MELROSE — On a frigid night last month, the patrons walking into the Melrose Public Library were carrying books along with platters of cakes and cookies. They were here for the monthly meeting of Tasty Books for Hungry Readers, a food-focused book club launched last summer by librarian and club leader Mary Rasner, 34. “The library was looking to bring in new audiences,” she says, “and I love to read about cooking and food.” A match made in heaven.
The book the group has read is “The School of Essential Ingredients,” by Erica Bauermeister, about a class of cooking students who meet monthly in a restaurant kitchen. The book club members are not required to bring a dish, but if they want to, it should be something inspired by the book they’re reading. Given the level of interest in cooking — and eating — among members, little encouragement is needed. Tricia Breau, 64, of Melrose, brought madeleines. “Since the book is about a cooking school, I was looking for a recipe that I had never tried before. I had a madeleine pan that I bought a while ago, but never used, so I thought I would learn how to make madeleines.”
Hungry Readers is open to residents of any town and meets on the last Tuesday evening of the month. February’s selection was the group’s first piece of fiction. Past books have included chef’s memoirs — Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone” and Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” — and the culinary history “Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure,” by Samira Kawash, which was accompanied by a table full of confections.
Member Jennifer Breen, 35, of Melrose, was looking for an activity where she would meet others with shared interests. “This was my first book club so I didn’t know what to expect. But I found it easy to share my ideas at the first meeting and decided to come back.” Breen recalls a point during last month’s discussion of Marcus Samuelsson’s “Yes, Chef” when the author describes his time working at the prestigious Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa in Switzerland. “I could relate to specific experiences in the book,” Breen said. “I had actually been there and could tell the group that right next to that beautiful hotel was a Hooters.” She is sharing chocolate biscotti tonight, the dessert served in the novel’s Thanksgiving scene.
Rasner starts the evening by asking members what type of cooks they are, describing herself as someone “who follows the recipe to a T.” A round of confessions follows, with everyone identifying herself as follower or improviser. Throughout the evening the discussion moves back and forth between the book’s character development and personal cooking experiences brought to mind by the plot. Rasner has made a cake from the book’s website and while slices are being passed around a conversation ensues about who eats cake for the cake and who eats it for the frosting.
As the evening winds down, the title of next month’s volume is announced: “Five Quarters of the Orange,” by Joanne Harris, a novel set in a post-World War II France restaurant that is filled with descriptions of French dishes.
It is sure to inspire this group of chef-readers to head for the kitchen. And follow recipes to the letter — or do a little improv at the stove.