Monthly cookbook club brings together friends and food
Once a month, members of the Jubilee Cookbook Club pack up a homemade food dish, load up their mess kits and head to each other's houses. The cookbook club has been meeting, discussing and cooking for each other for the past four years. The group, made up of anywhere from 9 to 15 members depending on the month or year, travels to one of its member’s houses once per month for a sort-of crash course on a cookbook.
The cookbooks that Jubilee focuses on vary depending on the month. The person hosting the group gets to decide which one to tackle, and the books chosen tend to run the gamut. From cookbooks focusing solely on desserts to the Middle Eastern flavors presented in James Beard Award finalist Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Simple” to cookbooks that highlight women-created recipes, like “Cherry Bombe,” the group has quite possibly cooked or tasted a dish from nearly every cookbook subgroup.
“You make the recipe as it’s written, you don’t double it. We talk about the process — is the recipe well-written, would you make it again, would you change anything, those sorts of things. Then at the end of the night everyone rinses their dishes, packs up and leaves so the host isn’t left with a big mess,” said Shannon Moore, owner and baker behind Flour Girl, explaining the guidelines that the club follows.
The formation of the group preceded a more recent boom in the popularity of cookbook clubs (Santa Rosa’s Miracle Plum has one, as does Healdsburg’s Copperfield’s and other larger primarily-retail establishments across the Bay Area).
“It was in the wintertime but we were just kind of talking about how we need something to do in the wintertime. I have been involved in traditional book clubs in the past that always ended up fizzling out. They just never lasted,” she said. “Pretty much everyone in our social circle loves food — either works with food or just loves to cook — and we all have a ton of cookbooks. We all kind of realized that we were in this situation and I was like, ‘What if we start a cookbook club?’”
From there, the plans began to unfold.
“The idea is more to get a sense of the whole book, rather than creating a menu,” Moore said.
When asked about their favorite cookbooks — both ones they’ve chosen and ones they haven’t — Moore said that her favorite was “Deep Run Roots” by Vivian Howard.
“I went completely bonkers,” said Moore about cooking from “Deep Run Roots.” She said that the book spoke to her because of her own southern roots. “We did it in the summertime and usually we pick one dish to bring — I think I brought five. It was just ridiculous how much food we had.”
Rebecca Bozzelli, owner of Lantern Farm, said that she liked cooking out of Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.”
For Bozzelli, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” has been one of her highlights because the nature of the book allowed for more specific discussion about how the different principles of salt, fat, acid and heat played a role in individual dishes.
Both Bozzelli and Moore said that their favorite book that they didn’t choose was one that explored Thai food, “Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand” by Andy Ricker and J.J. Goode.
“It was challenging, I feel like we learned a lot and it was also a little more intimate,” Bozzelli said. “It was on a holiday weekend so it was kind of more lazy than on a Sunday when you have to go to work the next day. Everything about it was like the perfect storm.”
“You’re learning too about this chef and how they cook,” Bozzelli said, discussing how the nature of the club helps facilitate discussion between everyone about how they think certain recipes may be improved.
Next up, the group will be discussing “Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm” by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann.
While the group is about food, both members said that it’s as much, if not more, about the value of friendship, camaraderie and setting aside time to be together.
“The base of it all is the connections with seeing your friends. You know once a month that you’re going to get together; it’s nice because you have different lives and you don’t run into each other all the time, but you then have cookbook club,” Bozzelli said.
The gathering of the club has become sort of a “safe space,” they said, where friends can feel comfortable catching up over a meal, and also feel comfortable going through the successes — and failures — of a particular dish.
“The eating is amazing,” they agreed, but what takes the cake is “the great group of people.”
Moore said that she’s interested in integrating expanding the group’s activities, however they’re still exploring some options.
“I hope that we can, as a group, start doing a charitable venture of sorts,” she said. “I kind of have a bigger vision for this whole thing. It started out as just this ‘oh, it’s just a group of us getting together and cooking,’ but it’s kind of grown for me into something bigger.”
Moore said that more and more people have been inquiring about joining the group, and while there has been a bit of a waiting list, she encouraged community members to start their own cookbook clubs.
“It’s not about exclusivity at all, it’s about practicality. There’s only so many people we can handle in our homes, and the amount of food that comes is just a lot. What I’ve told people is, “If we have a space open up, we’d love to have you join us. Other than that, why don’t you start a club and we can have sister clubs,’” she said.