A July 4th Cookbook, Culinaria: The United States

Categories: Cookbooks
Lee Klein
This is the first of what will be an ongoing series that looks at interesting cookbooks. Some will be new and familiar, chosen because we think they're really good. Others will be highlighted as a means of introducing you to cookbooks you might not know about -- due to being old or quirky or whatever. Or maybe you won't know them because the cookbooks are old or quirky or whatever. Whatever.

Each column will include photos and a recipe. I have about 150 cookbooks, which, along with the other Short Order blogger collections, should keep this thing running awhile.

Independence Day is a celebration of the various freedoms that come with being American. In our hearts, we know the importance of this acknowledgment, even if it gets expressed by way of food and frivolity. That's part of the point: We're free to celebrate our independence any damn way we please.

Culinaria: The United States (A Culinary Discovery), is also a celebration of being American and is likewise told through food -- as well as a whole lot of photos and recipes from every region of the country: 500 pages' worth, to be precise. Production values are stunning, and it serves as a surprisingly astute study of the various American cultures, subcultures, and ethnicities.

The book takes readers to a New England clambake, Louisiana crawfish feed, Hawaiian luau, and so forth. It includes looks at "farmers, fishermen, cheese makers, bakers, lunch counter cooks, and pizza chefs." It is a gorgeous coffee-table portrait of America's eats, divided into 13 geographical regions. Miami is represented via Cuban food and Joe's Stone Crab.

Culinaria has a whole series of these giant cookbooks covering various areas and countries of the world -- China, India, Russia, etc. (I have the European Specialties edition, which is terrific too.) Each book costs a lot (no price is printed), but here's the deal: Book-selling chains such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as Costco too, always seem to have them on sale (or at least they were some years ago). Often the price is cut from $75 or $50 to $25. My wife and I once came across them for $14 apiece and bought a whole bunch to give as presents. They make great gifts.

We even lugged a couple overseas and across Europe to give to friends. God, how stupid was that? I mean, the recipients were more than thrilled -- what better gift can an American bring to represent his/her country? But, as I told my wife at the time, I'm pretty sure they would've also been very happy to receive mini-bottles of good old American Jack Daniel's. I think I might be getting off-message here.

The book I have is from 1998. The original publishers, Konemann, stopped printing the series a few years later and sold the company to Ullmann Publishers in 2007. Word is that the books were restarted after that.

Summary: Cool book, fantastic photos, very American, make certain to get it on sale, great for showing off or giving as a present, but do not put it in your backpack and carry it across  continents.

Later today: From Culinaria, a couple of July 4th-worthy recipes: Texas barbecue brisket (dry rub), and barbecue ribs from Sylvia's of Harlem.

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