Photo Gallery | Cookbook club at Stockbridge Library
Have you ever picked up a cookbook and wondered if the recipes were worth trying?
Barbara Allen can tell you that the One-Ingredient Sweet Potato Caramel Sauce from the "FOOD52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes that will Change the Way you Cook," is not.
"No sauce is worth peeling and chopping three pounds of sweet potatoes," said Allen to a group of women sharing a potluck meal, of sorts, at the Stockbridge Library's monthly cookbook club. Her "saga" of pushing mushy sweet potatoes through a cheese cloth, per the instructions of Brad Leone's recipe in this month's chosen cookbook, led her to explain how she ended up abandoning the recipe the night before the meeting and making the Chocolate Mousse, which the women happily scooped up over a vanilla ice cream.
They can't all be winning dishes at the cookbook club, but that's part of the fun. Library Director Katie O'Neil decided to start the monthly meeting after reading about the idea in a national librarian publication.
"I thought, 'What a great idea,'" O'Neil said. "We have a lot of people who like to cook in our community and the cookbook we choose to highlight each month comes from our collection."
How it works: Every month, O'Neil picks a cookbook from the library collection to feature. The book is left at the front desk, where anyone can ask to see it. While the cookbook can't be checked out, those wishing to participate can browse it, choose a recipe and then make a copy of it. The cook must then mark on the page with a post-it note that he or she will be making that dish in order to avoid duplicates. Then, on the designated day, each person brings their dish to share with the group and talk about how they made it, what they thought about the recipe and if they would do anything differently.
During the October gathering, the table was covered with an appropriately chosen tablecloth — picturing rows of colorful books — and small decorative pumpkins. A lightly dressed kale and butternut salad sat next to pasta with an eggplant puree and spiced braised lentils and tomatoes with toasted coconut.
"Does everyone know each other?" asked O'Neil, while passing out plates and utensils provided by the library.
"I love to cook and eat and talk about cooking," said Marilou Hyson, of Stockbridge, who is helping O'Neil coordinate the monthly meet up. She brought the lentils because she likes the often-forgotten bean, but wanted to try something different with them.
Crossing over into the kitchen is an experiment that's paying off for local libraries. According to a 2015 materials survey by the Library Journal, cooking reigns as the top nonfiction print material in circulation at public libraries nationwide. It's also a top five nonfiction circulator in ebook format.
At the Manchester Community Library in Vermont, a monthly cookbook discussion group, which began in April, is getting positive feedback from community members.
"People absolutely love it," said Cindy Waters, adult services librarian and programming coordinator. "Attendance has been remarkable."
Unlike the Stockbridge Library's club, there are no cooking requirements to join the discussion, according to Lily Van Haverbeke, a volunteer at the library who facilitates the gathering.
"We discuss cookbooks, as well as general cooking topics," said Van Haverbeke. "Most of the people in the group love to cook, it's the thing we all have common. We could probably talk all afternoon about cooking."
About 15 to 20 people gather at the library, where they share cooking tips and sometimes bring a question for the group and small tastings.
"So many people are interested in food and cooking — what they can do themselves at home," she said. "We all want to keep our skills up to date and have a conversation with like-minded people and expand our cooking knowledge and skills. And it's just fun."
Courtesy of Shirley Corriher in "FOOD52 Genius Recipes"
Maria Carr, of Stockbridge, made these extremely moist and delicious biscuits for the October cookbook club meeting. This recipe was a favorite among many of the participants. In order to combat a dense biscuit, this recipe calls for what Carr describes as a "wet mess" consistency of the biscuit batter. Her tips included adding the buttermilk slowly, until the batter looked like cottage cheese and to trust that it will turn out great.
"You have to keep an open mind to know it's going to work," she said of the recipe.
Butter for greasing or nonstick cooking spray
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup shortening
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk, or enough for dough to resemble cottage cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour, for shaping
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and arrange a shelf slightly below the center of the oven. Butter an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir together self-rising flour, sugar and salt. Work the shortening in with your fingers until there are no large lumps. Gently stir in the cream, then some of the buttermilk, until dough resembles cottage cheese. Spread the plain all-purpose flour out on a plate. With a medium ice cream scoop or spoon, place three or four scoops of dough well apart in the flour. Sprinkle flour over each. Flour your hands. Turn a dough ball in the flour to coat, pick it up, and gently shape it into a round, shaking off the excess flour as you work. Place this biscuit in the prepared pan. Coat each dough ball in the same way and place each one scrunched up against each other. Bake until lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Brush with the melted butter. Invert onto one plate, then back onto another.
What to join in the cookbook fun? Here are upcoming events and ideas:
Stockbridge Library Cookbook Club: Begins at noon, Thursday, Nov. 3. Stop by the library any time to see what the next featured cookbook is and pick a recipe. Free and open to the public. For more information, visit stockbridgelibrary.org or call 413-298-5501
Manchester Community Library Cookbook Discussion Group: 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18. Free and open to the public.
Host your own: Gather a few of your friends who know their way around the kitchen (or want to learn!) and pick a cookbook you can all agree on. Make sure there are no duplicate dishes being made. Encourage your friends to make things that can be easily transported and reheated. Share a meal together and some recipe tips. Bonus: Supply to-go boxes so your guests can take leftovers home.