There was a time when receiving a cookbook for Mother's Day may have been as exciting as receiving a vacuum — useful, sure, but a bit lacking in glamour. But with today's gorgeous options, receiving a cookbook is an invitation to dive into something creative and inspired. And if your mom is already an enthusiastic cook, then a beautiful new volume will only encourage and enliven her time in the kitchen.
Of course, there is no one way to be a mother and there are many stages of motherhood, from the all-consuming days of infancy to being an empty nester. Hopefully, one of these 15 titles will match up well with the mother in your life, bringing her and everyone she cooks for the joyful contentment of a belly well fed.
1. Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert's Renegade Life by Emily Kaiser Thelin, $35
This exquisite volume is part cookbook and part culinary biography. It features Paula Wolfert, a brilliant food writer who is not as well-known as she deserves to be. No doubt, this book is going to change that. Through stories and recipes, Unforgettable traces Wolfert's life, from her early years in New York City during the 1950s to her travels to Tangier, France, Morocco, and the Mediterranean. For her entire adult life, she crisscrossed her way across the ocean until finally settling in Sonoma County, California. And all along the way, she wrote about food, producing nine cookbooks in all.
Unforgettable pulls its recipes from Wolfert's classic books, chosen with an emphasis on brain-healthy ingredients in response to her Alzheimer's diagnosis. The photographs (by the very talented Eric Wolfinger) beautifully capture Wolfert's food while Emily Thelin's prose tells her story. This was a labor of love (the book was funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign) and it shows on every page. If you're looking for a gift for a curious, bold, genuine, passionate cook who loves adventure, this is it. But be sure to buy two because you're going to want to keep one for yourself.
2. Kebabs: 75 Recipes for Grilling by Sabrina Baksh and Derrick Riches, $22
It makes me sad that there's still gender bias when it comes to who tends the grill. I know plenty of women who love the smoke and drama of cooking over fire, yet 99 percent of the time, grilling cookbooks are obviously marketed towards dudes. In light of this, I felt compelled to include at least one stereotype-defying cookbook on this list and Kebabs, a fun look at the many ways to cook food on a stick, is the best choice.
The authors take a global approach to kebabs, so while there's obviously recipes from the Middle East, you will also find things from Japan, France, the U.S., West Africa, Thailand, and just about every country in between. All the proteins are represented, plus there are vegetarian/vegan substitutes and of course, lots of straight-up vegetable options, too. There's also a great general how-to section on the skewers, the fire, marinades, and mops — and many recipes come with accompanying sauces and dips. If your mama is happy to stand before a mighty grill, bathed in sweat, smoke, and the delicious perfume of charred meat, then this book is for her!
3. Candy Is Magic by Jami Curl, $35
Everyone knows someone who makes amazing caramels, loves homemade marshmallows, or has always wanted to make their own uniquely flavored gummy candy. This is cookbook is for the sugar mamas, for sure. But it's also for that person who thinks candy making is too scary or too hard, because author Jami Curl (owner of Quin Candy in Portland, Oregon) makes it clear that the opposite is true: Candy is fun, creative, easy, and yes, magical.
Curl's is a modern candyland, where bold, intriguing flavors meet classic and not-too-intimidating candy-making techniques. Recipes for lollipops, caramels, marshmallows, chews, sauces, and gumdrops cover the basics. Then, the excitement kicks in with flavors like black pepper, balsamic vinegar, smoked salt, roasted fruit, Aleppo pepper, and popcorn. Practical things like flavorings and tools are covered as well, and a source guide for ingredients and equipment helps a sweet-toothed mom find everything she will need to take her own magical journey.
4. In My Kitchen by Deborah Madison, $33
A new cookbook by Deborah Madison is always a delight, but this one in particular lights up the kitchen with its beautiful photography and design — and Madison's very personal voice. After decades of developing recipes and thinking about food, this is the stuff she cooks today, at her New Mexico home. The book is truly an invitation into her kitchen and garden, and a glimpse into the heart of a lifelong cook.
This book has a broad appeal. A beginner can pick it up and find wise and practical instruction; a more seasoned cook will page through, nodding and finding new inspiration. Madison's recipes are minimal and straightforward, making it possible for the busiest mom to bring bright, vibrant food to her family table any day of the week. A beautiful offering, inside and out.
5. A New Way to Bake by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living, $26
There are more than a few moms in my life who are obsessed with baking, so when I took one look at the cover of A New Way to Bake, with its fluted ring of a splendidly sugared cake, I immediately knew I was going to make quite a few of them happy with this gift.
