No-frills, tried and true, the comfortably expected—these are the hallmarks of classic American recipes, which are returning in force to cookbook lists across the industry. Is this a nostalgic trend? Or perhaps a response to so many high-end, chef-driven cookbooks?
Last season, Reader’s Digest published Tastes of Home Recipes Across America: 735 of the Best Reader Recipes from Across the Nation!, part of the house’ Taste of Home series. This month DK came out with The American Cookbook: A Fresh Take on Classic Recipes by Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and Caroline Bretherton.
In December Chronicle released Southern Casseroles: Comforting Pot-Lucky Dishes by Denisse Gee.
“Books like Southern Casseroles reconnect American cooks with the flavors and combinations that evoke the memories of our past,” says Lorena Jones, food and drink publisher for Chronicle. “Even as our palates expand globally, Americans love tradition and the known-quantity factor of familiar foods, although we are culturally programmed to believe there may always be a better version of a recipe than the last version we made.”
Speaking about another regional American cookbook, The New England Diner Cookbook: Classic and Creative Recipes from the Finest Roadside Eateries (March) by Mike Urban, Countryman editorial director Kermit Hummel says: “I think the allure of the classics is all related to the broader local food movement and to the recent trend of high end chefs doing staff food recipes. Much of what the food scene is about now seems to be capturing a much more personal relationship to food"
Be it a stop at a roadside diner, or a casserole at a pot luck dinner at a church or family reunion, there is a stamp of genuineness about the kinds of food served.
“The old diner thing now has that kind of authenticity going for it,” Hummel says. “It is what it is and isn't pretending to be otherwise.”
In April, Hearst Books will publish The Good Housekeeping Cookbook: 1,275 Recipes from America’s Favorite Test Kitchen (Sunday Dinner Collector’s Edition). Even the book jacket, with its Norman Rockwell painting, evokes the early 20th century feeling of a traditional American family dinner.
“There are several things at play: nostalgia for food like mom used to make,” says Jacqueline Deval, v-p and publisher of Hearst Books. “Our familiarity with old family favorites is a big part of family memories, of our personal heritage—and the book speaks directly to this idea: that families want to get back to having meals together.”
Finally, Andrews McMeel actually went back to Americana archives and came back with reissued collections of recipes and household hints such as The American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection: The New England Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book by Esther A. Howland, and The American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection: How To Mix Drinks (or, The Bon-Vivant’s Companion) by Jerry Thomas.
“People love American history – in movies, on television and in books,” says Kirsty Melville, president and publisher of Andrews McMeel. “The allure, even in a world of immersion blenders, special diets, and restaurant dining, is to collect and preserve those records and recipes that document the early American cooking experience.“