Cookbook Club members relish eating what they’re reading

May 13, 2024

By Beth Herman —

According to most library policies, snacks in the stacks are taboo. Many of us have irksome childhood memories of library staff, trash can in hand, demanding prompt disposal of a not-so-surreptitious Tootsie Roll. 

But for a group of curious epicureans, feasting inside the Fowler Branch of the Concord Free Public Library is not only encouraged — it’s an elevated experience.

Yummy desserts on offer at a recent Cookbook Club gathering. (Courtesy photos)

Incepted in 2015, the Cookbook Club was the brainchild of former head reference librarian Nathalie Harty. Barbara Gugluizza, who’s now the head reference librarian and oversees the club, said the gathering is much more than just selecting and discussing a reading the way traditional book clubs work.

Reflecting a Caribbean, African, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Irish, Italian, French, Indian, Scandinavian, or even indigenous theme or culture, sometimes aligning with holidays, members choose a book from a list she provides and prepare recipes of their choosing each second Wednesday of the month. 

“We have an amazing lunch here at the library,” Gugluizza said. The group, which numbers just under 20, follows the meals with a recipe evaluation and critique of what worked and what didn’t. 

What’s in a name

Dean Sullender — whom Gugluizza said tends to choose a recipe if it has a funny name [she recalls one dish called “Queen of Sheba”] — joined the club upon his retirement in 2016, preceded by wife Suzanne Knight. 

Among the original members, Knight said she loves cooking and baking, but it’s not a prerequisite. ‘It’s a supportive environment. We are all here to try new things.” 

As for her husband, “I don’t help him,” Knight said. “He’s got to figure it out for himself.”

The original male club member, Sullender calls participation an “experiment,” noting it’s a safe environment nevertheless. “Sometimes the dish turns out to be boring,” he said, or there are issues with cookbooks. One lemon torte recipe came from a book with pale pink print. He missed the instructions to turn the page.

“When the dessert was all done, I flipped the page and saw it said to continue cooking for another hour,” he recalled. “I brought in a very soupy lemon torte! I learned to carefully read the recipe two or three times before you cook. My mantra has always been: ‘Eat your mistake.’”

Copies of the designated book become available for checkout two weeks in advance, and people can register on the club website at that time. Because of the number involved, scores of books are obtained through partner libraries in the Minuteman Library Network. 

The group favors cookbooks from popular chefs because of their availability, among them Jacques Pepin, Mario Batali, Ina Garten, Yotan Ottolenghi, and also “The Moosewood Cookbook,” “The Milk Street Cookbook,” “Smitten Kitchen,” to name a few. At times, in lieu of a cookbook, recipes from a selected culinary website are offered.

Cookbook Club members get to share and enjoy the fruits of their labor. (Courtesy photos)

A buffet of experimentation

Mark Garvey, who is semi-retired, and wife Ellie, a teacher at Newton’s Chestnut Hill School, are among Cookbook Club’s newest members, having joined last summer. When his wife returned to work in the fall, Garvey continued to attend. Explaining that he does most of the cooking at home, he has also taught cooking classes at Concord-Carlisle Adult Community Education. 

“What I find really interesting at the library is the range of foods that are presented,” he said. “A 19-course lunch is really something to have!” 

Among admitted faux pas was Knight’s Puerto Rican “Trembling Pudding,” which required a lot of cornstarch and made it overly gelatinous. 

“We all agreed it was not a great texture, but it’s a supportive environment, and we are educating ourselves as we go,” Knight said.

Gugluizza quipped, “We have a disclaimer on the website saying, ‘Eat at your own risk.’”

For more information or to join, contact Barbara Gugluizza at or (978) 318-3345.