Check It Out: Read up on summer comfort foods while they are hot




Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at

Ice cream, hot dogs, blueberries — the tastes of summer! We tend to associate the phrase “comfort food” with colder temperatures, but you know what? June, July, and August have their own line-up of summery comfort cuisine, and we need to celebrate these short-lived refreshments. Cherries, peaches, melons, fresh corn, berries — yum! I know for a fact that I’m celebrating — one more bag of cherries and I just might turn into a cherry tree. But if you don’t get the summer food while it’s hot (literally), the gettin’ will be gone.

Plenty of cookbooks and other food-related guides are available at the library and are just waiting to be discovered by you, dear reader. In the list below you will find a sampling of titles that are mostly summer-menu oriented. I use the term “mostly” because while thematic reading lists are useful — perhaps even fun — including a random title (i.e., askew or cockeyed — two of my favorite words, by the way) is a guaranteed boost to the merriment factor. Unless, of course, randomness drives you bats. Proceed with caution, lovers of rationality. Limited chaos ensues.

• “Dandelion & Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs,” by Michelle McKenzie: While maybe not that unusual of a title to include in a summer-food reading list, the reason for including it, is. Did you know that July is National Horseradish Month? If you search for the word “horseradish” in the library’s catalog, it might surprise you to know that not many titles pop up. Huh. But this one does, so horseradish-lovers everywhere, add this book to your horseradish reading list. Dandelions and quinces (I actually had to look up the plural of “quince” because, well, what are the odds of having more than one quince?) are included, but take them or leave them, as you will.

• “From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine,” by Jeff Cox: National Strawberry Rhubarb Wine Day was yesterday — but you probably already knew that (and celebrated accordingly, no doubt). As it so happens, just about every type of wine has a special day. I say, why not start planning now for next year’s special wine days by planting some grape vines and learning the art of winemaking? Practice makes perfect, so ferment on, fermenters.

• “Haute Dogs: Recipes for Delicious Hot Dogs, Buns, and Condiments,” by Russell Van Kraayenburg: If fashion can have haute couture, food can have haute dogs. Voila! Assembly line dogs have their place, but sometimes you just gotta go beyond the basic mustard and relish plan. Elevate that wiener to a whole new level with the help of Van Kraayenburg’s hot-diggity-dog cookbook. And, you guessed it, July is National Hot Dog Month.

• “Icy, Creamy, Healthy, Sweet: 75 Recipes for Dairy-Free Ice Cream, Fruit-Forward Ice Pops, Frozen Yogurt, Granitas, Slushies, Shakes, and More,” by Christine Chitnis: Wait for it — yup, July is also National Ice Cream Month. If “lactose-intolerant” is your involuntary alias (alas), but you really like ice cream, check out this book ASAP because you need to find your way to dairy-free, frozen-treat nirvana. Amen.

• “The Pacific Northwest Berry Book: Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Berries Throughout the Northwest,” by Bob Krumm: I grew up in the Southwest, and if you wanted a berry, you went to the grocery store. And if you wanted a fresh berry, you went to the grocery store during the summer months. It wasn’t until I spent my first summer in the Northwest that I actually picked a berry off a bush. And when my husband and I bought our first house, and I discovered that I could go into my own backyard and pick blackberries, well, it kind of blew my mind. However, when the blackberries tried to take over the yard, I was less impressed. No matter how one feels about the survival instinct of blackberry vines, the juicy goodness of the fruit cannot be denied. Check out “The Pacific Northwest Berry Book” to help you identify what you’re picking; then follow the book’s recipes to turn your pickings into finger-lickings. NEWS FLASH: National July Belongs to Blueberries Month is officially in progress.

• “Puddin’: Luscious and Unforgettable Puddings, Parfaits, Pudding Cakes, Pies and Pops,” by Clio Goodman: Hard to believe, but July has yet another special food-related observance. Drum roll please … July 15 is National Tapioca Pudding Day. Tiny firecracker pop. Seriously? Pudding is fine, but calling out tapioca pudding in July? Not so much. No matter — pudding deserves our appreciation, so don’t be afraid to go all puddin’-crazy right now. This book will definitely edify and delight pudding lovers everywhere.

• “Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works,” by Atina Diffley: Moment of truth: this book is not about corn. Well, corn is involved, but the main character is organic farming itself. For a fascinating and eye-opening memoir about one couple’s experience with organic farming, add “Turn Here Sweet Corn” to your reading list. When I think about corn — which happens more often than you might expect — I think like Forrest Gump: corn nuts, corn flakes, corn bread, candy corn, popcorn, corn-on-the-cob, corn snakes, corn flour, cornichons, corned beef — ah, question from the audience? Did you just read “corn snakes” in that sentence? Well, yes. Yes, you did. Question from me: will I ever have another reason to mention corn snakes in this column? No. To find out why corn snakes are called, well, corn snakes, as well as other corn-snaky facts, check out “Corn Snakes,” by R.D. Bartlett. Sssnakesss are sssssooo interessssting.