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Cookbook Review: Edible, A Celebration of Local Foods

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Fri, May 14, 2010 at 8:29 AM

click to enlarge Edible.jpg
While the Edible empire continues to pile on the local branches, the magazine chain's co-founders/executive publishers Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian have also been working on a book, Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods, available this month.

The book is a 300-plus page hardcover filled with enticing color photographs of Berkshire pigs nosing through apples, farmers holding up their best radishes, and chefs deglazing sauté pans with aplomb. Local food luminaries are featured in some of the essays (including L.A.'s own Evan Kleiman). A few of the two and three page essays on those pigs, farmers and chefs were penned by food heavyweights such as Deborah Madison. Most were written by local Edible publishers, editors and freelancers -- and there are a lot; the magazine now has more than sixty local publications. There are great recipes, too.

So why does flipping through the pages read more like a promotional tool for the Edible magazine nearest you than a celebration of local food purveyors and their recipes?

What could be minor issues -- an odd layout, an overly promotional tone, and an overall rushed feel -- add up to a lot by the time you get to the end of this book. Consider that layout. The book is divided into two sections. "Edible Stories" is just that: those edited magazine articles about local producers, from farmers to butchers, artisan bakers to restaurant chefs. This is the meat of the book, clocking in at 200 pages that are divided by region: Northeast, Southeast, California and the West, Pacific Northwest, and the Midwest.

Independently, many of the stories are compelling, such as the one about the small Toronto family fishing business, or the New Mexico chicken farmer who digs red-headed chicks (by Deborah Madison). Together, they feel an awful lot like a mash-up of magazine articles, like you just purchased a year's worth of Edible back issues (you did). All the more curious is why Ryder and Topalian are listed on the book jacket as if they are co-authors rather than the editors they appear to be.

We could also do without the "Edible Communities" pages at the end of each regional section that lists a seemingly random (and few -- four to five, regardless of whether it's Manhattan or Aspen) farmers, chefs and other local food folks from the cities where the magazines are currently up and running with the appropriate Edible website link.

click to enlarge Poblanos stuffed with goat cheese and shrimp - EDIBLE
  • Edible
  • Poblanos stuffed with goat cheese and shrimp
The second section, "Edible Recipes," includes about twenty recipes from each of the four seasons. That two-page recipe and photo spread for the creamy pumpkin grits with brown butter on p. 272 sure looks delicious (it's from Edible Memphis). But flip to the sole article from Edible Memphis in the first section (the page is not listed with the recipe; we looked up Tennessee in the index to find it), and you'll find an article on a local organic blueberry farmer. Interesting enough, but we were hoping to learn something about those grits.

Perhaps none of these seemingly minor points would add up to such a mountainous molehill if we hadn't recently pulled out our tattered copy of Saveur Cooks Authentic American. It too is a compilation of stories, beautiful photos and recipes from that magazine. Only here, the editors have actually trimmed the stories into very succinct bites of information about that clam digger and pie maker, and each is followed by a recipe that is relevant to that particular profile (say, Marion Cunningham and her iceberg lettuce salad with classic blue cheese dressing). That concise editing also keeps the stories from feeling too dated (as the Edible magazine pieces often do). It's just what you would expect from this type of hybrid food anthology/cookbook, and the reason it's still on our shelf more than ten years later. The Saveur version was, most likely, also a lot more time-consuming to pull together and edit than Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods. But for our cookbook dollar, we think the Saveur editors (authors?) were right on the money.

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