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One Big Table Hardcover – November 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

Molly O'Neill on Christmas Cookies

People ask me which all-American dish I got the most recipes for in the decade that I traveled across the United States gathering recipes and food stories for One Big Table: A Portrait of American Cooking. Meatloaf? Fried chicken? Macaroni and cheese? Nope. In fact, if I gathered all the recipes for all other American icons together in a single pile, it wouldn’t be half as high as the stack of Christmas cookie recipes that I was given.

There were, of course, dozens of variations on butter cookies and cookie press cookies, dozens of secrets to the making and baking of perfect ginger bread people, candy canes, trees and wreathes. But the majority of Christmas cookie recipes are simply special cookies, cookies that take time and a certain touch, cookies whose recipe is passed from generation to generation, cookies that express all that we wish we brought to the holiday kitchen--warmth, generosity and enough white picket fence fantasy to stretch from sea-to-shining-sea.

My mother’s French almond cookies are perfect example. There is no reason NOT to make the perfectly crisp almond cookies any time of the year. But my mother who, like many Christmas cookie maniacs, began baking a different batch of cookies the day after Thanksgiving and continued until she ran of storage room in the cold attic, baked these cookies only once a year. They keep well, so were always her first batch. To her six children and 14 grandchildren and great-grandchild, the smells of these confections is as much of the season as Frankincense, pine and myrrh.

When it comes to cookies, Christmas means "special," and "family" and "eat it while you can!" --Molly O'Neill

Featured Recipe: Virginia’s French Almond Cookies (Columbus, Ohio) from Molly O'Neill’s One Big Table

Virginia O’Neill began making Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving and continued making a batch a day until the twentieth of December. "I’d grown up as a single child, raised by a wealthy aunt and uncle who were older and quiet. They had cooks and servants and everything was always perfect. I distinguished myself by preparing dinner on the cook’s night off and by baking cookies and pies. I started collecting Christmas cookie recipes in grade school, and even after I married into a different life—my husband was a dashing working man and I had six children—my aunt and uncle expected me to bake. I used to love doing it. Hundreds of intricate, delicate cookies. It was a way of reconciling where I’d come from and what I’d become, I guess. Always use a little less butter than is called for, that is the secret. The French Almond cookies last for a month, if you store them in a tin, with wax paper between the layers."


1/2 pound (2 sticks) lightly salted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs, well beaten
2 cups ground almonds
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup slivered almonds


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cream the butter and sugars until smooth. Stir in the honey, eggs, and ground almonds. Combine the flour and baking soda, then add to the butter mixture. Mix well.

Pinch off a piece of dough the size of a walnut (about 2 tablespoons). Roll it between your palms to form a cigar shape. Place on the baking sheet.

Repeat, placing the cookies 2 inches apart. Push a slivered almond into the center of each cookie.

Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Immediately transfer to a wire rack to cool. Let the baking sheet cool and reline with parchment before shaping and baking more cookies.

Makes about 11 dozen cookies

Featured Recipe: LaVerne’s Black Raspberry Bars (Arlington, Virginia) from Molly O'Neill’s One Big Table

LaVerne Yost has always been an obsessed home cook, but since retiring, she has had more time to cook, talk about cooking, and eat other people’s cooking. She figures that she has traveled about fifty thousand miles in pursuit of fabulous food in the past decade and, sounding a little like Dorothy in Oz, she said that she has yet to find a sweet that can compete with these simple bars that her sister taught her to make "many, many years ago." They are delicious by themselves, or served warm with vanilla ice cream, Greek-style strained yogurt, whipped cream, or custard.


12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
One 12-ounce jar seedless black raspberry preserves


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 9 X 13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with a fork. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the butter mixture. Stir in the rolled oats.

Press half the batter into the prepared pan. Spread the preserves on top. Crumble the other half of the flour-and-butter mixture over the preserves and bake for 25 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly, then cut into bars.

