One of the many wonderful things about Northern Manhattan is the small-town know-your-neighbor pace and the many tag sales that happen in backyards and alleys throughout the summer. Last month I stumbled upon a bounty of cookbooks! For just $2 each, I brought home a tumbling armload of cookbooks, food memoirs, and food histories, all in mint condition.
I’m particularly crazy about my copy of Arthur Schwartz‘s New York City Food. I’m no zeitgeist here—it won the IACP 2005 Cookbook of the Year—but this book deserves continued and constant praise. A self-proclaimed “opinionated history,” it contains food origin myths, lost recipes from New York landmarks, and a breathtaking survey of New York’s immigrant communities and their culinary contributions.
More than a fun coffee table book, it’s a well-researched reference guide that crosses the boundaries of food into a history of American cuisine and culture. Readers will learn about Delmonico’s, the very model of a civilized restaurant in early 19th century New York, and its legendary inventions: lobster newberg, baked Alaska and eggs benedict.
Schwartz recovers a lost recipe for cheese bread from Schraffts’s, the first restaurant to cater solely to women. (This is the first thing I’m baking once it’s cool enough to turn on the oven.) He also examines the journey of the ingredients crucial to Southern Italian cuisine, and their transformation into Italian-American cuisine.
The chapter titles include: The Jews, The Chinese, The Corner Bakery, and The New Immigrants. Schwartz’s voice is open, candid, certainly opinionated, yet incredibly reverent as he salivates love for the city and every soul who has contributed to its greatness. I get it. I feel the same way.