4 Books of Food Essays for Happy Summer Reading

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Ah, the joys of summer. Aside from gorging on peaches and nectarines, you have some beach, lake or cabin time coming up, right? At the very least, there’ll be a plane ride or a few stolen hours in the sun where you can dig into a book.

Yes, you’ll want to take your trashy novel, but how about an anthology ? Anthologies are simply a collection of short stories. There’s no reason to think they’re academic or stuffy.

Plus, you don’t have to read the book from start to finish, because it’s a group of stories (although that’s what I do, because I don’t want to miss anything.) Just select the essays that appeal to you, and dip in and out whenever you want.

Here are four anthologies about food, for your perusal:

1. Through the Kitchen Window: Women Explore the Intimate Meanings of Food and Cooking

In 1997 I quit my job as an editor in chief and leapt into freelance food writing. My first gig was for a custom food magazine managed by Sunset. I got assignments for almost every issue, writing cover stories, how-to pieces about such subjects as hosting buffets and serving wine, and an advice column on making dishes with packaged ingredients.

What inspired me most about food writing, though, was the stories in Through the Kitchen Window, a book of essays I found in a used bookstore.

Here are powerful, affecting stories about who taught the writers to cook, how they learned, and the value of passed-down recipes. There are essays about family dynamics, class, race, and the place of women — all within the context of food. Famous authors Marge Piercy, Maya Angelou and Dorothy Allison contributed pieces, which amazes me still. But then there are tales that resonate from writers you may not recognize, about body image, hidden hungers, and families at the table. You will recognize yourself, your family, and your loved ones over and over again.

Kitchen Window has never lost its relevance for me. It’s a collection I still dip into over the years, and when I do, the strong writing provokes a range of emotions, everything from laughter to fear to a tear. But mostly, it’s a smile of satisfaction from a tale skillfully told.

(The link above is to a used version. There’s also a new edition, here, but it’s more expensive.)

2. The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat

Here’s the new kid on the block, where 29 clever essayists share their relationships to food within the family. These contributors are mostly screenwriters, freelancers, novelists, and memoirists. You probably haven’t heard of them, but no matter. You’ll relate to the content, which focuses on their love of good food at the family table.

Many are moms, so the anxiety of feeding children is a common theme. I loved the honesty and tenderness in many of the essays, particularly when trying to control what their children eat. If you are a parent, you will recognize yourself here.

As the editors say at the end of their introduction, “All our writers are saying one important thing: ‘This is what food means in our families.’ What does it mean in yours?”

3. Roots: Where Food Comes from and Where it Takes Us

I’d like to recommend this collection of blog posts from BlogHer, but it’s only available on Kindle and I don’t have one. Here’s Rita Arens, the anthology’s editor, on the process of selecting blog posts from BlogHer members. If you have a food blog, you might want to see what BlogHer has deemed as the best blog posts on the Internet.

4. Best Food Writing Anthologies

Have you read this annual collection of essays? If not, why not? They’re fun, inspiring, and show you what good food writing’s all about. Here’s a refresher about their content.

Happy summer reading!

(Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.)


  1. says

    Enjoy the sun Dianne – I’ll just pop another log on the fire here in Oz. It’s a wee bit nippy. And I love the Best Food Writing Anthologies.

    • diannejacob says

      I forgot about my Australian readers! Sorry about that, Amanda. You can remind me of the sun in six months. Enjoy those root vegetables.

  2. says

    I will definitely be immersing myself in a couple of these suggestions!
    After initiating The Canadian Food Experience Project (just after the Food Bloggers of Canada conference) I can see so much potential in so many of the contributors toward publishing a work identifying Canadian food in our kitchens from coast to coast. We have only completed two challenges and the learning that I have immersed myself in is immeasurable. The question “What is Canadian Food?” is being answered with sparking clarity.

    • diannejacob says

      Wonderful, Valerie. Thank you. Speaking as a Canadian, I have always wondered about the answer to that question. The most obvious answer seems to be French Canadian food. That an jubejubes.

  3. says

    Enjoy kicking back. Good list of reading material you have here.
    On a side note regarding Kindle….One can download a free app to your tablet, pc and phone… not sure if ipad is considered a “tablet”. If not, is it available in ibooks?

      • says

        Hi Diane, great list! You can download a free kindle app to any smartphone, tablet, including iPads, Mac or PC. Basically any device. I’m especially happy to chime in about ROOTS because I have an essay in it :) The variety of stories in it is wonderful, so I hope you get a chance to read it on any device you have.

  4. Eric says

    Excellent suggestions, thanks, Dianne! I have added each of these to my Amazon Wish List. As soon as I finish my current reading, they will be next in line.

  5. says

    Thanks for the list Dianne and I’ve just completed ordering a used copy of Through the Kitchen Window. I’m looking forward to great stories, skillfully told, embracing a range of emotions and providing inspiration, I sure need it after my recent Kitchen Redo!

    • diannejacob says

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Peggy. I feel a little bad recommending the used version but $36 is a little steep for a paperback. That’s what happens in academic publishing.

  6. La Torontoise says

    Dianne, have a great vacation time! Enjoy the sun!!
    I’m right now in the South of France – touring markets and cooking:-)
    I love anthologies!! I will check those recommendations out.

    • diannejacob says

      Sounds pretty good, almost better than reading by a pool in a chaise lounge. How lucky you are!

  7. says

    enjoy your peaches and nectarines Dianne! I have to agree those are my two favorite fruits and I live for this time of year when they’re locally grown and oh so sweet!
    Thanks for some good recommended summer reading, although I’m not a beach person I certainly love to read!

    • diannejacob says

      Me too. I might live for the season just prior too, when we get cherries and apricots. The apricots are still going at our farmer’s market, actually, and some are ripening on my kitchen counter. Hmm. I may have to step away from the computer…

  8. says

    Dianne-you have a knack for writing the best timely posts!

    Last week, I scoured my library stacks for a good summer read I could sink my teeth into and came up empty. (It’s a rather small library.) Instead, I cracked “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand-it was sitting on my bookshelf for over a year! While not as refreshing and light as a dip in the pool, or a juicy nectarine, and certainly not a food story, although come to think of it, the lack of food was a big part of the story, it’s an incredibly moving and compelling story about dignity, resilience and determination of the human soul.

    All of your suggestions will take me through the rest of summer! Thanks for the suggestions. I haven’t read ant of them. Why? Silly, but I just needed yo u to point me in the right direction! And I’ll be ready for a few, breezy reads after Unbroken.

    Thanks again.

    • diannejacob says

      Unbroken is an amazing book on so many levels, I agree. I was blown away by her skill as a narrative nonfiction storyteller. I particularly enjoyed reading about her process.

      And now for something lighter, Maureen! I wouldn’t call Through the Kitchen Window breezy, but you’ll enjoy it just the same.

  9. says

    What a great collection of best essays on food writing. These will take me beyond summer and I can’t wait to add them to my shelves. Thanks for putting these together and inspiring us to keep on writing. Cheers, Dianne!

  10. says

    A great list of suggested books. My favorite, now and when I first got it, is the “Best Food Writing Anthologies” This is a great resource on many levels.

    • diannejacob says

      Definitely. It’s a fun read and gives you an understanding of what kind of food writing succeeds and why.


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