Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s favorite cookbooks

PCathy Barrowopular blogger Cathy Barrow created Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen in 2009, focusing on food preservation and maintaining her “practical pantry.” The blog really took off in 2011 when she co-created Charcutepalooza, a celebration of the art of charcuterie. Since then, Barrow has been busy blogging and writing her first cookbook, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, in bookstores now. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy.) She talked with EYB about her love of cookbooks, and which ones influenced her the most:


When I moved to my first apartment, my mother gave me three cookbooks: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Joy of Cooking, and Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook. Her choices were no surprise. MtAoFC, because, throughout my childhood, she and I spent weekends cooking together, working our way through Julia’s recipes, egged on by the PBS show we watched with rapt attention. As a young girl, my babysitter and I made referred to JoC when we made all sorts of cookies, cakes and candies. And the NYT cookbook? There was a killer Caesar salad recipe. Obviously, these were the only cookbooks I would need to start my life.

As if.

Over the years, I added hundreds of books to my library, but if I were to select only a dozen to keep me company on a desert island, while those three might be the first in my bag, I need to gather a few more to make me happy. After all, cookbooks are my friends, my allies, my inspiration. Cooking from them provided my culinary education.

The Taste of Country Cooking. Edna Lewis is warm and engaging. I want nothing more than to sit at her kitchen table with a slice of pound cake in front of me. To this day, I have never found a better pound cake recipe. Read this book for the friendly prose and cook from it to taste true Southern cooking.

The Classic Italian Cookbook. When this book, Marcella Hazan’s first, was published, I cooked every recipe in it. I was beginning to host dinner parties and this was my guide; the food pairings at the end of each recipe became the roadmap for the menus. Once, I made crespelle and my date suggested it was a frozen Stouffers’ dinner. I dumped him.

Marion Cunningham wrote The Breakfast Book in 1987. I didn’t pick it up until sometime in the late 90s, a used edition with dog-eared pages marking a former family’s fondness for granola bread and buttermilk pancakes. I have never found a better book for breakfast foods.

A friend gave me Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts and I set off on a baking adventure, making tortes, roulades and meringue mushrooms, presenting complex, deeply satisfying finales to dinner parties.

Mollie Katzen’s The Moosewood Cookbook (purchased at the original Moosewood Café in Ithaca) helped me expand my vegetarian cooking skills. Mollie taught me that pies could be savory, and that soup could be dinner.

Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico taught me about international grocery stores. I learned to search out little known ingredients, shop in the smallest, least likely places in neighborhoods previously unknown. With her help, I made mole for days, offered guests homemade salsa years before it was common, and got a reputation for being an adventurous cook.

Amanda Hesser wrote the Cooking for Mr. Latte column in the New York Times magazine on Sundays and all of my friends and I waited each week for the next installment. As much as I love the memoir that emerged from those columns and the approachable recipes within, it was her book, The Cook and the Gardener, that spoke to me. I am, after all, both cook and gardener and the seasonal rhythm is something I support wholeheartedly.

While recovering from foot surgery and unable to cook, a friend gave me Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. I read it carefully and obsessively and when I was able to work in the kitchen again, I made chicken after chicken until I learned the secret to perfectly roasting a bird. I sharpened my chef’s knife and cut onions until I cried to create an intense onion soup. Reading and cooking the recipes in this book was a remarkable education. I honed my skills and educated my palate.

April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig shook me up. It’s got crazy good ideas that are simple, pantry friendly and exciting versions of comforting fare. The coddled egg with anchovy stunned me – I made it three times in two days – and every other recipe I’ve tried has rocked my world.

The fact remains: I keep adding books to this list. Ask me next year, and there will be another one (or two) that must be included.

What books would you want with you?


Photo by Christopher Hirsheimer

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