Summer is the season for great fresh food. It’s also the season for relaxing reading. Whatever your pleasure – catching up on bestsellers, guilty forays into “beach reads”, detective exploits, or the classics – this is the season when you can have a guilt-free sit-down with an engrossing book.
There are plenty of books where talented authors delve into unexplored corners of the food world and bring us well-told stories covering history and lore along with the the tales of people who grow, harvest, or make our food. Here are a few of my favorites for your summer book list.
Right now, my scruffy lawn is covered in white clover flowers hosting honey bees who flit from bloom to bloom. I know what’s going on thanks to Holley Bishop and her delightful book, Robbing the Bees. Bishop wrote this biography of bees after getting the beekeeping bug and moving with her hives from the city to Connecticut.
The book is memorably written – filled with steamy sex, beekeeping lore, and honey history. Bishop joins a hard-working professional beekeeper as he works his hives, tends to her own bees, explores the history and folklore of beekeeping, and shows the essential role of bees in modern agriculture.
The complex social structure inside the hive is made clear and the hierarchy of bees is sorted out. Bishop follows Donald Smiley in the Florida panhandle as his bees make honey from both cultivated and wild blossoms. She also digs into the ancient history of beekeeping with sources from pre-historic cave art, ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman civilization, medieval monks, 18th century naturalists, and modern day scientists.
Oh! And the honey is good, too! Honey was a household essential in all of recorded history. Once the only source of sweetness, honey was also used for food preservation, medication, and as a form of currency. These days, hives – as common in kitchens then as refrigerators are now – have been replaced by industrial granulated sugar.
The steamy sex, by the way, takes place in the humid Florida panhandle and involves bees and watermelons. ‘Nuf said.
Have you ever been enthralled by the food, cooking, or eating in a book? In the course of their journey across the pages, most characters in fiction manage to eat, drink, consider their favorite foods, or cook a delicious meal. Cara Nicoletti indulges this fantasy in Voracious as she cooks her way through her favorite books.
Nicoletti loves to read, loves to cook, and loves to eat – a winning combination. Her favorite books suggest recipes and inspire cooking projects. A sampling of the chapter headings organized by Childhood, College Years, and Adulthood will give you the idea: Little House in the Big Woods Breakfast Sausage; Moby Dick Clam Chowder; and Gone Girl Brown Butter Crepes.
She includes more than 50 titles across a broad literary spectrum. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on hand and dip into from time to time.
In Cheddar, A Journey to the Heart of America’s Most Iconic Cheese, Gordon Edgar tells the story of the always popular cheddar. A cheese monger at a hippie food co-op in San Francisco, he’s a fan of American craft cheeses and cheese makers and wants to bring the rest of us under the tent.
There is good history of cheddar here – from its arrival with English settlers to the new world, to factory production and mass marketing, to its return to the farms for artisanal farmstead cheddar. The emphasis is on Wisconsin (I learned a lot about Wisconsin cheese), Vermont, and California. There’s tons of information and cheese lore here. I love my Cabot cheddar, but after this book I had to run up to the Fairfield Cheese Company to get some small production farmstead cloth-bound cheddar in the old style. It was worth the trip.
Want a few more suggestions? Pick up New England Pie, History under a crust . I discussed this book back in March (FranksFeast.com) and it remains one of my favorites. Read the whole thing if you haven’t already or just go back and review the chapters on summer pies.
If you want a true summer beach read – light, fluffy and crisp as a meringue – get anything by Peter Mayle set in France – fiction or nonfiction. You’ll be immersed in the food and wine of the slower-paced Mediterranean culture.
A measure of a successful summer for me is the number of books I’ve enjoyed. Try these, let me know if you like them, and feel free to pass along any of your favorites!
You can reach Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org