Chicken Soup For The Soul Cookbook, edited by jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Diana von Welanetz Wentworth
It is difficult to take a book like this entirely seriously. One of the editors of this book claims, risibly, that this book and the lengthy series it is a part of were not written in order to make money and that there was some ambivalence about making this book in the first place. By the time they were releasing books like Chicken Soup For The Middle-Aged Bachelor Soul, I imagine such quibbles and qualms were long gone, though. This book is by no means a bad one, but it is a strange book that does not quite do what one would expect out of a cookbook, although it certainly follows the hokey advice of the series in its paeans to homegrown wisdom. If you are not fond of the Chicken Soup series in general, this book will likely not improve your feelings, but if you’re looking for a cookbook full of random recipes with personal importance to the people the authors think of as celebrities there is at least something to enjoy here. Whether or not that is enough to justify reading the stories in addition to the recipes is a matter that must be left up to each reader to decide for oneself.
This book is more than 400 pages long to cover 101 recipes, which is a sign that the stories go on far longer than the recipes do. These recipes and stories are then divided into twelve thematic chapters. After acknowledgements each of the editors gets their own introduction. After that comes some recipes from mom’s kitchen (1), including some down-home chicken noodles, Swedish cooking, doomsday cookies, fruitcake, Maryland crab, chicken and potatoes, and so on. Then comes some recipes related to various childhood memories (2), including spicy chicken and peanut brittle, as well as food from one’s grandparents (3), such as Bohemian bread, raisin nut cake, and some Utah pioneer scones. There is food from other family members (4), including carrot cake and mashed potatoes relating to Abraham Lincoln. Other dishes include holiday traditions (5), like tamales, yams, and spice cake, and even a chapter about men in the kitchen (6) that includes beer bread, sesame chicken, and chicken cacciatore. A short chapter on recipes from fronts (7), including quiche and Elvis pie, is followed by a much longer chapter on inspiration and insights (8), including starving student chicken, pheasant, waffles, Chilean quinoa tabouleh, and apple-kiwi pie. A short chapter on love, romance, and marriage (9), with vegetarian moussaka is followed by a long chapter which is a love story told with recipes (10) as well as food for the fun of it (11) (including rum cake), and parties with a purpose (12). The book then ends with some suggestions to read future books, a talk on soup kitchens, and information about the editors and contributors, as well as permissions and a recipe index.
There are definitely some themes as far as these recipes are concerned. A great many of the dishes have family connections to the people who select them, and there are often looks back to the dishes from childhood experiences in the Great Depression or ancestral connections to frontier or foreign cuisine experiences. To be sure, these make for interesting things to read, at times. The authors seem to think that their personal stories are more interesting than they are. In one of the more entertaining examples, one of the authors talks about a marriage of one of their children or grandchildren or something of that nature to someone else who shared the same frontier Utah personal history, making it possible that there was a shared family recipe due to endogamy, but the author did not appear to want to dwell on that point, although it would have made that chapter at least a lot funnier: “The newlyweds had the same family recipes because they married relatives.” That said, if this book is not nearly as funny as it could be and takes itself a bit seriously, there are at least a few foods here that are worth trying and that is good enough to appreciate in a cookbook.