Lost Art of Cookbooking

bookshelf (1)At last count (which was about 10 minutes ago), I had 51 cookbooks. Out of those 51 cookbooks, I likely haven’t prepared a single recipe from, hmmm, probably three-fourths of them. Out of the ones from which I have cooked, I have probably only made one recipe out of all but three or four.

That leaves about 35 cookbooks that do nothing in the way of helping me prepare dinner. And only three or four that have been more than simply thumbed through.

And that’s nothing. At one point I had two bookshelves – each with two shelves – completely full of cookbooks.  Book stacked on top of one another. Books overflowing with handwritten recipes stuffed inside. One day I simply couldn’t look at the mess any longer. I was  brutal in determining whether the cookbook stayed or went to Goodwill where perhaps it would get a new home in which the cook-of-the-house would pay it some attention. Adopt-a-book.

Needless to say, I love cookbooks. I thoroughly enjoy reading recipes – even recipes for food I would never make. I particularly like cookbooks that have stories that go along with the recipes. I kept some good examples of those types of cookbooks.

I regularly comtemplate the notion of my compulsive cookbook purchasing. Recently, while still in Arizona, I began wondering if others share my love of cookbooks. I started asking my nieces and nephews the names of their favorite cookbook.

“Excuse me?” they all asked. “Favorite what?”

That’s when it became clear to me that no one uses cookbooks any longer. And if I’m being honest, including me. If I need to know how to make something, I go to the internet, just like everyone else.

A couple of my nieces told me they cut recipes out of magazines or print out recipes that they find online and keep them in a notebook. All of them use Pinterest. But no cookbooks.

I asked Bec if she had a favorite cookbook. She admitted that since she had moved so frequently – most recently from northern Virginia to Phoenix – she didn’t hang on to a lot of cookbooks. But she recalled that when she was first married, she used a Cooking for Two cookbook a great deal. I’m guessing it was  published by Betty Crocker and she probably received it as a wedding gift. All of we Baby Boomers had cookbooks published by Betty Crocker. The big Betty Crocker Cookbook is still my go-to cookbook for everyday cooking. I pull it out every single time I make homemade pancakes or biscuits-from-scratch.

Jen told me her most-used cookbook is one of Lidia Bastianich’s Italian cookbooks. I will be reviewing Lidia’s newest cookbook on Friday. I have every single one of Lidia’s cookbooks. I use some more than others. My Lidia Bastianich Italian American Cookbook is one that I still frequently use. There are red sauce or olive oil stains on many of the pages. That is the sign of a good cookbook.

This week my plan is to blow off the dust from four different cookbooks and prepare a meal from each. Some I will not have tried before; others are part of my existing repertoire.

The first cookbook I pulled off the shelf is called Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, searchby Martha Hall Foose. It is one of my favorite cookbooks, though I haven’t prepared a single recipe from it until last night, when I made Country Fried Steak and Gravy. Along with each deliciously southern recipe, Foose gives a story about the recipe’s origin or a family memory relating to the recipe. Though I grew up in the Midwest as opposed to the South, the small-town experiences she describes are nearly identical.

In fact, the name itself is the reason I bought the cookbook. To this day I am a big fan of screen doors. I vividly remember our back door being open all summer long during my youth. In the evening, we would hear the June bugs hitting the screen as they flew towards the light in the kitchen. Ewwwww. The sound of a wooden screen door slamming – thump….thump,thump – is etched in my mind and reminds me of summer.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?

Country-Fried Steak,courtesy Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, by Martha Hall Foose


1-1/2 lb. beef round steak, tenderized and cut into 4-inch pieces about ¼ inch thick

1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1 t. baking powder

1 large egg

Vegetable oil for frying

1 small onion, thinly sliced

¼ c. cake flour

2 c. whole milk

Hot pepper sauce


Pat the steak dry. In a bag, combine the all-purpose flour with 1 t. salt, 1 t. pepper, the cayenne, and baking powder. Add the steak pieces one at a time and shake in the flour to coat. Set the coated steak aside.

In a small dish, beat the egg with 2 T. water. Dip each flour-coated steak piece in the egg wash and then shake in the bag with the flour again to coat well. Set the steak on a rack for about 15 minutes to dry slightly and to help the coating adhere.

Set a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with newspaper or paper towels. In a 10-inch skillet, heat ¼ in o oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Place Country Fried Steakthe steak pieces in the skillet and cook until the sides begin to turn golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Carefully6 turn and rearrange the meat, cooking until no juices are running out and the crust is a deep brown, about 4 minutes. Set the steaks to drain on the wire rack.

Pour all but ¼ c. of drippings out of the skillet. If there is not enough oil left in the skillet, add enough to make ¼ cup. Add the onion. Heat the skillet over medium heat and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle the cake flour evenly over the hot oil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly brown. Slowly stir in the milk until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Return the fried steak pieces to the skillet with the gravy and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nana’s Notes: I used top round that I pounded with a tenderizing hammer. Next time I would buy cube steaks. They are already tenderized and are thinner. The round steak is plain and simply kind of tough, and it really needs to be no thicker than a quarter of an inch. With that change, this recipe was a winner.

Buy Screen Doors and Sweet Tea from Amazon here

Buy Screen Doors and Sweet Tea from Barnes and Noble here



5 thoughts on “Lost Art of Cookbooking

  1. I love to read cookbooks. The first homemade gravy I ever made was for Chicken Fried Steak from Taste of Home magazine. Your recipe sounds excellent. I bet I haven’t cooked a Chicken Fried Steak for 15 years!

  2. My favorite cookbook is the Mitford Cookbook and Kitchen Reader. It’s so pretty and well, it’s Mitford! I’ve liked everything I’ve tried though I stick with the easy stuff. Standby family recipes are my favorite but for new, it’s recipes from favorite blogs.

    • I have that cookbook also, and really like it. I haven’t really cooked from it, however. Jen makes Fr. Tim’s beef tenderloin every Christmas. Yum. I’m very excited that Karon has a new book coming out. I can’t wait!

  3. Well, now I’m ready for chicken fried steak! Your post this morning confirmed that I was on the right track when I made cookbooks for my daughters of some of our favorites. Included was a story about how this recipe came about and any family memories it brought to mind.
    My favorite cookbook is one I purchased from an Extension club in the 1960’s. love your blog, Kris!

    • Aren’t those cookbooks some of the best? I still have (it made the cut) a cookbook that I bought when I still lived in Nebraska put together by 4H. Good job with the cookbooks for your daughters!

Comments are closed.