Cookbook Club: Working Together Never Tasted So Good

Laura Muzzi Brennan, County Lines Magazine

TOO MANY COOKS MIGHT SPOIL THE BROTH, BUT THEYwork wonders for Kerala fried chicken, Southern-style greens, cabbage-apple slaw and cardamom-spiced carrot cupcakes. I know this because one snowy night this past March, I witnessed Coverdale Farm Preserve’s cookbook club in action. As they tackled recipes from Asha Gomez’s My Two Souths: Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen, they swapped cooking tips, shared wine (it’s BYOW) and chopped, shredded and breaded with aplomb.

Cookbook club is the brainchild of Hockessin Book Shelf owner Rebecca Dowling and Coverdale Farm Manager Michele Wales (Coverdale is part of Delaware Nature Society). The two met five years ago when DNS was looking for ways to join forces with local businesses. The collaboration has been trending delicious ever since.

Here’s how the club works: Wales and Dowling pick a book and set a date (club usually meets once a season). Then people reserve a spot on the DNS website or by calling the registrar. Cost, which includes the book and dinner, is $65 for members and $75 for non-members. The club is capped at 15 people, and spots fill fast.

The night I visited, the group consisted of veteran cookbook clubbers—including two neighbors, a mother and daughter, a husband and wife—and some first timers like me who felt right at home in this welcoming group.

Meetings begin around the long table in Coverdale’s rustic farm classroom. Rebecca passes out the books—some people pick them up in advance at her book shop—and Michele introduces the recipes she’s chosen. Then the group heads downstairs to the kitchen, aprons in hand, and settles in at the cooking station of their choice, while Michele explains what dish will be made at each station.

Michele acts as what I call “conductor de cuisine.” Her experience teaching CSA cooking classes and previous role as farm educator are obvious as she demonstrates the chiffonade technique, answers questions and orchestrates what she fondly calls “controlled chaos.” Rebecca plays the role of jack-of-all-stations, sailing from group to group, chatting and pinch hitting.

Both Michele and Rebecca are self-professed “cookbook snobs.” For the club, they select contemporary books with aesthetic appeal (beautiful photographs and good binding are important!), approachable recipes and a certain ethic. As Michele puts it: “We like books that truly honor the food on their pages, that show a sense of reverence for food because it’s so hard to grow.”

Not surprisingly, most book choices are vegetable-forward, ideal for showcasing ingredients grown at Coverdale. The club’s first book was Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Since then, they’ve cooked their way through three to four books every year.

Popular titles include Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons, Canal House Cooks Everyday by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, and Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore by Anna Thomas. The Food 52 cookbooks are other favorites. This June, they’ll dive into Dinner: Changing the Game, the latest from New York Times writer Melissa Clark.

After cooking for two-plus hours, we’re back at the long table, feasting, toasting and marveling at the fact that many hands do indeed make light work.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of County Lines Magazine. To read the full article with recipes, click here.