Library launches most delicious book club ever

Annie McCabe, right, fills a plate from a smorgasbord of Mexican dishes during a Cookbook Club meeting at the Lawrence Public Library, as Noelle Nelson follows. The new monthly book club brings patrons who love to cook together over a meal and conversation about cooking and recipes.

A pot of tamales was one of the dishes on the buffet at the Lawrence Public Library's May Cookbook Club meeting. Attendees whipped up recipes to match the month's theme of Mexican cuisine.

The buffet at the Lawrence Public Library's May Cookbook Club meeting included dishes such as black bean salsa, guacamole made with garbanzo beans and shrimp ceviche. Attendees whipped up recipes to match the month's theme of Mexican cuisine.

It’s an unusual type of book club where you eat the answers to discussion questions.

Don’t worry, though: there’s a twist to make them more palatable. At this club, instead of toting in matching books and paper handouts, your fellow members are probably packing a batch of cupcakes or a hot, steaming pan of enchiladas.

The Lawrence Public Library kicked off its new Cookbook Club in March. The club meets at 7 p.m. the second Monday of each month in the library’s activity room.

And it’s not really about books so much as it’s about the food.

Library assistant Kelli Tatum said the goal is to create an outlet for people who love to cook, exchange ideas and try something new.

That category includes people like Katherine Berkowitz, a repeat Douglas County Fair baking champ whose personal cookbook library is big enough to have a “subsection” just for Italian. (When Berkowitz surmises aloud that she may have every cookbook known to man, a woman next to her adds, “and I’ve got the rest of them.”)

And people like Annie McCabe, who collects cookbooks from everywhere she travels and, for years, met monthly with two friends to cook and exchange new cookbooks.

“I like to dream that I can be this wonderful cook that can make all these wonderful things,” McCabe said. “And it gives me confidence to go outside of my comfort zone.”

There’s also people like Madeline Wetta, who’s working on learning to cook from her mother and also sees the Cookbook Club as a good place for inspiration to try new things.

“It’s like an assignment,” she said, “working toward something.”

Each month members pick a theme for the next month’s meeting and loosely organize assigned categories for recipes. At the meeting, attendees explain their dishes, where they got the recipe, what worked and what didn’t. Participants email recipes in advance to Tatum and events and programs librarian Polli Kenn, who print them out and make packets everyone can read as they try the dishes and then take home.

May’s Mexican theme drew a buffet of dishes like chocolate chili cupcakes with coffee icing, shrimp ceviche, chorizo soup, pico de gallo, tamales and margarita fudge.

Recipes can come from anywhere. And the library is prepared for people who don’t have just the right book in their home collections.

The library’s cookbook section is one of its largest nonfiction collections. Hundreds of cookbooks pack a bookcase five shelves high and about a dozen paces long — and there’s more if you turn and walk up the other side.

There are cookbooks for everything from French to Arabian, vegan to gluten-free, baby food to a book featuring solely recipes with lard. The library also has lots of cooking DVDs.

Checking out cookbooks for free makes it easy to try a new diet or cuisine, or to avoid spending money on a book you’ll only cook one recipe from.

“The library’s a great way to test out a cookbook,” Kenn said.

Engagement is a major goal for modern libraries, so that makes it OK that the Cookbook Club, well, doesn’t exactly require reading whole books.

“It’s about community building,” Kenn said.

And who doesn’t like to do that over food?