Customer Reviews: James Beard's American Cookery
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While reading this James Beard classic, I was amazed at how many recipes truly have become our favorite foods in America. I have been making some recipes for years without even considering that all along, James Beard could have in fact brought them to our awareness. It is equally amazing how many of these recipes made their way over to Africa.

My grandmother purchased one of the first copies and I now have the pleasure of owning it. This truly is a cookbook you will want to read over time. Reading the entire cookbook could be quite daunting were the recipes and notes not so delightful to read!

Each chapter begins with a note from James Beard and continues in a sort of cook's diary style with many recipes on one page. You will find recipes for cocktail food, salads, soups, eggs, cheese, fish, shellfish, poultry, game, beef, veal, lamb, pork, ham, bacon, sauces, vegetables, grains, pasta, beans, lentils, pies, pastries, cakes, cookies, puddings, ice cream, dessert sauces, fruit, bread, sandwiches, pickles, preserves and candy.

If you didn't grow up in America, you will find this cookbook all the more fascinating. You can literally read this cookbook like a novel. I found it fun to sit outside and just start reading it from the beginning, skipping over recipes I didn't find interesting and being amazed at how many recipes I was familiar with and had actually made at some point in my life.

A recipe will often start just so casually, you forget you are reading a cookbook, then suddenly you are reading the instructions and the recipe ingredients are listed on the right or left. This is written in a very personal style and you can truly hear the voice of James Beard in his writing.

If you read a few pages of this book a day, you will find that within a year, you will know so much more about cooking. I also think it is handy to have to look up various aspects of cooking. I can hardly do this book justice by reviewing it, you just have to see it to believe it! I did especially enjoy reading about the 1-2-3-4 cake and finding a recipe for Crullers. I had lost my recipe quite a while back and didn't know where to find another one. You will also enjoy finding many recipes using saffron.

I can almost bet my cooking teacher in high school had this book on her shelf, it does look a bit familiar now that I look at it closely. It is also incredible how much cooking has changed in 20 years, and how much it has stayed the same.

~The Rebecca Review
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on March 11, 2000
I purchased my first copy of this book when it was first published in 1980. After 20 years, and much use, it has fallen apart and I'm ordering a new one. It is one of the most useful cookbooks in my library of over 100 books on cookery and I turn to it every week for a "new" idea - 20 years later, Mr. Beard's cuisine is ageless.
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on October 29, 1999
My copy was just delivered this morning. What an absolute blast to read this book. Mr. Beard's commentaries are not only insightful, but often downright funny!
When writing about eating oysters on the half-shell, he advises, "If you do not like the natural flavor of oysters and find that you must cover them with quantities of red cocktail sauce (which he refers to earlier in the chapter as 'the red mennace'), then perhaps you should not be eating them."
Maybe it's just me, but I find the free injection of personal taste/opinion refreshing.
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I'm reluctant to praise the memory of James Beard for producing this excellent cookbook, as it is well known that he employed ghost writers and assistants, including Marian Cunningham and Barbara Kafka, who have since gained promenance in their own right as cookbook authors. Even such a Beard fan as Jeremiah Tower states that there may be very few of his books which he actually wrote himself. That being said, let me state that this is an excellent general purpose cookbook which should be on every American cook's shelf even in preference to some newer, trendier titles.
There are two things which most clearly distinguish this volume. The first is that many of the recipes and supplementary text in this volume are superior to Beard's (sic) presentation of the same recipe in his other titles, even when the other titles specialize in a particular ingredient or method. I find, for example, his chicken recipes much more detailed in the general book than in the volume `Beard on Birds'. The second reason for having this book is that a very large number of the recipes are relatively simple to prepare using very easily acquired ingredients. There are hunderds of recipes which can be prepared cheaply and, with a little searching, there are hundreds of recipes which can be prepared quickly. James Beard was very `old school'.
One word of warning is necessary. While Beard is not as spare in his descriptions as Elizabeth David, he is also not as full of details as Julia Child, who basically changed the entire style of American recipe writing, including the style of James Beard to some extent. There are times when Beard does assume some basic cooking knowledge, although there are fewer assumptions here than in lesser volumes.
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VINE VOICEon November 1, 2010
I'm sure the paper version of American Cookery is as wonderful as everyone says. But this is the second kindle-edition cookbook I have had to return for a refund because it is practically useless as a cooking tool. If you are content with reading a cookbook as if it were a novel, without knowing what is inside each chapter before you get to it, then by all means, enjoy the Kindle edition. But if you are interested in actually knowing what recipes are included and expect to be able to jump to a specific recipe in the index with a link, you will be seriously disappointed.

