The result is a tremendously appealing collection of recipes that tell the story of American cooking: some—like lobster rolls or grilled hanger steak—are popular standards today; others are early versions of enduring favorites. It took me two days to cook the okra soup with beef and oysters from 1882, but as the rich aroma of this gumbo rendition filled my kitchen, I was enraptured. I enjoyed preparing a lusty green goddess salad from 1948, as well as reading the salad's history in the recipe's headnote. In fact, many of the recipes can be read for entertainment because of Hesser's excellent introductions. Lots, too, are accompanied by serving suggestions that reveal more of the book's riches: recipe after recipe from Times columnists and readers, as well as chefs, presidents, and other luminaries. The serving suggestions for the sprightly chickpeas in ginger sauce (1999) led me to discover a spinach puree (1986) cribbed from Ismail Merchant, a man who was clearly as good a cook as he was a filmmaker.