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Book review: 'Handwritten Recipes' brings historical recipes back to life

By Cait Orton

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23 2012 3:22 p.m. MDT

"HANDWRITTEN RECIPES: A Bookseller's Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages," by Michael Popek, Penguin Group, $20, 193 pages (nf)

In an age where cookbooks are filled with exotic dishes that don’t cater the taste buds of the whole family, Michael Popek’s no-nonsense compilation of classic recipes is both a breath of fresh air and a reference to a simpler kitchen experience.

“Handwritten Recipes: A Bookseller’s Collection of Curious and Wonderful Recipes Forgotten Between the Pages” is a creatively and beautifully crafted recipe book. It takes the shape of a novel, breaking from the trend of oversized cookbooks with pages filled with barely legible, hand-written recipes that Popek translates to typed text.

The recipes are uncomplicated and require only easy-to-find ingredients, but this isn’t a cookbook for beginners. Oftentimes the recipes are missing something, like what temperature to pre-heat the oven, so the cook then needs to fill in the holes.

Because the recipes tend to be extraordinarily simple, some may be bland or flavorless, but for an experienced cook this leaves room to add a personal twist to a basic recipe and make it their own.

However, what makes this book even more unique is where Popek pulls the recipes from. Each section — baked goods, side dishes, main dishes and desserts — is packed with recipes from history, novels and classic stories. He collected the recipes in books from his family's used bookstore. Readers will find pineapple date bread from “Of Mice and Men” and a chicken leg recipe from “Catch-22” next to recipes from Julia Child and well-known cookbooks.

Though there aren’t many vivid photos of finished recipes, each page includes an image that draws readers in beyond the ingredients and instructions. Popek incites a desire to explore the origins of the recipes, which then lets readers have a greater appreciation for the meals they conjure in the kitchen.

At the same time, much is left to the chef: The recipes require imagination, dedication and an appreciation for the art of cooking. This book is perfect for amateurs who want a fun challenge, or those who have a love for classic recipes and their history.

Families, friends and neighbors can come together to share recipes from this time capsule Popek has assembled, as there is a recipe for everyone to enjoy. But above all, Popek reminds readers of the people and stories that inspired the simple but delicious recipes.

Email: orton.cait@gmail.com

Twitter: @caitorton

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