Interested in Writing a Cookbook?

If you have a burning desire to write a cookbook, stop by the Augusta County Library, Fishersville, Va., 3:00 Sat., July 25, and I'll be speaking about writing cookbooks and introducing my new book MRS.ROWE'S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIES. I'll also be selling the books and signing them. In the mean time, here is a great article about writing cookbooks. My agent, Angela Miller, is quoted in it and listed as one of the agents at the end of the article. 

More Pie for Everyone

Why Pie? Why Now?

When my publisher asked if I could write the Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies Cookbook, I jumped at the chance. It's a natural follow-up to the Mrs. Rowe Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from Shenandoah Valley because Mrs. Rowe was famous for her pie. We could not possibly include all the pie recipes in the first book.

The other reason I jumped at the chance is that I love pie. The mix of textures and flavors in any piece of pie—whether it’s fruit or cream-based, suits my personality. It delights me.

But even more than the actual bite of it in my mouth, I love the idea of pie. It conjures images of home and hearth to some, yet to others it conjures more base appetites—lust and passion enclosed in a perfect crust or perfectly crafted meringue. These two images don’t necessarily have to be at odds with one another—as those of us who are married with children can attest to. 

In fact, pie is many things to many people. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can also be as simple or elegant as you want to it be. You can bake a blackberry pie, for example, with more expensive but locally grown blackberries, or you can buy a can of berries or even frozen ones. You can stick with a simple pumpkin pie, made with Libby’s canned pumpkin—or you can go as far growing your own pumpkins for mashing.

As I researched this book, I talked to a lot of people about pie—cookbook authors, food writers, restaurant owners, neighbors, friends and family members.  It became clear to me that many people have strong feelings about it.  Unfortunately, one of the feelings that cropped up about it is crust-anxiety. That’s a topic for another discussion. Another thing that kept cropped up frequently was that most people judge pie by the way their own mother’s made it for them as a child. How’s that for a link between love and pie?

So, I say more pie for everyone.  It’s the perfect time for it—we all could use a little more love, a lot more fun, and a simple bit of joy baked in our own ovens.

Five Surpising Facts about Writing Cookbooks

This is a post from a few years back. I wrote it right before my first cookbook came out. I thought I'd re-post it as way to introduce my next post.

I've been in the publishing business, in one form or another, for over 20 years. But creating a cookbook was a new experience. I've
learned so much about cookbooks that I will never, ever, look at them
the same way again. A good cookbook is a work of art. Here are the
surprising top five things I've learned:

1. There are literary agents that specialize in cookbooks. Also, publicists specialize in cookbook authors.
2. Every publisher has its own recipe style. For example, one house may
want you to use numbers, like "1/2" cup, another one might prefer
"one-half" cup. (There is also a whole style book just for recipe writing–RECIPES INTO TYPE. )
3. I've written in many venues and in several different styles of
writing, but recipe headnotes were the most challenging thing I've ever
written. (The headnotes are the text that comes before the recipe,
often giving serving suggestions or a story about the recipe.) They
need to be interesting, practical, and not too culinary-cutesy or
gourmet artsy-fartsy. When I read a cookbook, the headnotes are often
the part I read first. I go through the whole book and just read the
4. Recipes need to be professionally tested—or at least, this cookbook
needed that. I am not sure how testing is handled when it's a chef's
book, but this restaurant cookbook needed to be professionally tested
in order to see how the recipes would work for the home cook.
5. Recipes need to be gone over and over again meticulously. Recently a
friend relayed a story to me about her husband making a dish that
called for heavy whipped cream. He used cool-whip, which, of course,
ruined the whole dish that otherwise had been prepared perfectly.

Saveur’s Latest Issue

Check out this month's issue of Saveur. The front cover has some gorgeous pies on it. Several really good articles on pie are included in the magazine. I love the article on mincemeat pie. I do not eat the stuff, but truly it is a fascinating pie. A pie full of history. Check it out.
In the mean time, MRS. ROWE'S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIE is in production, after a truly harrowing back and forth meticulous editng stage. The next time I see it, the book will be in laid-out pages and I expect some mistakes will pop out at me. Better then, than after it's been published.
Happy pie eating! And stay tuned.

Our Little Book of Pie

The developmental edits of Mrs. Rowe's Little Book of Southern Pie are done. The editor emailed me the manuscript with questions and changes for me and I sent them back to her. First, I needed to get our tester and the owner of the restaurant to weigh in on some of the questions—especially those of a technical nature. Baking can be like that. This book is not meant to be an encyclopedia of pie baking, but more of a fun take on pie, with loads of delcious southern recipes. But still some technical issues need to be addressed. For example, I added in two paragraphs about equipment—double boilers and pie cutters.
So after I sent in the latest version, my editor sent it to the copy editor. By Friday, she already had a list of more questions for me. This, I think, after just a quick reading of the manuscript. Copy editors are truly a different breed. It's so helpful to have some outside eye come into a project like this, especially a trained one. You never know what they might catch. At this point, I hope there's not much to catch—but I know that it is absolutely the best thing for everybody that she query everything that strikes her fancy.   I hope for another push for excellence.

