Cooking by Design

The Short Stack series.

Winter, 2017–2018 / No. 40
Photo by Scott Bleicher
Scott Bleicher

Decades before celebrity chefs saturated the cookbook market with glossy hardcover tomes, housewives looking to impress at potlucks relied on recipe collections produced by local charities, or given away by major food brands. The more luxe publications featured a fancy cake or aspic on their covers, but there was little panic if a misdirected glob of butter left a greasy stain on the cheaply printed interiors.

Short Stack Editions, a subscription-based, single-subject cookbook series published out of Brooklyn, falls somewhere in between those two extremes, bridging the utilitarian with the demands of modern chef wannabes looking for an Instagram-friendly aesthetic and standout recipes concocted by writers with impressive pedigrees. The series originated in 2013, when Short Stack’s publisher, Nick Fauchald—a former editor at Food and Wine, Wine Spectator, and Every Day with Rachael Ray magazines—crowd-funded more than ninety thousand dollars to produce his first three titles: Eggs, Tomatoes, and Strawberries. To date, twenty-nine books have been published.

The initial allure of these forty-eight-page, hand-bound pocketbooks are their retro covers, designed by Rotem Raffe, Short Stack’s creative director. Pears, by Andrea Slonecker, an author and food stylist, for instance, sports an avocado-green pattern that recalls the dominant colour of nineteen-sixties kitchen appliances. Even Angie Mosier’s Buttermilk—a tough ingredient to sell in today’s lactose-free, calorie-abhorring world—ended up in my shopping bag, thanks to the lure of its French country-toile-inspired milkmaid design.

The books’ simple interiors, however, ensure the recipes dominate. Each booklet, printed on bright-coloured paper and accompanied by charming black-ink line drawings, opens with a brief introductory essay from the author about their relationship to the chosen ingredient. In Peanuts, Steven Satterfield, a chef and restaurateur, reminisces about growing up in rural Georgia, and the childhood treat of roadside hot boiled peanuts, while acknowledging the legume’s ubiquitousness in dozens of food cultures.

There are few personal stories included beyond the introductions. The complexity of the recipes depends on the individual authors, and vary from page to page, sometimes even within an edition, which means cooks of all stripes should find something that suits their skills or level of adventure.

Not every edition will hold the interest of every cook—chickpeas or grits aren’t for everyone, after all—but the books are so appealing, both in look and content, that anyone with a collector instinct might buy them all anyway.

Sue Carter is the editor of Quill and Quire, and the books columnist for Metro. Last updated winter, 2017–2018.