Makes about 24 bars

From One Big Table by Molly O’Neill. Copyright © 2010 by Molly O’Neill. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. O'Neill, former New York Times Magazine food writer and author (New York Cookbook), has compiled an informative and heartwarming refutation of the demise of American home cooking. Ten years and many miles in the making, this collection celebrates the nation's culinary diversity, both ethnically and agriculturally, and offers a uniquely intimate look at what home cooking in America is truly like today. O'Neill crossed the country, interviewing home cooks and spending time in the kitchens of recent immigrants. The results are enticing recipes that intertwine family stories, personal histories, and food. From stuffed Danish pancakes in Utah to tamales in Santa Fe and Vietnamese shrimp pancakes in Mississippi, this eclectic collection showcases the best this country has to offer. O'Neill also includes old-style American fare, including black-eyed pea and mustard greens soup, corn chowder, campfire trout, and bluegrass bass with Kentucky caviar. Sidebars abound on everything from black sea bass to Johnny Appleseed, Elvis to shrimp. As engaging in the armchair as it is in the kitchen, this book is an enduring testament to our historic traditions and the new culinary forays being made by American home cooks. (Nov.) (c)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743232704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743232708
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 2.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful By JungleGirl on November 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's easy to forget how diverse America truly is when reading traditional American cookbooks. This book, however, gives us a glimpse inside the menus of real Americans of various backgrounds and their families. We see local and regional culture reflected, as well as immigrant culture and how immigrants have evolved their menus to reflect their surroundings. I own many cookbooks (somewhere over 400 or so), but this is probably the best one that I have read recently. Every page draws me in and reminds of the America I know and love. This is not a heartless collection of text as some cookbooks can be, but it's a survey of who we are as Americans, defined by what we eat. There are many great renditions of traditional foods included, as well as many unique recipes incorporating influences from multiple cultures (local and foreign). Even better, there are brief vignettes preceding each recipe describing the background behind the recipe, which often includes some family history of the contributor (and sometimes a photo of the contributor or photo otherwise related to the recipe), bringing the reader even closer to these people kind enough to share their family recipes with us. There are limited photos of the recipes themselves (caution to those who prefer visual aids), but each story is interesting and well worth reading. It feels a little inadequate to call this simply a cookbook, as it could be just as well labeled a collection of short stories (that just happen to include a recipe or two at the end of each story). I currently live as an American expat overseas, but every page of this book is like a slice of home and well enjoyed.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Susan G. Dunlap on December 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Full disclosure: I read everything by Molly O'Neill not because of the cachet associated with her former ties to the New York Times, but because my husband was one of her classmates at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Consistently delightful and, more importantly, an important voice, her incisive research and writing raises her works to a level heard above the din of other culinary voices

So, OK. What about this book?

It's a keeper, but not for the reason I expected. When I read that O'Neill invested a decade in creating this book, that she traveled over 300,000 miles in the pursuit of research and that she selected 600 recipes from 20,000 that were submitted, I was on the lookout for a "best of," the tastiest this-or-that.

The crux of O'Neill's work is the _connection_ to the food we put on our tables. The recipes may be -- or may not be -- the best. They might not even be unique. It's the passing along of recipes, the regionalism, the importance of contining to apply chemistry in our kitchens that make this book spectacular.

The jacket blurb describes One Big Table as "brilliantly edited," and it is.

My favorite part of the book? The illustrations, folk art, vintage advertisements, and romp through the history of stoves. Is it worth parting with $50 to have illustrations, etc., under cover? Depends on how serious you are. To not have a copy of One Big Table in your collection, if you are a serious cook, would be akin to not having, say, at least one Julia Child volume in your culinary library. You decide.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful By ilash on November 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is one big, delicious bite of American cooking. It's filled to the brim with more than 600 recipes and stories galore ranging from potpies to the social history of chocolate cake. For those of us who have moved a time or two...or 10, Molly O'Neill has captured the foods of each area I've called home. These recipes take the reader from coast-to-coast with lots of practical cooking know-how. No matter how many cookbooks are on your shelf, this encyclopedic resource is the definitive in rounding out a true collection.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lily of the Valley on November 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I found this on the shelf in Borders and was intrigued by the cover. As I delved deeper, I found it increasingly difficult to put down. This is a literary documentary of Americana cuisine, with a treasure trove of photos right out of a Time/Life edition. It is a snapshot of real people and the food that captures the heart of America, whether it be traditional Southern, Creole, Mexican, or Asian cuisine. America is the universal melting pot of cultural diversity, and Molly O'Neill gives a taste of American culinary history, with of course -- a hearty helping of the comfort-foods that nourish the very soul of America.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mom of Sons VINE VOICE on December 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I love this book! I'm not surprised it took author Molly O'Neill over 10 years to travel around America researching, talking with home cooks and food experts "in the field" and gathering their stories and recipes. I absolutely love the stories, no unnecessary blah-blah here, they are short and punchy, and then boom, there's the recipe.

The book is beautiful, with abundant photos, many of which are quite old and historical. It's a pleasure to read.

One quibble, and not sure how it could be avoided, since there's certainly nothing I'd cut, and I wouldn't change it to paperback, or change the high-quality stock, but it must be said: this is a monster of a book to hold and read. I'm sure it weighs at least 15 pounds. I like to read in bed at night and...well...I did it! But it was constant work to hold the book. It was worth it though. Aside from its physical size, the book is very pleasurable to read, and is definitely meant to be enjoyed that way. It's not a dry "put it on the shelf" reference book. This is a beautifully illustrated, interesting and well-written book to get lost in.

Recommendation: Two thumbs way way up. Loved it.
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