I really resent cookbook publishers who create an ebook edition with absolutely no forethought or planning as to what makes an ebook, especially a reference tool, which a cookbook is, actually work for the user. It is NOT a novel. You don't just sit down and read it. You jump around, look at specific recipes, jump to related recipes. In a paper book, you have indexed recipes and page numbers that take you there. In an ebook you need to have direct links that allow you to jump around. This James Beard classic only has links in the chapter heading and contains an apparently scanned index that contains page numbers, for which there is absolutely no correspondence in an ebook. The publisher of this book seems only to have made an e-book out of it in order to increase their revenue without giving the least bit of care to delivering a quality product.

I have several e-cookbooks that are beautifully formatted (two of Mark Bittman's and one by Madhur Jaffrey). Their publishers took the time and effort to make their product user-friendly and truly valuable reference tools for serious cooks.

Okay, venting over. I might repurchase this book as a paper book because it is a classic. But anyone contemplating putting this on their Kindle needs to be forewarned that it's not a very useful product.
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on October 15, 2006
This cookbook obviously has huge breadth and depth of American cookery -- the cooking that is actually practiced in the kitchens of America, developed here and carried with immigrant cultures, through the centuries of American life up through the twentieth century.

What sets Beard's masterpiece apart even further, though, is his casual, storytelling style, and his depth of context for the foods that we make and eat. His fascination with the American story, as reflected in our meals, is infectious. It never ceases to grab me, like a short story that sucks me in, as I leaf through recipes in this book.

For instance: looking for cherry pie, and reading that there used to be many more kinds of cherries commonly available in the U.S., and how they compare with the ubiquitous bing today, and that people often grew "pie cherry" trees just in their yards just for pie, and Oh, by the way, here's an old recipe for cherry pie and a newer one, and how I like to do it sometimes.

Or, for instance: Note the Spanish flavors in an old Rancho California chicken recipe, browned in cornmeal then baked in a sauce that contained green olives and almonds and cumin and chili powder.

Or, for instance, how dinner parties have changed and what kinds of appetizers have gained or lost with fashion from the turn of the twentieth century until the seventies (when this edition was set down).

Finally, this is a great "starter" cookbook for it's range of simply-stated "how-to" instructions. How do you cook an ear of corn, like for how long? What makes a good hamburger patty? Beard even gives several ways to boil an egg. For most Americans starting a household or first moving away from home -- college students or newlyweds -- this is a much better cookbook than the other perennial "starter" selection, Joy of Cooking. If you just want to learn how to cook everything you already know in your bones is real food, comfort food, fun food, all the familiar American food you know and love -- this is the cookbook you want.
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on December 13, 2006
I got one of these when they first came out in print, in hardback, back in the 1970s I think. It's obvious when you look at mine that it has been well-used and loved. I bought a recent edition for my daughter who is just starting out in her own place. I haven't compared hers to mine to know how the editions differ, so my review is based on my old hardcover. If you are looking for a cookbook with the basics of classic American foods I would highly recommend this -- far better than Joy of Cooking. It would make a great wedding or shower gift. It is logically organized, easy to understand, and interesting to just sit and read. The basics of how to cook a turkey, how to choose and cook various cuts of beef, basic bread and cookie recipes, it's all there. The recipes are easy to follow and reproduce and I've had great results every time.
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on July 21, 1998
What can you say about this book? It's like walking through the finest history book ever written, and being able to taste and smell everything along the way... literally. As always, you are presented with countless variations on said theme, as well as tremendous background. They say this is Beard's favorite, and I certainly would have to agree it's one of the best things he ever did. He poured his heart into this one.
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As a serious amateur cook, I find nothing more relaxing after a stressful day than to come home, pour myself a glass of wine or a tall bourbon and water, turn on the stereo, and start chopping and slicing vegetables and making sauces.

I have lots of cookbooks but I *use* three of them principally --Greene on Greens for vegetables, Marcella Hazan for Italian food (a mainstay in my household) and --above all-- Beard's American Cookery. I will frequently start a meal by putting the three of these books on the table in front of me and starting through the indexes, ingredient by ingredient. (Later comment: I now add two of Jacques Pepin's book to the table as well.)

In this book, Beard laid out the history of American cooking, a catholic practice of borrowing the best (and sometines the worst) of all the various ethnic and regional cookeries we have inherited as this nation has grown. The book is laid out intelligently, it's easy to follow, and it allows you as the chef to make choices.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this marvelous, indispensable book.

David Keymer
Modesto CA
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on July 10, 1998
I bought my hardcopy the year it was published - no fancy pictures or vivid colors - just spectacular recipes and cozy person to person conversations with the author about food. After I "met" James, he had me eating and loving things I never would have tasted except for his luscious descriptions. What I would have missed if not for him!
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