“Some say that home cooking is doomed, but I am convinced that the golden age of home cooking is yet to come…In this world of screens and anxiety, to talk about cooking feels like something that is real and honest and good.”
Bee Wilson, The Secrets of Cooking
Five years ago I wrote How (and why) to Start a Cookbook Club. It was a response to the questions I was frequently asked about my newly organized group here in Halifax, a sort of dinner-club-slash-book-club.
I’m thrilled to say that we are still going strong, with many of our original members, and several delightful new additions. We’ve weathered the pandemic, battled busy schedules and worked through waning interest to keep the club fresh and interesting.
In this day and age of flagging attention spans and social isolation, I’m proud that this in-person gathering of cookbook aficionados has lasted for five years. And we’re going strong, sitting at ten members, excited for a new year of connecting over food and cookbooks.
Sharing the secrets to a successful cookbook club feels a little dramatic, but they truly have helped our group to flourish.
Secrets to a Successful Cookbook Club
How do I define a successful cookbook club? When gatherings are easy and not forced. When each meet-up is better than the last. When we can create a safe space to laugh and cry, share and be authentically ourselves. When our little community of food geeks can thrive and support each other (and authors!). Oh yeah, and there’s really, really freaking fantastic food.
Below I’ll share what has worked (and what hasn’t) for our group over the past five years. If you’re looking to launch a cookbook club as soon as possible, read my post on how to get started.
I feel like this is the most important secret. Soft skills like Adaptability and Communication go a long way when planning how and when we will get together.
We don’t plan too far in the future and we don’t plan in detail. While gathered around the table at one event, we’ll toss out ideas for the next. A member will offer to host and we’ll decide on a theme/book/author.
We’ll take into consideration current events (holidays, summer break, wildfires…) as we set a date. In the lead up, there’s freedom to check in with the host…and check out, so to speak.
No bandwidth to host and cook? We’ve skipped that part and just gathered for a cocktail and snacks at a restaurant instead. We all still benefit from that cherished face time around a table with each other.
When we launched the cookbook club, we all cooked from the same book, brought dishes to share and discussed the author. Since we were all getting to know one another back then, it was helpful to have that structure.
As the years went on, we needed to bust out of that mold. Here’s to do that:
- Open up to Themes. Example: Lunar New year (cook from your favourite dim sum cookbook) or a holiday (bake your favourite Christmas cookie)
- Open up to Genres: Example: cook from a plant-based author who inspires you or share sweet treat from a baking book.
- Open up to Cooking Methods: example: make something home canned and bring a preserve, pickle or jam to swap.
- 4. Open up an Author’s entire catalogue – Example: anything from Naomi Duguid, Diana Henry or Madhur Jaffrey.
Perhaps my favourite secret to cookbook club (and life, if I’m being honest). Sharing the planning, hosting and clean up is the only way these events happen, year after year, with no resentment built up.
What does that look like? Rotating hosts or teaming up to host. A few of us going early to set up; one or two staying late to clean up.
One of my favourite collaborations was when we were able to help member and new author Karen launch her book Kings of Their Own Ocean, here in Halifax. Our cookbook club brought seafood-themed dishes and ‘catered’ the private launch ‘n lunch on a warm summer afternoon.
Another successful colab was when Karen hosted us in her home and teamed up with Simon, who had an author connection. He coordinated and brought in our author Naomi Duguid over Zoom for a chat with us all. Thrilling!
What does this look for a simple cookbook club? Well, it’s being able to say no as the host or guest. Not now. That doesn’t work for me. The last thing we want is for anyone to feel burdened or obligated in any way.
Also, we demonstrate an empathy and understanding for the feelings of those around us. Our group has members who have battled major illnesses – mental, physical, emotional – over the years. That’s just life. Of course these struggles come up when we’re breaking bread together; being vulnerable has only brought us closer.
Another important one: No hard feelings – accept that people come and go. Some attend once and decide it’s not for them, and that’s okay!
Check in on each other – Last April, when my son was in the hospital for two weeks, members of my cookbook club were extremely generous with their time and efforts. Danny and I received hot coffees, care packages with cozy socks, healthy salad and smoothies — and an entire Easter dinner. It was an outpouring of support that I will never forget.
This is getting lenthy so I’ll keep this one short:
Be willing to adapt and change with the times. Stay curious about food trends and rising cultural shifts.
Be willing to take a road trip and get out of your neighbourhood as a group. You may be rewarded with a giant seafood tower of Cape Breton’s finest shellfish.
Lastly, a few changes…
What’s changed in five years? We no longer use Facebook to plan events. Many people ditched social media entirely during the pandemic. Email is more reliable, so that’s how we connect.
We’ll often add a charitable element to the gathering. I’ll collect non-perishable food donations for a community fridge, or we’ll make a donation to a local food bank. When we are so blessed to have abundance of food, it’s only right that we give back in some way.
If you’ve ever entertained the thought of launching a cookbook club, let this post be the encouragement you need to start in 2024!
Any questions? Leave them in the comments!
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