Sunday, February 22, 2009

Omnivore Books on Food: Come Browse!

On a recent visit to The Cooks Library, a bookstore dedicated to cookbooks located on trendy W. Third Street in Los Angeles, I wondered why San Francisco didn’t have a bookstore like this one.

I mean, come on, we are the foodie capital after all!

Ok, maybe I am biased.

But now we do have one.

It is Omnivore Books on Food, a new bookstore opened in San Francisco and located quite appropriately, in a former butcher’s shop in Noe Valley.

I recently spent a lovely rainy day there browsing the shelves and peppering the friendly owner, Celia Sack, with my questions.

The day I visited the shop was buzzing with customers shopping for holiday gifts. Sack was busy but took time to answer my questions. After I told her I was a baker, she showed me a book about using roses in baking. I set it down while I looked at another book and it was quickly scooped up and purchased by another customer looking for a gift for her friend who is a pastry chef.

Clearly Sack has found a niche to serve in the SF Bay Area!

As I browsed I was pleased to see that not only did they carry the latest and greatest cookbooks, but Sack also stocked some of the books considered “bibles” by many bakers.

Older titles by Rose Levy Beranbaum and Nick Malgieri shared shelf space with newer books dedicated to baking such as “Pure Dessert” by Alice Medrich.

These older titles are often not even out of print but can be hard to find in your local bookstore due to the plethora of baking titles released each year. These bookstores simply can’t stock anything but the latest titles.

But the real fun came in browsing Sack’s collection of antiquarian books.

Sack started her career as a rare books dealer and her expertise shows in the wide range of rare and collectible books she carries in her shop.

Sack showed me a drawer with the oldest book she has collected, a book on cooking from 1600.

I was afraid to even breathe on that manuscript.

Sack gleefully showed me numerous titles from Victorian times and up that she wanted me to actually open and read. I couldn’t believe she lets customers touch these books but it appears part of her mission is to let her customers have that very tactile experience of holding, smelling and inhaling a book created and probably used daily by cooks like myself long ago.

These older titles were a blast to look through. The titles then seemed to leave nothing to chance – either they were long and told the reader exactly what was in the book:

“All About Génoise, Glacés, Petit Fours and Bonbons”


“Modern Confectionery: A Practical Guide to the Latest and Most Improved Methods for Making the Various Kinds of Confectionery, including Ices”

Or they were short and to the point:

“Practical Buttermaking”


“100 Salads”

No glitzy or clever titles here.

It was interesting to see that many older titles actually had advertising in the front of the book. I’m surprised newer titles haven’t gone back to that practice!

The most expensive book in the store is titled “The Magazine of Domestic Economics” and is priced at $700. This is a series of seven books and was published in 1820.

Sack wanted to get it down from the top shelf for me so I could take a look but I was a bit too nervous to take her up on it. I could just see me dropping it and explaining to my husband why I spent $700 on a set of books.

Sack hosts author events almost weekly. She recently hosted such industry luminaries as Mark Bittman and Jeannette Ferrary as well as newer authors such as Anita Chu of the recently published “Field Guide to Cookies.”

I later emailed Sack to ask if she would mind sharing a favorite dessert recipe with me. She very nicely sent me her favorite apple pie recipe called Amish Apple Pie.

Intrigued, I asked her if she had grown up in Amish country where this type of recipe is commonly found. She shared this amusing story with me:

“Quite the opposite! I grew up in San Francisco with a '70's mother who tried to get me to eat bulgar wheat and kale, and there was a no-soda policy in our house. I would sneak over to Lucy Boas' house to drink her mother's Tab. So this recipe is all about forgetting those times!”

If you can’t get to SF to browse this bookstore for yourself, check out Sack’s whimsical website:

Amish Apple Pie
As by adapted by Celica Sack from “Cooking from Quilt Country: Hearty Recipes from Amish and Mennonite Kitchens” by Marcia Adams

Pat-in-Pan piecrust:

1-1/2 cups plus 3 tbsps all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsps sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tbsps cold milk

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the pie pan and mix with your fingers until blended. In a measuring cup, combine the oil and milk and beat with a fork until creamy. Pour all at once over the flour mixture. Mix with a fork until the flour mixture is completely moistened. Pat the dough with your fingers, first up the sides of the plate, then across the bottom. Flute the edges.
Shell is now ready to be filled.

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
sprinkle of salt

3/4 stick of butter, cold
1/2 cup coarsely chopped English walnuts
4 large apples, Granny Smith, McIntosh, or Gravenstein
1 unbaked pie shell
3/4 cup mix of brown & granulated sugar
3 tbsps all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a food processor bowl, mix the first six streusel ingredients. Add the butter and process until the mixture is crumbly; it should still have a dry look to it - don't over process. Add the nuts, then set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel, core, and thinly slice apples; there should be 4 cups. Place the apples in the pie shell. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon.
Beat the egg in a medium bowl, and add the cream and vanilla. Add the sugar mixture to the egg mixture and blend. Pour over the apples. Bake for 1 hour in the lower 1/3 of the oven. After 25 minutes, sprinkle streusel over the top and continue baking approx. 45 more minutes, or until the top puffs and is golden brown.

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