Today’s post is a little different from my normal posts. It’s a practical “how to” guide for starting a cookbook club and lists ten tips to help you start your own club. In several of my previous recipe posts, I have mentioned the cookbook club I am in and I often get questions and comments from readers wanting to know more about our club and how to start one.
For those of you that are not familiar with cookbook clubs, in many ways they are a cross between a book club and a supper club. In the case of a cookbook club the book is a cookbook and, like a supper club, members bring a dish to the gathering. In this case, however, the dish is made from a recipe from a cookbook which has been pre-selected for the occasion. Cookbook Clubs are also an easy way to entertain!
Our club, Chef’s Table Cookbook Club, is going into its third year of hosting monthly luncheons and I can say without hesitation that it is something I look forward to every month. It has been a blast! In the beginning, not all of us knew each other, but along the way friendships have blossomed, we have laughed until we had tears in our eyes (think stories about Spanx mishaps), and we have enjoyed wonderful hospitality, beautiful tablescapes, and the icing on the cake, the most delicious food imaginable.
For example, at our luncheon this month, all of our recipes were from the cookbook, Fried Chicken & Champagne by Lisa Dupar, and we feasted on Mixed Green Salad topped with Orange Cointreau Dressing, Italian White Cannellini Bean Artichoke and Tuna Salad, Beef and Sausage Bolognese Sauce over Pasta, Pulled Bourbon Braised Beef Short Ribs, Three Potato Salad, and Blue Cheese Biscuits. For dessert, we enjoyed Burnt Caramel Cheesecake with Salted Pecan Graham Cracker Crust and Pecan Sour Cream Coffee Cake. Decadent, yes! Delicious, yes! Can you see why I’m a member of this club and why I’m encouraging you to start one as well?
I haven’t mentioned that I am a cookbook addict of sorts and have way too many! I love cookbooks and I like nothing better than curling up on the couch with one on a rainy afternoon. I read them like a novel and enjoy reading about how the recipes were developed or the history of the dishes. In our club, there are several other members who are like me, but we also have members who want to improve their cooking skills, simply enjoy cooking or like to try new recipes.
Our club only has one rule: We are a no stress and no drama club! If the recipe we make is a failure (and it has happened to most of us) or if something happens and someone doesn’t have the time or the inclination to make a dish for the luncheon, they come anyway! There is always plenty of food and our club is about fun, friendship, and fellowship first, then the food!
All of this brings me to my 10 tips for starting a cookbook club:
1. Number of Members
Chef’s Table Cookbook Club has 11 members. This number works for us, but I have heard of clubs with as few as 6 members and as many as 25. When thinking about the number of members you want, keep in mind that probably not every member will be able to attend all meetings. Also, think about the number of people your members can comfortably host in their homes.
2. Choosing your Members
Choose your members carefully. Think about your friends who like to cook, who would have the time, and who would enjoy this type of culinary adventure. Ask them if they have friends that they think would like to join. Do keep potential members dietary restrictions and food allergies in mind, however, when selecting your group.
3. Meeting Schedule
Our club meets every month for lunch on the 4th Tuesday of the month, so it makes it easy to plan and calendar for the year. In December, instead of a luncheon, we host a festive Christmas cocktail party where we all bring hor’s d’ overs and invite our husbands. Some clubs meet more often, some less often. This is an important consideration to avoid members dropping out because they find they over-committed their time.
4. Meeting Location
We hold our luncheons at a different member’s home each month. At the first meeting of the year each member volunteers for the month she would like to host.
5. Choosing the Cookbook
For our group, rather than getting into long drawn out discussions about which cookbook to choose, the member who is hosting that month’s luncheon chooses the cookbook. We do try to select cookbooks that at least several of our members already have or that are easy to obtain. Most of us live fairly close to each other so it is easy to share cookbooks if someone doesn’t wish to purchase that month’s book. Other options to keep down the cost of the cookbooks include getting the book from the library, ordering it used online, or downloading it on a Kindle or another e-reader. Several times we have also selected an online food blog instead of an actual cookbook and this makes access to the recipes especially easy for everyone.
6. Meeting Format
In our club, each member makes a recipe they have chosen and brings it to the luncheon, similar to a potluck meal. I have also heard of smaller groups gathering at someone’s house and if the kitchen can accommodate them, actually make all of their recipes there. Our group is too large for this, so we each bring our dish to the host’s home. Of course, you could also meet for dinner too!
7. Hostess’ Responsibilities
In our club, each member volunteers to host a luncheon at their home during the year. Because of the amount of work which that entails, hostesses are not expected to make a dish at their luncheon, although most do. Also, besides choosing the cookbook, the hostess for the next month’s luncheon comes about 30 minutes early to the current month’s luncheon to help get everything set up.
We set up a private group on Facebook for all members of our group to communicate. The hostess posts the name of the cookbook and any other information she thinks members need. During the month, as members select the recipe they are planning to make, they post this and members also use this space to RSVP or ask questions. Also, after each luncheon pictures which were taken that day are shared with everyone. This method has worked really well for us, it’s an easy way to stay in touch and I highly recommend it.
9. Recipe Servings
Even though we have 11 members, we make the recipes as printed and do not scale up or down. We always have plenty of food and this has never been an issue for us. In fact, we usually have enough leftovers to bring a sampling home to our families.
10. Meeting Themes
We usually don’t have a theme for our luncheons, but over the years several of our creative hostesses have set beautiful Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras and Halloween themed tables. We even had one member that choose a western theme and decorated her table with cowboy boots and horseshoes when we prepared recipes from the Pioneer Woman’s Cookbook. One month I was honored when our club cooked recipes from my blog and our hostess outdid herself with a Grits and Pinecones tablescape, complete with pinecones! She even embroidered an apron with my blog logo which I will always treasure!
As you can see, there are few hard and fast rules for having a successful cookbook club. Be flexible and use your creativity and imagination to personalize your club and make it something special! I promise you, you won’t regret it.
If you liked this post, or have questions please leave a comment below. Also, please follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. And finally, to be the first to receive notifications of new posts by email, enter your email address in the Subscribe box. Thank you so much for visiting Grits and Pinecones!
Next up a delicious Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce recipe that is quick and easy enough for a weeknight dinner, but also elegant enough for a dinner party!