Where would Andy and Opie be without Aunt Bee’s pies? Or the Brady Bunch without Alice’s pork chops and apple sauce? Jerry Seinfeld could build an entire episode around a babka, Tony Soprano happily traded his gun for a fork when Carmela whipped up her baked ziti, and Betty Draper’s kitchen is a model of midcentury cooking with gems like turkey tetrazzini and pineapple upside-down cake.
A TV tie-in cookbook combines cultural anthropology, a food-annotated episode guide, and a culinary love letter to the characters. Publishers love them for their immediate brand recognition and built-in audience. The best of the cookbooks are filled with well-tested recipes that take genuine inspiration from their shows and characters. Others, like the Star Trek Cookbook, require a bigger stretch of the imagination since we never actually saw Mister Spock stirring a pot of kasha varnishkas à la Vulcan or Bones McCoy recreating the smoked baked beans of his Tennessee childhood.
Andy Taylor’s Aunt Bee is perhaps television’s most beloved homemaker; so much so that when Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook was published decades after Andy of Mayberry had gone off the air, it sold 900,000 copies. After moving in with her widowed nephew to help raise the motherless Opie, Aunt Bee was perpetually up to her elbows in wholesome, home-cooked meals. She baked fruit pies for church suppers, entered her pickles in the county fair, and brought picnic baskets of fried chicken to the town drunk residing in Mayberry’s homey jail cell. The dishes are all in the book, along with Andy’s favorite cornmeal biscuits and Aunt Bee’s justly celebrated butterscotch pecan pie.
She’s no Aunt Bee but Carmela Soprano knows her way around a baked ziti. The Sopranos Family Cookbook shares the secrets of Carmela’s ziti and sautéed escarole, and shows you how to recreate quail Sinatra-style and other specialties of Artie Bucco’s Vesuvio Restaurant, home to the finest Napolitan cooking in Essex County, New Jersey. Uncle Junior contributes Little Italy-style potato croquettes and Bobby Bacala offers cannoli-stuffing tips.
Vampires and mortals mingle over the Cajun cooking of True Blood’s fictional Louisiana town of Bon Temps. True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps has classics like banana pudding, gumbo, baking powder biscuits, and crawfish dip as well as a slew of blood-red dishes like beet bisque, blood orange gelato, and the Tru Blood cocktail of carbonated orange soda, grenadine and lemon juice, hold the plasma.
You seldom saw Monica cooking, even if her character was a chef. Maybe that’s why most of the recipes in Cooking With Friends exist mostly as an excuse for some Friends-centric jokey recipe names like ‘Janice’s Foghorn Fish Dish,’ ‘Marcel’s Monkey Lovin’ Mocha Mouthfuls,’ and ‘Chandler’s Could THIS Be Any More Fattening? Cheesecake.’
A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook breaks the mold of the tie-in cookbook. More scholarly than kitschy, it’s a meticulously researched and detailed culinary document that updates recipes while staying true to the Game of Thrones’ late medieval setting. Dishes are based on those found in 15th-century manuscripts and ingredients adhere to the seasons and imagined geography across the Seven Kingdoms and over the Narrow Sea.
If a food or drink was so much us mentioned in an episode of the show, it made it into The Unoffical Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men. There are Oysters Rockefeller from Sterling Cooper power lunches, the gazpacho served at Betty’s around-the-world dinner party, and lots and lots of cocktails (even little Sally Draper is known to mix a mean Tom Collins). Dishes were recreated using recipes that were adapted from cookbooks that would have been popular at the time or from Manhattan restaurants visited by the characters.
Bree is a brittle striver in the kitchen; Lynette is a time-challenged multi-tasker; Edie is a sensualist; Gabrielle is a spicy Latina; and Susan doesn’t know which end of a spatula to stir with. Some recipes in The Desperate Housewives Cookbook come straight from the show’s episodes while others use the characters’ wildly different personalities as a launching point for some culinary imaginings.
The most anticipated TV tie-in cookbook since Aunt Bee’s opus is next summer’s Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans. The HBO series provides substantial raw material. Treme is a favorite of chefs like David Chang and Eric Ripert who have guest-starred in past episodes and contributed material to the book. It’s set in in New Orleans, one of our greatest eating cities. Plot lines revolve around a fictional chef who’s ‘worked’ at some of the city’s top real world restaurants like Brigtsen’s, Emeril’s, and Gabrielle. Kitchen scenes on the show are scripted by Anthony Bourdain, who also wrote the book’s foreward.
It’s not out in time for holiday giving, but Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans can be preordered at Amazon where it’s already racking up some serious sales numbers.