Seeing Pie

The pie book is moving right along. It’s a much different experience than my first book, although there are some similarities—both are cookbooks and both have the same publisher, Ten Speed Press.
The first book was chock full of archival photos, along with pictures taken by Ed Anderson, sent by the publisher to the restaurant. It was so much fun watching him work and seeing the final product.
With MRS. ROWE’S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIE,  Ten Speed opted for a pie photo shoot. If you think this means that they whipped up a few of the pies and pulled out a camera, you would be sadly mistaken. It took a whole team of incredibly talented individuals to pull off the photo shoot, headed by Lisa Westmoreland, my editor. The food stylist that baked the pies and made them look so fabulous was Kim Konecny (; the food stylist that pulled it all together, with all the right objects and placements of those objects was Christine Wolheim (  Jennifer Martine ( took the pictures that pulled it all together with her exquisite eye and skill.When Lisa emailed me the pdfs, the photos actually brought tears to my eyes. I did not expect such a reaction. I’ve been thinking about those tears and wondering what it was really about. Viewing the pictures was a moment of unexpected clarity. It was so obvious to me that someone had taken great care with the photos, and it showed with the details and lighting, the way the pies are placed, the props used—and I dunno—just the way the pictures were taken. So respectful and thoughtful.  I sit in front of my computer and write and I do that alone. I sometimes wonder if anybody is OUT THERE that is even open to my work, let alone appreciates it. (I can write a whole book about THAT strangeness.) But the pictures speak not just of me and my work, (and of all the talented women on this project) but of pie and all it it represents— the customs and traditions of pie, what it means in our culture, and ultimately, the care and time it takes to bake a pie.  Call it love, commitment,  or whatever you want.
Can you see all that in photos of pie? You can—if it’s truly there.

Pie Photo Shoot

The pie book is currently with my editor at Ten Speed. I turned it in about a week early. One of the exciting things happening is that TS has already set up a photo shoot and we’ve actually seen the first draft of the cover. Instead of sending a photographer to Virginia, like they did with the last book, they are making the pies and a local nationally-known food photographer is going to take pictures. I can’t help but wonder…what will happen to all the leftovers? Will there be any? I picture a group of editors, artists, and photographers getting together and having a pie feast. I am not worried about the look of the book. TS has a way with design. But, I am kinda worried about that pie….;-)

Visiting Mrs. Rowe’s Country Buffet, Mount Crawford, Va.

My day at Mrs. Rowe’ s Country Buffet was an interesting change of pace. I’ve been writing about the Staunton restaurant for a few years now. This is the first chance I’ve had to visit the kitchen at the Buffet. I spoke with the baker, Angie, and watched her prepare the pies. I took a few shots of her making the morning’s pie. She prepares the cream pies in the morning and fruit in the afternoon. I also took some shots of the sliced pie on the buffet table and counters. Mmmmm. I think I gained five pounds just smelling the egg custard coming out of the oven.

Thinking about pie

I’ve been doing a lot of preliminary research on pie. Reading a lot. Watching movies. (Ohmigoodness you HAVE to see Waitress if you are interested in pie—and who isn’t?) My next book MRS. ROWE’S LITTLE BOOK OF SOUTHERN PIE will be out next spring and the manuscript is due this summer. So, the blog will be focusing on that book, now. (I am actually thinking of changing the name.)
To give you some Idea of what I’ve been up to, along with all the research, I’ve been finding a pie tester. Now that we have one (Kate Antea), I am working with her, answering questions, and chatting about pie. Some of the recipes are handwritten and leave off some necessary details, like to use a double boiler, a very important thing to know, as well as temperature and time for baking. Hmmm. You’d think someone would have jotted that down somewhere.
And I am also creating lists and schedules to keep us all on the same page. We need to know where each recipe is. With the tester? With me? Yet to be gathered? Tested?
Yesterday, I made up a flier for the restaurants—asking people to call me with their pie stories. Today, I start making phone call to people I talked to for the first book. I am sure some will have a pie story or two.
As far as the writing goes, as I reported to my editor this week, it is scattered. I have bits and pieces of it, but there is no real substance to it yet. I am really beginning to focus on it now. But as you can see there are so many other little things I have to take care in order to keep the book moving forward.
It’s a vastly different experience that the first book, which I had written before I even had a publisher. Of course, it had to be rewritten (oh, a few times). And the main character in the first book was Mrs. Rowe herself. In this book, it’s pie.