Here’s what doesn’t make sense: The season that gives us the biggest bang for our food bucks is the same one in which we attempt to flee the kitchen – all because of the heat? C’mon, people. Install a fan or become bakers and canners of the night. Learn how to wrangle a recipe by prepping in the cool of the morning or by placing a griddle on a gas grill for long simmers.
Because the cookbooks of summer will tempt you. They are handsome and charming and informative. They manage to offer blendings of flavors and cultures you might not have thought of on your own. I’d wager you'll be inspired to make more than three recipes from any one of them.
These are listed in order of preference within their categories.
“Home Made Summer” by Yvette van Boven (Abrams; $35, 130 recipes) — This pleasant collection of recipes lends a certain European sensibility to seasonal cooking, and it could be just the ticket for shaking up a standard rotation of grilled this-and-that with salads on the side. Look for carrot pie with apple and goat cheese; rolled up feta and garlic bread with radicchio and mint; and stuffed, marinated zucchini blossoms with lavender salt.
“Fresh Food Nation: Simple, Seasonal Recipes From America’s Farmers” by Martha Holmberg (Taunton Press; $22.95, 125 recipes) — No reason to keep hounding your produce provider. This is a comprehensive self-help guide for the farmers-market community-supported-agriculture-member set, with mini profiles of CSA farms nationwide.
“A History of Food in 100 Recipes” by William Sitwell (Little, Brown; $35, 100 recipes) — What food lovers will be reading at the beach; the format delivers culture in fascinating, digestible chunks. The inclusion of Rice Krispies’ Treats signals the absence of culinary snobbery.
“Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen” by Edward Lee (Artisan; $29.95, 130 recipes) — I believe he can fry: The cheftestant we came to know as the Snarly One on Season 9 of “Top Chef” brings new ingredients and technique to the kitchen art that tends to scare off home cooks the most. His flavor combinations are compelling, and his tips read like a mentor’s blessings.
“Fresh Happy Tasty: An Adventure in 100 Recipes” by Jane Coxwell; $35, 100 recipes) — The adventure comes by way of the South African author’s work as a private chef to the yachted rich and famous — most recently, for power couple Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller. Seafood’s the largest chapter, naturally; recipes are written simply, with some techniques highlighted by process photos, such as cleaning squid.
“Bakeless Sweets” by Faith Durand (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $29.95, 100 recipes) — Those would be puddings, custards, mousses, individual jellies, icebox cakes and whipped-cream desserts. And I would be remiss not to mention the Salted Caramel Risotto. Many good variations on baked items, too, including brownies, Meyer lemon bars and creme brulee.
“The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook: Recipes and Reflections From a Small Vermont Dairy” by Diane St. Clair (Andrews McMeel; $27.99, 100 recipes) — Recognize the author’s name? She supplies butter and buttermilk to the likes of chefs Thomas Keller and Barbara Lynch. The book’s small history lessons go down as smooth as a creamy, cold glass of the stuff in summertime. With this on the shelf, you'll never again wonder what to do with the rest of a bottle.
“Gluten-Free Girl Every Day” by Shauna James Ahern with Daniel Ahern (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $29.99, 120 recipes) — Cooking and eating like this Seattle family proves there’s joy in “living without,” to refer to a regrettably named magazine. Nobody could work their way through this book and feel gustatorially deprived.
“Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” by Joe Yonan (August, Ten Speed Press; $24.99, 80 recipes) — In a follow-up to his 2011 “Serve Yourself,” the Washington Post’s food editor steers his singleton focus away from the animal kingdom. He walks the walk as a new vegetarian. The book offers strategies of math and examples via nicely drawn essays.
“Cooking With Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes With Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers” by Miche Bacher (Quirk Books; $24.95, 100-plus recipes) — They offer more than pretty petal power; flowers contain nutrients, health benefits and complex flavors. This compendium will persuade you to put nasturtiums in your corn and black bean salad and day lilies in your cheese biscuits.
“Bake It Like You Mean It: Gorgeous Cakes From Inside Out” by Gesine Bullock-Prado (Stewart, Tabori & Chang; $29.95, 70 recipes) — Although these creations are some of the most stunningly visual we’ve seen, they seem possible to re-create and almost irresistible. If assembly steps look too steep to climb, keep in mind that you are concocting works of edible art. Be sure to visit the compilation of book errata on the publisher’s website, which involves a larger-than-usual number of recipes.
“Flour, Too: Indispensable Recipes for the Cafe’s Most Loved Sweets & Savories” by Joanne Chang (Chronicle; $35, 100 recipes) — You don’t have to visit either Massachusetts location of Flour Bakery + Cafe to appreciate the chef’s hand. And you won’t necessarily be baking your way through the book, either – the hot and sour soup, the winter paper salad (go ahead, make it in the summer) and the cantaloupe-mint seltzer being three savory recipe reasons why.
“Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling, and Preserving” by Kevin West (Alfred A. Knopf; $35, 220 recipes) — Pleasant surprises await, in the book’s unusual recipes and in the author’s pectinlike ability to find the right set for blending food lit, essays and smart seasonality.
“Southern Living Little Jars, Big Flavors: Small-Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, and Preserves From the South’s Most Trusted Kitchen” (Oxmoor House; $21.95, 110-plus recipes) — Bright and good for beginners, this book has solid recipes, thanks to the expertise of Southern cookbook author Virginia Willis. Check out the chapters on “putting-up parties”; they are downright neighborly.
“Put ’Em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook” by Sherri Brooks Vinton (Storey; $19.95, 160 recipes) — Its use of enthusiastic punctuation (“Use It Up!) gets heavy-handed somewhere between the chapters on cherries and cranberries, and the photography looks dated. But process shots are helpful, and the recipes span a range of sweet and savory.