Cookbook Review: ‘Apples for Jam’ by Tessa Kiros
It’s not often we write about cookbooks on Literary Transgressions. (Um, we never have.) This is probably because there is usually very little “literary” about cookbooks and the most transgressive they get is offering you a way to combine a full package of butter with three kinds of chocolate to create something utterly decadent that you can now no longer live without.
All the same, both Kate and I are cookbook lovers and foodies, so it seems appropriate that we spend a few column inches, as it were, sharing our favorites from time to time. And one of my all-time favorite cookbooks is one I have fondly nicknamed “The Impenetrable Cookbook”: Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam.
Now, you might be wondering, why do I call it impenetrable if I love it so much? Because this beautiful volume is organized not by meal or food type or protein or even country of origin — it is organized by color. If this sounds slightly insane, that’s because it is. The overall color of any given dish is fairly debatable, i.e. do you put lasagna in red or yellow? Do you put chocolate chip cookies in brown or white? Do you put a fruit salad under green or red or orange or purple or yellow or…what?! The idea of organizing an entire cookbook according to this incredibly subjective way of seeing the world is hardly one with the user experience in mind.
BUT. It’s also a beautiful way to organize a cookbook. Every section of the book is overridden by a similar color palate, with gorgeously staged photos of food with everyday items from Kiros’ life and childhood. Indeed, Apples for Jam, in addition to being probably the prettiest cookbook I’ve ever used, is also the rare cookbook that could be called literary. Interspersed with the recipes are family stories and memories Kiros has about the food in the book. These little remembrances add a personal touch that make the cookbook feel like a mix between instructional guide and personal memoir to extremely good effect.
And did I mention the food is incredible? While the recipes in Apples for Jam are sometimes slightly more complicated than they need to be (a problem easily solved), the food itself, even when you “dumb down” the recipe and adapt to your skills, is flawless. I have yet to find a recipe in this book that isn’t delicious and comforting and wonderful. Indeed, almost all of the things I first made from Apples for Jam have become staples in my house and in the houses of friends.
That all said, Apples for Jam is still The Impenetrable Cookbook. You can’t pick it up, looking for a good appetizer and peruse just that section because there is no appetizer section. Even if you think, “oh, I have spinach I’d like to use up” and flip to the Green section, you may not find what you’re looking for since, for example, her spinach and carrot souffles are under Orange.
So, I’m not going to stand here and tell you the book is easy to use. The best way I’ve found to penetrate its delicious interior is to set aside half an hour to go through it, page by page, flagging the recipes I want to try with Post-Its. That way, I’m able to go back later and know what looked appealing to me as a starting point for exploring the rest of the book.
Apples for Jam is a very unique cookbook and one which I have grown to love, even as I recognize its limitations. It has the best waffle, the best goulash, and the best shepherd’s pie recipes I’ve found. But you’ll definitely have to invest some time up-front to familiarize yourself with it, accept its quirks, and then dive into the goodness.