The Washington Post Food section has been a staple of national food coverage for decades. The Post has, for the first time, released its very own cookbook. The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes featuring dishes that have appeared in The Washington Post. Many of the book’s 173 recipes were suggested by readers and then compiled and annotated by the book’s editor, Bonnie S. Benwick. Recently, we had the chance to talk with Bonnie about The Washington Post Cookbook.
Here is what she had to say:
Q: What has been the overall reaction from people who read the Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes?
A: I’m really gratified. This was a tough assignment, in terms of wishing I had more time to do it! I think the reaction overall has been very positive. Readers are happy to see recipes that they had clippings of are now in a cookbook.
Q: How did you pick the recipes for the Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes?
A: At first I had a meeting with former Post Food editor and food critic Phyllis Richman; she was one of the key people who elevated the section to national status. It earned various awards under her tenure. I talked with her about the scale of the book, and what was the best way to go about it.
We published a blog post and solicited recommendations during our online weekly discussions, and we had people send in suggestions through the paper and e-mail. We received hundreds of recipes that people had scanned from old Washington Post newspapers, or 3-by-5 index cards on which they had transcribed Post recipes. Sometimes they even sent in a story to go along with them, so deciding was a bit difficult. There are regular chapters within the book, so my goal was to line up the recipes with categories such as meatless, poultry and desserts. I just wanted to make sure I had a fairly equal amount of recipes for each category.
If one recipe got three or four recommendations, then it was automatically in. I spent time calling freelancers, cookbook authors and photographers because we needed permission to use their work. It was kind of fun to reconnect with them.
For the categories I needed to even out, I checked our online database (washingtonpost.com/recipes) which has more than 5,000 archived recipes. After all the searching, we ended up with more recipes than we could use. No surprise there!
Q: What was the overall reaction of the people who were notified about being included in the book?
A: They were thrilled. In one instance, I talked to a very nice lady named Eva, a faithful Post reader who is in her 80s and did a recipe for seafood phyllo triangles. She had taught Greek cooking classes in the area for 25 years and her daughter taught as well. She said that for the book, we needed to make the name of the recipe “more accurate.” So we did!
Q: Can anyone submit recipes to the Washington Post Food section?
A: It doesn’t quite work like that. Most of the time, people are looking for recipes that include – or omit — certain ingredients. We then go out and search for the recipes to test for the Food section.
Q: What is your favorite recipe from the book?
A: Tiny Tim Tarts. I wrestled it out of the hands of the first food editor I ever worked for. You make them in mini muffin tins. Each tart must have only three cranberries, covered in a chopped walnut, brown sugar and butter topping and encased in a cream cheese crust. They are just the perfect holiday bite. I have made them for decades.
Q: Have you always had a passion for culinary?
A: I wish I could have gone to culinary school, but I landed in journalism by a fluke and loved it. I was an English major who wanted to teach and then I came up to Washington D.C. and started freelance writing and editing. It turns out that this is the best job in the world, because you get to find out new things every day and work with really smart people.
Q: What do you consider your biggest cooking triumph?
A: Well, I’m sort of addicted to brisket recipes. The first meal I ever cooked for my husband-to-be was brisket — six pounds for the two of us, which didn’t make any sense. And it didn’t taste very good. That sent me on a quest to find the perfect way to make it. For a Food section story, I was even able to judge a brisket cook-off at a synagogue where I ate about 20 kinds. I have found some good candidates, but I am still searching, by the way!
Q: Were there any recipes that you wish could have made it into the book?
A: Well, between you and me…and everyone else reading this…I put a couple of my favorites in there. Recipes that I wish made it into the book would have included one from a bakery in downtown Washington that closed; it had a recipe for Soft Gingerbread Boy cookies that were just phenomenal. The freelance writer had to work really hard to get the recipe. I wish we could have gotten that in, but hopefully we can include it in a future book.
Q: Do you use any of the Washington Post recipes at home? If so, can you give us a few examples?
A: You bet I do. When I test each week’s Dinner in Minutes dish, that’s what we end up eating at home on weeknights. In the summer I make a Top Tomato contest winner called Tomato Kimchi-Chi. It has a little Asian fusion thing going on, like a salsa with something extra. Also, there is a recipe for chocolate bread. I learned how to make it from a woman and her son who live in Silver Spring, where they bake in a wood-fired oven they built in their own back yard. It makes the house smell like chocolate heaven.
Q: Do you plan on releasing any more cookbooks? If so, can you give us a hint to what they might include?
A: The Post had never done a cookbook before and no one, including Phyllis, could really tell me why that was, other than this was a big effort and an investment. But now that we have done one, we are hoping to supplement with some eBooks. A lot of people have asked about our annual cookie issue that we have done since 2006, where we have nothing but cookies on the cover and include about 25 recipes each time.
Q: What key factor has made The Washington Post Food section such a success over the years?
A: I think we have never forgotten what is local. We do cover things nationally, but we like to focus on things in the Washington area. For the recipes themselves, we even include the phone number or address of the stores that carry special ingredients.
Q: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about The Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes?
A: I would say that this is a keepsake, which is not what I thought the book would be when I started. I would have loved to take a couple of years to do a big cookbook with a thousand recipes but that wasn’t to be. I think we have given the readers a cookbook they can use every day.
To order your copy of the Washington Post Cookbook: Readers’ Favorite Recipes visit our bookstore.