“I was thirty-nine when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate.” So said Julia Child. It’s one of the joyous gourmande’s eminently quotable pronouncements collected in “People Who Love to Eat Are Always the Best People” (Knopf, 147 pages, $18.95), a delightful treat sure to be gobbled up by foodies on your gift list.
Most women, of course, start cooking much earlier. Women have long run home kitchens—and cooking schools. But until recently professional kitchens were largely the domain of men. This has been changing, in part thanks to Child, whose television stardom ushered in an age of food personalities, many of them women. And that’s led to a bounty of books about female chefs and food influencers.
“Women in the Kitchen”(Scribner, 305 pages, $28), by Anne Willan, the James Beard Award-winning writer and founder of La Varenne Cooking School, is an edifying survey of 12 women whose groundbreaking cookbooks span some 350 years. Ms. Willan enriches her social history with a few of each woman’s most tempting recipes.
Ms. Willan reaches back in time to some forgotten trailblazers, including Hannah Glasse, whose “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy” (1747) featured a neither plain nor easy Yorkshire Christmas Pie, a precursor of Paul Prudhomme’s turducken. Glasse’s elaborate recipe—not included here—involved boning various birds (turkey, goose, chicken, partridge, squab) and stuffing one inside the other before encasing the lot in a sturdy piecrust.
Fannie Farmer’s name is still in circulation, as is her “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book” (later renamed for her), which has remained in print since 1896. We have Farmer, the Great Leveler, to thank for the innovation of leveling the contents of measuring cups with a knife. Irma Rombauer’s encyclopedic “The Joy of Cooking” has also endured. Less well known is its heartbreaking origin: Rombauer lost her husband to suicide following the Wall Street crash of 1929, and wrote her cookbook instead of seeking a job.