In Eric Emmanuel Schmitt’s short story, “The Most Beautiful Book in the World,” the eponymous book is written by a group of women confined to a Russian gulag who are determined to convey to their daughters one last all-important message about who they are and where they are from. With limited paper, each is paralyzed by an inability to choose the right words to convey such a message until one of them discovers the answer. The final line of the story reads, “On every page there was a recipe.”

These recipes are the meals we return to, spices and combinations that taste and smell of home, dishes we call comfort foods. They arise from our mothers’ kitchens, from our grandmothers’ ovens, from an imposed embargo, or from a long cultural heritage. A Haitian woman sells breadfruit on the frozen streets of Boston, and online forums are...

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