Bestselling cookbook author Pam Anderson has seven books under her belt ranging in topic from one-dish dinners to weight loss to meatless meals. But her new project, Three Many Cooks: One Mom, Two Daughters: Their Shared Stories of Food, Faith & Family (Ballantine, April 7) is something new for her: a memoir-slash-cookbook that grew out of the Three Many Cooks blog run by her and her two grown daughters.
The book is not just Anderson’s newest release in four years, but also the result of a blog she and her daughters Maggy Keet and Sharon Damelio began in 2009. Three Many Cooks the blog began when the ladies were on a family vacation in Florida—at the time, Anderson's younger daughter, Sharon, was web editor at Fine Cooking magazine, and her older daughter, Maggy, was a budding foodie and a whiz with social media. Together, they told their mother it was time to make the digital shift.
The timing was right, and Anderson noted that her girls were now in the kitchen as her peers. “That week we explored our newfound kitchen roles, and I contemplated my new online presence,” she said. “Somehow, as we walked along the ocean and dreamed of what this blog could be, we were all in this virtual kitchen. As we free-associated names under that hot Florida sun, I blurted out, ‘Too Many Cooks!’ I’m not sure which one of us said it next, but we all knew it was right. I wasn’t alone in the kitchen anymore. We were “Three Many Cooks.”
On the blog, the trio takes turns posting up recipes, and each one comes with a bit of written history or insight into the family dynamics. Readers won’t just find something to cook, they’ll have found a space that feels like listening in on family stories.
It was that narrative strain that executive editor Pamela Cannon picked up on when she read through the cookbook submission. “I saw a connection between food, family, and faith,” she said. “I do plenty of cookbooks, but thought it might be more interesting as a narrative, both to me as an editor and them as writers. I wanted to be a part of their lives and I think that readers, after they read these essays, will feel the same way.”
Tackling a different kind of writing is what initially worried Anderson. “Our editor’s advice at our first meeting to ‘just start writing’ terrified me,” she said. “I had never written a book that wasn’t high concept and highly structured. It took me awhile to see the wisdom in this approach, but Pamela was right. We all just started writing our own stories, and I’ll be damned if a book didn’t start taking shape.”
The book is told in alternating points of view, with each story having a related recipe at the end. “The stories we told dictated the recipes we shared,” said Anderson. “In telling my father’s story, only one recipe made sense: Lemon Chicken. The carrot cake Sharon painstakingly developed for her friends’ wedding perfectly exemplified how much alike we two are in the kitchen. Chicken Vindaloo—the recipe Maggy made in a galley kitchen on the Caribbean—epitomized her coming of age as a cook.”
As for how to stitch the pieces together, that was a new one for the editor. “I had never done a book with multiple narratives,” said Cannon. “Maggie and Sharon sent their stories to Pam and she did almost like a first edit, as she did a lot of the gathering and the sequencing she thought would work. I was the fourth set of eyes on it.” When the manuscript came in, Cannon said the task was to find the stories’ path. “It took some time to find the narrative arc,” she said. “We likened the process to a quilt. They would have all these squares and pieces, and we had to figure out how to put it together.”