writer and recipe developer. She lives on Martha’s Vineyard with her husband and two young sons. Her book, Feeding a Family: A Year of Simple and Healthy Family Dinners (Roost Books) hits shelves in April of 2017.
Elizabeth Cecil is an editorial and commercial photographer specializing in food, lifestyle and travel photography. Her work has been featured in Bon Appétit, Saveur, Coastal Living, and The Wall Street Journal. Elizabeth lives on Martha's Vineyard and is the founding photo editor of Edible Vineyard magazine.