Update on the book situation and ruminating on cookbooks

A month ago, I asked how I should get rid of cookbooks and craft books. There were lots of great suggestions in the comments - thank you! Here's an update...

I posed that question a month ago, when I was just starting the packing-and-purging process. At that time I thought I'd just have say, one box of books to get rid of. But as we went through the zillion books that have accumulated, we realized that there were far, far more. (I don't spend much money on stuff like clothing or shoes...well ok not much on shoes...but books are another story). So, the issue became one of speed and convenience above anything else. Just the idea of listing the piles and piles of books tome by tome became overwhelming.

So, we chose the easiest option and have been carting books every few days to the local charity shops, who happily take them off our hands. So far I think we have gotten rid of about 10 to 12 cartons of books, I kid you not. We've also been able to sell a few (mostly sci-fi stuff and the like). Many also went to recycling (computer books mostly, which no one wants, not even our local Bring-und-Hol (swap meet). I swear I am never buying another computer how-to book again if I can help it.)

Nevertheless, I still have about 2 cartons of books that are sort of too nice to just bring to the charity shop. Most are Japanese cookbooks and craft books, plus a few manga. I'm not sure if I will get around to listing them up before we have to leave (the house may be sold faster than anticipated) but they will be leaving my hands sooner or later, at which time you will mostly likely hear about it.

Thoughts on sorting cookbooks

I've still packed away about 4 cartons of cookbooks so far, and still have about 1 or 2 cartons worth to go. My cookbooks are part inspiration source, partly for research, and to be honest with myself, a security blanket too. Still, I've tried to get rid of as many as possible. Here's how the sorting has gone:

  • Themed cookbooks (cookbooks for movie lovers, book-themed cookbooks, etc.) are the easiest to get rid of. They are mostly filled with fluff and I rarely cooked anything out of them - and when I have, I've found that many recipes just don't work. (There's one called the Nero Wolfe Cookbook that has a recipe for Chicken Fricasee with Dumplings, with dumplings that are just all wrong.) The only ones I kept of this genre: The Star Trek Cookbook (the Guy insisted) and a Walt Disney World cookbook which has a few nice recipes.
  • Regional cookbooks, from regions that are very different to where you live or how you cook, also get very little use in reality. I'm not talking about general cookbooks about a type of cuisine, but those ones you often pick up when you travel somewhere - From Massachusetts With Love, The Celtic Cookbook from Wales, New Orleans Home Cooking. etc etc. I've purged most of these, with a little regret.
  • As you might expect, people tend to give me cookbooks for Christmas and so on. At the risk of alienating most of my friends, it is rare that a cookbook received as a gift fits into my general library. I guess for me, choosing a cookbook is a very personal thing. Also, people do tend to gift big, glossy coffee table type cookbooks...which are mostly quite hard to actually use.
  • 'Diet' cookbooks are on the whole, awful. I got rid of almost all that I had accumulated over the years, about 10 of them with no regrets! I'd much rather try 'cooking lighter' on my own, and I think I'm getting better at this as the years go by. (The only one of this genre I kept is Cook Yourself Thin, mentioned here previously.)
  • Celebrity cookbooks. These vary wildly in quality and usability, even from the same author. Jamie Oliver books for instance tend to be loaded with nice photographs, but for me at least score fairly low on the usability scale. Martha Stewart's recipes and I just do not mesh. On the other hand Nigella Lawson's books are on the whole quite useful. Other TV-personality or famous-chefs whose books are actually worthwhile in my collection include Madhur Jaffrey, Atul Kochhar, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller and Rick Stein. This is a very personal bias of course. As for cookbooks written by non-chef 'celebrities'...forget them.

What I've noticed is that I only repeatedly use a small handful of the cookbooks I own. Of the rest, I try maybe one or two recipes, but that's about it. With so many recipes available in the interweb, I already see myself getting much, much pickier about what cookbooks I buy.

My most used English-language cookbooks

After all the purging, I realized that I only really use a handful of cookbooks. Here are the general purpose English-language ones that I really use regularly. (I'm excluding baking and confectionery books here.)

  • The Way To Cook, Julia Child. Also used quite a lot by the Guy. No. 1 in our house by far.
  • James Beard's American Cookery, James Beard. This one has lots of good American basics, and is peppered with just enough history.
  • Simple Indian: The Fresh Tastes of India's New Cuisine, Atul Kochbar. Atul Kochbar is the owner chef of a Michelin starred restaurant in London. I need cookbooks to cook Indian cuisine, and this one is my favorite.
  • New York Cookbook: From Pelham Bay to Park Avenue, Firehouses to Four-Star Restaurants, Molly O'Neill. I have the hardcover of this, which I bought when it first came out. It has so many and varied recipes and everything I have made out of it has been terrific. (Though I must admit I have avoided a few that that don't sound too good.) One of my favorite ways to roast pork, my favorite blini recipe, my favorite butterscotch brownie recipe, and on and on...all come from this book.
  • The Frugal Gourmet series by Jeff Smith. Remember the Frug? He has disappeared from the media due to some shady business, but the books that accompanied the PBS television series are really pretty useful. The first one, simply titled The Frugal Gourmet, is the best, but the others are good too. They're all out of print but are easily available used (and cheap too).

What are your most-used, most-splattered cookbooks?

Now I have to finish going through my Japanese cookbooks....

Add new comment

Filed under: