a mixed platter of literary cookbooks for holiday gift giving

Elsa Beskow (Emily and Daisy, 2009)


It’s November and the holidays are upon us!

And guess what? I’ve FINISHED all my holiday shopping!!!

Stop screaming, I’m just kidding. ūüôā

I know this might be true for some of you super organized types out there. But alas, I’m not one of them. The problem with shopping is that when I start looking for things to give other people, I find a million things I want for myself.

Holiday shopping = Danger, Will Robinson.

Though I may be a teensy bit partial, to me the best gifts to give or receive are literary cookbooks, especially if they’re illustrated. You get the best of both worlds — good stories + tasty recipes. What better way to get families to read, cook, and eat together?

Today’s roundup includes books I’ve reviewed, several from my Wish List, and a few I’ll be featuring here in the near future — a mix of new + older titles. Hope you find something to your liking for the big or little people on your list. Sip your coffee or tea and enjoy!




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olivia walton’s applesauce cake

“Two¬†applesauce cakes were on display in the middle of¬†the kitchen table¬†when Clay-Boy walked in. He breathed in the spicy aroma appreciatively. Something had happened during¬†his absence. There was some quickening of excitement, a sense of Christmas rushing inexorably down upon them, but in spite of¬†the two¬†proud cakes, he knew that his¬†mother was not really prepared for the day.” ~ Earl¬†Hamner (The¬†Homecoming)

Miss Michael Learned earned 3 Emmy Awards for her role as Olivia Walton.

When I heard June 6th was National Applesauce Cake Day, the first person I thought of was Olivia Walton.

Though she and Grandma spend a lot of time in the kitchen serving up good old-fashioned country dishes like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, beef stew, fresh corn on the cob, scrambled eggs, bacon and heavenly peach pie, it is her applesauce cake that holds special favor. Whenever there is something to celebrate, Olivia makes an applesauce cake, and it seems to work wonders with anyone needing a good serving of down home comfort.

¬†“The Homecoming:¬†A¬†Christmas Story” aired in 1971.

In Earl Hamner’s¬†novel, The¬†Homecoming¬†(1970), upon which the series pilot is based, Olivia Spencer¬†makes two applesauce cakes for Christmas. She is apprehensive because her husband Clay, who’s been working in the city far from home, is late returning home on Christmas Eve. She tries to hide her worry from the children by asking them to help her crack black walnuts for the cakes.

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eat me, drink me

“One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth the¬†doing is what we do for others.” ~ Lewis Carroll

Late, late, late — don’t be late for this very important date!

Today is Lewis Carroll’s 179th birthday!

 by Sir John Tenniel (1865)

Don’t be surprised if you spot white rabbits carrying pocket watches¬†running hither and yon, an abundance of¬†hookah-smoking¬†caterpillars,¬†or spontaneous games of croquet involving flamingoes.

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blue plate special: when molly was a harvey girl by frances m. wood

“Molly sponged the spilled coffee. She took orders from the crew of¬†a night train bringing lumber over Raton Pass. She tried hard to stay awake. But at four in the morning,¬†when the baker arrived to¬†start his work, she was lulled into dreams by the odors of yeast, sugar¬†and fruit. She stood, leaning against the cup shelf, and saw pies, endless pies. Alice-in-Wonderland pies, dancing do-si-dos behind her shut eyelids.” (Chapter 6, When Molly Was a Harvey Girl).

Author Frances M. Wood (above) was inspired by her great-grandmother, Jennie, who became a Harvey Girl in 1887.

All aboard!

If you were traveling in the¬†Southwest¬†on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in the late 1880’s,¬†you’d probably stop to eat at a Harvey¬†House lunch room or restaurant.¬†You’d be mighty glad it was there — a spotless, efficiently-run establishment serving generous portions of delicious food at affordable prices.

Care for some warm cinnamon buns, a stack of orange pancakes, oatmeal with honey and a side of ham?¬†How about a sandwich (meatloaf, corned beef¬†or chicken salad), or¬†maybe you’re in the mood for¬†pork chops with gravy, a thick steak or hearty beef stew? Of course the coffee is always good —¬†big urns of freshly brewed, steamy hot coffee ready¬†to¬†perk you up after¬†those long¬†hours on the train.¬†For dessert? The pies here are cut in fourths.¬†Mm–mmmmm!

All Harvey Houses baked and hand sliced their own bread, which had to be 3/8″ thick.

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serving up ruth starke’s noodle pie

“Food seemed to trigger the strongest memories for his father. As he strolled around, his nose was constantly twitching in appreciation.” ~ from Noodle Pie by Ruth Starke

In Noodle Pie, East meets West: Vietnamese pho and Aussie meat pie (photos by LiY!n and Filor).

Who could resist a book called Noodle Pie?

Certainly not me. I’m so glad that in January 2010,¬†Kane Miller published an American edition of this funny, engaging, and yes, totally delicious middle grade novel by award-winning Australian author Ruth Starke.

It satisfied my cravings for a little armchair travel, colorful characters, a bounty of ethnic food and family togetherness. Moreover, it taught me a lot about Vietnamese culture as seen through the eyes of almost-twelve-year-old Andy Nguyen, who visits Hanoi with his father for the first time.


Andy is excited about his first plane ride, passport, and the chance to meet his dad’s side of the family. Growing up, he heard¬†stories about how his father¬†fled the country after the fall of Saigon and¬†settled in Australia. It is a poignant visit for his dad, who’s anxious to be reunited with his family,¬†but he’s beholden to them and¬†painfully aware of their high expectations.

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