In many families, recipes are handed down through generations. My family is known more for its readers than its cooks which may be the reason I gravitate towards cookbooks that are also memoirs.
My favorite cookbook memoir is Confessions of a Closet Master Baker: A Memoir—One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado, sister of actress Sandra Bullock. However, you can only buy it as a used book. While the original title seems more true to the author's outlook, it's been repackaged as My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over One Cake at a Time. Take note: the recipes cover more than cakes.
This book is more memoir than cookbook as there are no photos, but the stories preceding the recipes are amusing, poignant, and full of good baking tips. Gesine writes as beautifully as she bakes sharing family traditions, nostalgic childhood memories, and the importance of pastries to her dying mother. Then there are her hopes about her new business, funny and serious baking disasters, and stressful behind-the-scenes goings on when she produced Hollywood projects.
Instead of working lunches and dinners at fancy LA restaurants, the author now rises at 3:30am to begin her 15-hour work days at her Vermont bakery. She starts each day heading for the laundry room to find clean clothes stating, "I don't care that our clothes never make it from the intertwined dance of the dryer to the smooth folds of the dresser drawers anymore." (Wonderful words to live by!)
She notes, "I do care about cake. There really aren't any new ideas in baking; it's the same confectionary plot again and again, perhaps in different combinations. But everything I bake is a story worth retelling."
While the writing isn't as polished, another favorite is The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond. You may have heard of her through her award-winning web site or her Food Network TV show.
The book begins with an introduction to Ree, how she met her "Marlboro Man", and all the changes in her life now that she is married and raising four children. She went from being a foodie in an urban life to a country wife where eating out is an exception—and there is no pizza delivery. Luckily, she loves to cook.
Her cookbook has tons of photos so readers can see what the dishes look like at every step. This is especially helpful for inexperienced cooks.
What makes it even more accessible are the short introductions to the recipes—sometimes funny, sometimes personal, and sometimes encouraging in case they look daunting. In between the sections of recipes for Starters, In the Morning, Dinner, Supper, and Sweets are longer essays on the delights of motherhood, family life, gardening, ranching, horses, and dogs.
If you ever dreamed of getting away from it all, here is a glimpse of the life you might lead and the feast you can enjoy there.