How We Pick DCCC Cookbooks

Note: DCCC is not currently taking new members or functioning as a cookbook club. In the hope that the following description of how we selected books might be of use to anyone thinking of starting up their own club, I have left it in place as a resource.

Like most book clubs, Dowdy Corners Cookbook Club members will take turns suggesting the club’s next book, but with a twist. Each member will suggest not one but three titles for the other members to vote on. That way all members will always feel as if they have a choice.

To start out, cookbook suggestions will come from the members in my local DCCC—though all members, regardless of where they live, may vote on the three choices. (You will receive an email from me with the book choices when it’s time to vote on the next cookbook.) As new DCCC clubs, or “chapters,” form, each will have an opportunity to suggest three titles for the club’s book pick. Once a new chapter has five members, it will be added to the list of members eligible to suggest the next DCCC cookbook pick, in the order in which it was formed. (As a minimum member number for chapters, five isn’t arbitrary; it’s the minimum number required to receive a book club discount at most bookstores.) To see who is up next on the list, go to the “Member Rotation” page in the Club Folder.

For the purpose of rotating as speedily as possible through the list of members making book suggestions, each new chapter will be considered as one member. After a chapter has had a turn at suggesting the next DCCC book, we’ll continue to cycle through the list to the next member—be it another chapter or an individual member in my local DCCC.

Below are some cookbook selection tips and below that directions on what to include with your three suggestions.

Cookbook Selection Tips

When picking your three cookbooks for the club to vote on, keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid redundancy. Make sure the club has not already done the titles you plan to suggest. You will find a list of all the books we’ve done in “Previous Picks” under the Book List folder.
  • Price. The average maximum list price of all cookbooks is $35. If you absolutely love a book that is priced higher than $35, you may include it in your list of suggested cookbooks but the other two options must be $35 or less.
  • Seasonality. Pick books that use seasonally available produce or have a seasonally appropriate theme.  For example, though many people grill year-round, even in the North, picking a BBQ book for the summer months would be better than for the winter, when most people are thinking about stews and roasts.
  • Variety. Take a look at the previous club picks to make sure that your suggestions don’t duplicate what the club has already done, at least not within the same year. (You can find this information in “Previous Picks” under the Book List in the blog’s banner.) Consider suggesting not only a variety of subjects—Indian versus Thai cuisine versus artisan bread baking—but also a variety of types of books: a new cookbook or a twenty- or thirty-year-old cookbook that is considered a classic; an obscure, out-of-print cookbook with cult status, like The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (just so it’s not too pricey); a memoir-style cookbook; or a collection of food essays with recipes.
  • Practicality. Avoid cookbooks with recipes that are extremely finicky, rarified, and poorly explained. In general, avoid cookbooks with recipes that involve too much last-minute prep in the host’s kitchen and/or do not travel well to a potluck meeting. (So, Soufflés Made Easy would not be a good option.)
  • Education. Pick cookbooks that will take you out of your comfort zone or teach you something you’ve always wanted to learn. (One of the goals of this club is to take members down new cooking paths—maybe even help members get out of a cooking “rut”—or to revisit the familiar with a fresh take.) The choice may be based on a desire to explore an untried foreign or regional cuisine or the work of a particular author, to hone the fundamentals, or to focus on a specific subject or method, such as bread making or braising.
  • Quality. This can mean different things to different people. But what is absolutely true is that though there are thousands of new cookbooks published every year, only a handful will become classics. I like to think about quality, and experience it, because life is short, my book shelf space is limited, and because things of quality are awe-inspiring. To me, a good cookbook is one that has a  natural flow and organization that makes it easy to use, has recipes that are easy to follow and result in great tasting food. But it’s also something more: A good cookbook should be an enjoyable and informative read, the author’s personality and passion for the subject should be felt, and the food, particularly a foreign cuisine, should be put into a cultural context. (Because food doesn’t exist in a vacuum!) A personal voice, and the sense of someone guiding you through a process and a cuisine, is especially important. Without that, we might as well simply cull anonymous recipes from the web at no cost!  If you’re looking for ideas, you might ask chefs who you admire (but who“get” what a home cook can manage in the kitchen) and serious “foodies” what some of their favorite cookbooks are or visit the websites for the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which bestow the most prized cookbook awards in the business.
  • Tap into other members’ interests. If you’ve done all of the above, and are still coming up empty handed, check out the “Members’ Wish List” under the Book List folder. There you’ll find specific book ideas.

What to Submit with Your Three Book Suggestions, and When

  • A brief description of each book, be it a cookbook, food-based memoir with recipes, or collection of food essays with recipes.
  • Your reason for choosing the books.
  • The list price before discount. (Please be sure the list price is current; if the book is no longer in print, give an average price range for used copies.)
  • When making your three suggestions, please send them to me by email about two weeks before the upcoming DCCC potluck to give all members time to consider the choices, vote, and get a copy of the new book by the time of, or soon after, each potluck meeting. Please write “DCCC book suggestions” in the subject line.