But let's not bury the lede too deeply here: This is a 'new' approach to baking, which means it features better-for-you ingredients like whole-grain flours and natural sweeteners. There's even an extensive DIY section for nut butters, handy charts, and other helpful techniques to build a modern pantry. From whole-wheat sticky buns to lemon-yogurt cupcakes, there is much happiness to be found in this book of baker's delights.
6. Tartine All Day by Elisabeth Prueitt, $40
Elisabeth Prueitt gets it. She knows that getting a meal on the table is hard work, especially for busy families. So using her experiences as a mum as well as a professional chef and a business owner, she created Tartine All Day, a cookbook she hopes will be as useful and relevant to her readers today as Joy of Cooking was for her in the past.
This cookbook will appeal to many. It's a practical manual for every meal of the day, including snacks and desserts. It also covers large meals with recipes for a holiday turkey and leg of lamb, basics such as quick pickles and applesauce. While it isn't entirely gluten-free, it often uses alternative flours in innovative ways (Prueitt herself is gluten-intolerant.) From its gorgeous, vivid pink and gilded cover to its final, heartfelt acknowledgements, this is a warm, welcoming, and exciting book.
7. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat and Wendy MacNaughton, $35
Often, busy people just come home and make dinner. They don't want to shop for ingredients and follow a recipe every night of the week; they want to open their refrigerator, pull out a few items, and get to work. They want to know when more seasoning is needed and if a squeeze of lemon will make much of a difference. They want to understand when it's good to use olive oil and when it's better to use butter or a neutral oil. In other words, they want to have sharp-but-fluid kitchen instincts. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will make them that kind of cook.
Wonderfully illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, author Samin Nosrat's exuberant-but-exacting cooking style comes through and is shared generously. This book is definitely her baby — lovingly and carefully created and offered out into the world. It will instruct, cajole, delight, encourage, inspire, and motivate anyone who is even slightly interested in cooking. And it will make better cooks of those of us who are already spend a decent amount of time in the kitchen.
8. Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work by Sarah Waldman, $30
Learning how to cook for children is a big challenge for many young mothers. Balancing nutrition, picky appetites, and busy schedules is no small task. If you know of a mom who might need some solid advice and inspiration for feeding her family, this is the book for her. Arranged by season with 10 complete meal plans for each season, there is plenty here, whether she is feeding a baby or looking for prep help from older children.
The recipes are the author's family favorites and have been field tested in her own kitchen. And solid nutritional information is balanced with charming, inspirational-yet-realistic photos of family time at the stove.
9. Salad for President by Julia Sherman, $35
I'll admit it: I wasn't so sure about this one at first. Is it a cookbook or an art book and what exactly do salad and presidents have to do with each other? Quirky titles aside, this is a book about salads and artists — and it is brilliant. If your mom loves art, food, and takes a more unconventional approach to life, she's going to be thrilled with this book.
Written by a woman who grew a garden on the roof of a museum in Queens, New York, Salad for President does indeed focus on salads, with more than 75 recipes from artist/cooks such as William Wegman, Tauba Auerbach, Laurie Anderson, and Alice Waters. There are plenty of studio visits and stories to be told, but seriously — this book is no slouch in the recipe department. It's got my vote.
10. The First Mess by Laura Wright, $30
Are you looking for a cookbook that is beautiful, innovative, accessible, modern, and oh, just happens to be plant-based and mostly gluten-free? Do you have a mama in your life who's looking for those things, too? Then pair her up with this cookbook for a perfect meeting of delicious, healthy intentions and aspirations. Note: Your mom doesn't necessarily have to be a strict vegan to appreciate this book. She just has to be someone who enjoys cooking seasonally focused, deeply flavored foods. And sharing it with her family and loved ones.
Laura Wright's cooking certainly has one foot in the hippie camp: There's plenty of hemp, millet, and tempeh, which gives the book a grounded, earthy feel. But a closer look reveals a sophisticated, international touch as well, with plenty of fresh herbs, chili, and citrus bringing a lively balance and brightness. There are many family pleasing recipes here, including a significant dessert section as well as drinks, small bites, and breakfasts.
5 Bonus Books
- Dinner by Melissa Clark, $35: Working moms in need of an organized plan for getting food on the table will appreciate this book.
- Ice Cream & Friends and Mighty Salads by the Editors at Food52, $23 each: These two books given together would make a cheeky pair: salad for dinner followed by ice cream for dessert! There's a lot here for new and experienced cooks alike.
- Stirring Up Fun with Food by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Gia Russo, $28: For moms who are looking for a way to get the kids involved with the cooking, this book features fun, creative, and secretly instructive projects (math!) that involve the whole family.
- Mamma: Reflections on the Food That Makes Us by Mina Holland, $19: This sweet book features a collection of oral histories on mothers and the food they made from the world's best-loved cooks including Yotam Ottolenghi, Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver, and Deborah Madison.