by Caroline

The first cookbook I remember using as a kid is the square, green and pink Peanuts (as in the comic strip) cookbook, a batter-splattered copy of which I still keep on my kitchen bookshelf. It drew me in with its goofy cartoons, and the recipes led me to the kitchen. I made Lucy’s Lemon Squares so often that the pages stick together, and nothing beats a Red Baron Root Beer Float on a hot day.

At some point in my childhood, I decided to copy some of my favorite recipes into a notebook, and I have it still — a small, black, three-ring binder — with the recipes all carefully typed up: crazy cake, oatmeal cookies, granola (3 different versions, all my mom’s), baking powder biscuits, hot fudge sauce, chocolate waffles, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate crinkle cookies (you can see I haven’t really changed over the years). I use it still, since even though I make some of these things regularly, I don’t trust myself to cook even the most familiar food without the recipe open for occasional reference.

The first children’s cookbook I bought for my future children, when I was still a childless graduate student, was Marjorie Winslow’s Mudpies and Other Recipes. I had to search used bookstores to find this relic of my childhood (the original lived in my grandparents’ house, and I don’t know what’s become of it), but it’s worth tracking down for its charming line drawings, its fanciful recipes (like Dandelion Puffs) and its timeless and timely message: “What does matter is that you select the best ingredients available, set a fine table, and serve with style.”

The first cookbook I bought for my own kids was probably Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup, which is a terrific book for even the very youngest children because each recipe is offered in two versions: one all text, one all pictures. By the time I bought it, before Ben could even talk, he had started to demonstrate a real interest in cooking and cookbooks, and so the cookbooks started pouring in. Some make great early readers; the illustrations (whether line drawings or photographs) are always clear; the meaning is easy to deduce from the pictures; there are lots of numbers and steps and interesting formatting details.

By now, the boys have so many cookbooks I have lost count, and they enjoy reading them so much that the books don’t stay in the kitchen, but migrate from kitchen to bedroom to the car for reading on the way to and from school. When Ben and Eli first started sharing a bedroom, almost three years ago now, the cookbook du jour was Fanny at Chez Panisse, and Ben would read his little brother a recipe every evening; I can still hear Eli’s plaintive voice asking for “the story part, please, Ben, not the vinaigrette recipe.”

The current favorite cookbook, Vegetarian Sushi, is not one aimed at children at all, but Ben studies it carefully and when we have our weekly sushi nights, he pulls it out and makes pickled ginger roses to garnish our plates, and makes sure the sesame seeds and plastic wrap are handy so that he can make his an inside out roll:

Now, just like I did as a kid (and kind of like I’m doing with this blog) Ben is starting to transfer his favorite recipes from the various cookbooks he uses to his own binder. Recently he typed up his avocado roll recipe (really more a process):

He even, understanding the power of illustrations to draw one into a book, produced a helpful sushi chart:

Life has kept me too busy lately to do much interesting cooking, but I’ll continue to poach from both Ben’s and now Eli’s early cookbook efforts and share some more of their recipes, because learning your way around a cookbook is an important part of learning to eat.