On Wednesday, February 21, the Warren Public Library’s Cookbook Club gathered to share an assortment of dishes they’d cooked from “The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese American Family” (2022).





They laid their dishes out potluck style – a spread of chili oil wontons, beef and broccoli, chicken curry puffs, blanched greens, Hong Kong egg tarts and other dishes from the book.

Library director Marie Schmukal and youth services librarian Amanda Gates formed the cookbook club in 2018, with community members meeting monthly – aside from the group’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each month, Schmukal and Gates select a cookbook from the library’s shelves. Participants then find a recipe they’d like to cook and add their picks to a sign-up sheet. The meetings are hosted at the Warren Library – one table dressed with china and flatware, and another where the food is arranged.  

Participants eat the dishes they’ve prepared and talk about their experiences cooking each. “We give a little taste of the process,” Schmukal said – speaking to the challenges that some recipes might present, or where certain ingredients were sourced from. 

While some community members attend the club regularly, others visit more sporadically. The recent meeting featured an entire group of first-time attendees. In any case, Schmukal said that most who attend are passionate about cooking. 

This month’s cookbook, “The Woks of Life” by Bill, Judy, Sarah and Kaitlin Leung, emerged from the Leung family cooking blog, which they started in 2013 to document their cultural and familial history through recipes. They write about Cantonese classics, dishes popular in American restaurants, and other meals dreamt up in their New Jersey home kitchen.

In January, community members selected recipes from Christopher Kimball’s “Milk Street Simple” (2023). They brought white bean soup with broccoli rabe and parmesan, butter-roasted carrots with zatar, coconut-lime sweet potatoes and a host of other dishes.




Last summer, they cooked from Tracey Medeiros’ “The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook” (2013) – a selection of recipes collected from restaurants, inns and others food producers across the state. The author joined 18 community members who shared their dishes outdoors, picnic-style.

Schmukal said that participants like the club because they get to try recipes that their less adventurous family members might not be so keen on eating, or dishes they can’t access from local restaurants.

Cooking from the Leung family’s book “got people out of their comfort zones,” she added. That was also true for recipes sourced from “Ottolenghi Flavor” (2020) by British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage, who draws inspiration from Brazil, Mexico and Italy. The book’s recipes make use of ingredients like tamarind paste, black garlic, fish sauce and Gochujang chile paste.

Cookbook clubs are somewhat popular across American public libraries, as well as bookstores, kitchen stores, farms and living rooms. Some clubs select an ingredient rather than a specific book. Others incorporate cooking lessons into their meet-ups. Many started during the pandemic, initially gathering on Zoom or other virtual platforms. Schmukal said she knows of around eight other Vermont libraries who host cookbook-like clubs.

The Warren Library club’s next meeting is Thursday, March 21, and the book for recipe selection is “My Vermont Table: Recipes for All (Six) Seasons” by pastry chef Gesine Bullock-Prado (2023). In it, the author presents a series of recipes for each of Vermont’s’ seasons – including stick season and mud/sugaring season – “a time,” Bullock-Prado writes, “when we blatantly celebrate the bounty of our maples because we refuse to celebrate the mud.”

Her recipes draw on the state’s English and French influences, 18th-century tavern fare, Abenaki foods, and other historical threads that have shaped what cooking and eating look like in Vermont. Club attendees can experiment with recipes like roasted chicken with sumac, maple-cider gummy bears, crepes with caramelized apples, and lemony Japanese knotweed streusel muffins.