18 Great food books

There are about 214,000 food books on Amazon alone. So how do you sort the gems from the mediocrity? This list is a good place to start.

We love the fact that you come to P&G and read everything we write (or at least that you have found this one article) but we are of course aware that there are other sources of food writing in the world and some of them are really rather good. The only problem is that there are also a massive number that are distinctly average.

Everybody has favourites and a decent recommendation is always a good place to start, so here is a little handpicked list of a few books that I think will make a great addition to anybody’s culinary library.

Despite the fact that I love old cookery books I realise that they are tricky to get your hands on, so I have only included books that are currently in publication and are easily available in the list.

They are in absolutely no order at all, and cover a bit of everything from recipes to trade wars and evolution.

The list – 18 great food books

Catching fireCatching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
by Richard Wrangham

Not the lightest read, and liable to piss off anybody who doesn’t believe in evolution (I’m looking at you Ben Carson), but a bloody marvellous book!

Primatologist Richard Wrangham presents the theory that much of our evolutionary success is the result of cooking. Some of his logic and the evidence he presents is pretty difficult to argue with or easily dismiss.

Secret ingredientsSecret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink
by David Remnick

This book is great, but I haven’t actually read it.

That is because I have the audiobook, which is simply wonderful. Almost 25 hours of some of the best food writing from the extensive archive of The New Yorker, all brilliantly narrated. It’s fascinating from a historical point of view and can’t fail to make you hungry.

CodCod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
By Mark Kurlansky

You might not believe it but you actually can make a whole book about a fish interesting, really, really interesting!

The history of cod covers 1000 years and four continents. Wars, revolutions, and most importantly the human capacity for and tendency towards greed.

As they wereAs They Were
by M. F. K. Fisher

This is the perfect place to start if you are new to the wonderful world of M.F.K. Fisher. It’s a great collection of autobiographical essays by the much loved author, all told with her own unique voice.

If you aren’t familiar with M.F.K. then you could do a lot worse than checking out Cari’s article on her: How to adore M.F.K. Fisher

British regional foodBritish Regional Food: A cook’s tour of the best produce in Britain and Ireland with traditional and original recipes
By Mark Hix

Ridiculously long title aside, this is a wonderful book.

Yes, Britain does have great food, even if the majority of it’s citizens ignore the fact and go to Tesco – Mark Hix reminds us how it should be.

Food for freeFood for Free
By Richard Mabey

If there were an industry standard text for foragers, then this would be it. Stick a copy in your pocket and go for a wander in the great outdoors.

Richard Mabey explains concisely but clearly how to find loads of things you didn’t know you were looking and/or that you didn’t know you could eat.

Garlic and sapphiresGarlic And Sapphires
By Ruth Reichl

What do you do when you are the food critic of the New York Times, every kitchen in the city has your picture on the wall but you want to write real reviews without getting preferential treatment?

For Ruth Reichl the answer is to use a range of different personas and elaborate disguises.

Fantastically written and fast moving, this book will make you laugh and make you hungry in equal measures

In defense of foodIn Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto
by Michael Pollan

The entire book is easily summed up in one simple sentence: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

All that Michael Pollen is really doing in this book is setting out everything we should already know about eating, but seem not to. It’s a timely reminder of why we should be eating ‘food’ as opposed to highly processed stuff that would be unrecognisable to anyone from a few generations ago.

Made in ItalyMade in Italy: Food and Stories
by Giorgio Locatelli

Giorgio Locatelli is a man whose passion for food and especially great ingredients comes pouring out of every page of this masterpiece. It is among the best books on Italian cuisine that you are ever likely to pick up.

One of those beautiful food books that you just love to touch and salivate over. The recipes are authentic and beautiful in their simplicity.

My life in FranceMy Life in France
by Julia Child

Not a gastronomic commentary, and certainly not a recipe book. This is quite simply an autobiography of a woman who loved to eat.

If you haven’t read anything by Julia Child then you have missed out, if you love food then it would be almost impossible not to love her writing. For a little intro, see my previous article with some of my favourite Julia quotes: Julia Child Quotes

Big red book of tomatoesThe Big Red Book of Tomatoes
By Lindsey Bareham

As the title suggests, it is a big (well, medium sized) book about nothing other than tomatoes. The tomato is a massively versatile thing and Lindsey shares over 400 brilliant recipes using the little red fruit.

The one straw revolutionThe One-Straw Revolution
By Masanobu Fukuoka

I’m not much of a gardener or farmer, we managed to grow some chillis and garlic last year but that is about it.

Strange then that I have included a book about farming on this list, but this isn’t just any old book about farming. Masanobu Fukuoka has a clear and simple view which forms the bases of this book, it is that ‘people mess up nature’. All of our modern farming practises including those that are seen as good practises are only needed because we have messed up the way that nature thrives on its own.

Real food from near and farMy Kitchen: Real Food from Near and Far
By Stevie Parle

Stevie Parle is someone who isn’t nearly as well known as he probably should be. This was his first book, and it is packed with great recipes from this talented chef who writes about food beautifully.

The lost art of real cookingThe Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time
By Ken Albala, Rosanna Nafziger

The title says it all really, a historian and a recipe tester revisit traditional recipes and techniques and do things the old fashioned and slow way. It’s not always easy and rarely quick but the results are massively rewarding.

If you have an issue with the phrase “scrape off the layer of mould that forms” then this book isn’t for you. If you are interested in smoking and drying your own meat and fish, fermenting and growing various different cultures then it definitely is!

Vefa's kitchenVefa’s Kitchen
by Vefa Alexiadou

There isn’t much that I need to write about this book. Put simply, if you could only own one book about Greek cookery then this should be it.

It’s huge, extensive, authentic, and generally just a lovely book to be around.

What we eat aloneWhat We Eat When We Eat Alone
By Deborah Madison, Patrick McFarlin

The voyeur in me loves this book, it is a look into the private lives of other people, what goes on in their kitchens and what they choose to eat when they are alone and don’t have to cater to societal conventions or the taste of other people.

Deborah Madison meets all sorts of eccentric characters and discovers both brilliant and slightly less brilliant recipes, the stories behind them and some favourite foods that probably were better left unshared.

The Oxford companion to foodThe Oxford Companion to Food
By Alan Davidson

This book is not the place to search for a recipe, it’s much more of an encyclopedia. Everything you need to know about individual ingredients, cooking techniques and how they are used by different cultures. Think Larousse but run through with passion and humour.

I challenge anyone with a healthy interest in the history of food or ingredients to open any random page in this book and not lose hours.

White heatWhite Heat
by Marco Pierre White

Long before selling his soul to a stock cube brand and taking part in many dubious TV productions, there was Marco the brilliant chef, the youngest chef ever to hold three Michelin stars, and that Marco wrote a book…

Published in 1990 Marco Pierre White’s first cookbook ‘White Heat’ was massively influential and quite simply brilliant. Many prominent chefs who followed have described it as possibly the most important cookbook of modern times, and I think it is hard to disagree.

It’s a great read, partially due to the brutal honesty that runs through White Heat, even from the opening sentence “You’re buying ‘White Heat’ because you want to cook well? Because you want to cook Michelin stars? Forget it. Save your money. Go and buy a saucepan.”

If you have any recommendations of your own then let us know in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “18 Great food books

  • December 6, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    Where do you get the audiobook version of secret ingredients from?

    • December 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Hi Gayle,
      I got it from Audible, here’s a link: Secret Ingredients on Audible
      If you have never used Audible before I’m fairly sure they still have a trial so that the first book you download is free.


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