A Passion for Cookbooks

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1951 Cookbook for the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market [Chotda / Flickr]

It’s the province of fantasy. Of possibility. Of heroics. Of being Prometheus: stealing fire from the gods and creating from it perfect short ribs (and perhaps a side of pureed potatoes and celeriac?). It’s the world of cookbooks, the original do-it-yourself guides, where even the impossible is broken down into a series of sequential and seemingly reasonable steps.

According to Jane Kramer, who wrote a wonderful appreciation of cookbooks (which is no longer available online) in a recent New Yorker, and is herself an eager collector, we’re mad for them. Fifteen hundred cookbooks are published in the U.S. every year, and millions are sold. (That’s in addition to countless magazines, and an increasingly active online cooking world.)

Kramer notes her own personal lure of cookbooks — “They promise to transform me,” she writes — but I get the sense that she’s not alone. I asked my friend Yair, who happens to be the best and most instinctive home cook I know, and who recently has been using one of Marcella Hazan’s simultaneously magisterial and homey books, to describe it. He wrote this on his subway commute home:

Hazan’s recipes are grandmother recipes. They strive for a perfection of craft, strenuously avoiding the tiresome personal touches that less talented and experienced cooks impose on eaters, who they would rather awe with their creativity than please with a simple, perfectly wrought meal. The highest achievement of Hazan’s recipes is that the flavors of the natural ingredients emerge with extraordinary limpidity. The essence of a carrot is never better expressed than in a Hazan recipe. Nothing ever clashes in her recipes, and I have never come across a single ingredient in any of her recipes that did not add a palpable, distinct, and absolutely necessary dimension. Hazan’s book is not a precis of a regional cuisine but a collection of timeless Platonic truths, incidentally discovered in the same corner of the earth, about ideal combinations of the earth’s bounty.

From a personal e-mail to David Miller

What he didn’t say in the e-mail but mentioned earlier on the phone is that he feels lost now. He recently gave his Marcella to a friend overseas as a gift, and feels adrift. (I should also add that Yair is the only person I know who would ever write “limpidity” on a Blackberry. Plus, he makes an excellent celeriac puree.)

Corby Kummer and Chris Lydon in the studio

Corby Kummer with Chris in the studio [Brendan Greeley]

There are as many questions for the hour as there are notions of the perfect chicken soup recipe. To begin: What does it mean to have a passion for cookbooks? Are there cookbook hounds out there who have no interest in cooking? So why are they — why are you, if you count yourself among their ranks — reading? (And a corollary: What are the hallmarks of the cooks out there who would never consider opening a cookbook? Pride? Mistrust? Illiteracy?) What are your favorite cookbooks — and which pages have the most stains? What’s your dessert island cookbook, assuming books were scarce but ingredients were plentiful?

And then there are questions about recipes themselves. Do you favor conversational or authoritative? Is there a difference between a perfect recipe and a perfect dish? Have you captured your own family’s passed-down favorites with the written word or is yours an oral tradition?

How has the Internet changed the way you approach recipes? Has it become a trusted — if uneven — sort of surrogate grandmother? The place you turn when the omlette won’t flop but the souffle will? Or do you stick with Julia, Marcella, and Nigella? Or perhaps you actually do consult your grandmother — in well-thumbed index cards or in the flesh?

Julie Powell

Blogger, The Julie/Julia Project

Author, Julie & Julia: 365 days, 534 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen

Corby Kummer

Food writer, The Atlantic

Author, The Joy of Coffee and The Pleasures of Slow Food

Barbara Wheaton

Honorary Curator, Culinary Collection of Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library

Author, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789

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  • keepmoving

    I love cooking!! I love to try new recipies. I do not make a lot of meat dishes for health and financial reasons. Vegetarian cook books tend to be blah when it comes to flavor. So my favorite cook book would be one of my Moosewood Restaurant cook books. Moosewood Restaurant is located in Ithica NY and it is one of my favorite stops when I have to go there. I have eatten some of my favorite vegetarian dishes from there and their cook books continue the great flavor experience. I also teach nutrition and find it amazing how many inexpensive and healthy, flavorful, easy meals that can be made with a little imagination. Imagination is one of the key ingredients to any good recipe. I am so looking forward to this program!!

  • Jon

    Limpidity, indeed! What a wonderful idea, whichever of the two definitions you choose for interpreting Yair’s prose:

    Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

    One entry found for limpid.

    Main Entry: lim·pid

    Pronunciation: ‘lim-p&d

    Function: adjective

    Etymology: French or Latin; French limpide, from Latin limpidus, perhaps from lympha water — more at LYMPH

    1 a : marked by transparency : PELLUCID b : clear and simple in style

    2 : absolutely serene and untroubled

  • Robin

    The page with the most stains. At my best friend’s house in Providence (where there are 7 women living and making art together) there is a well-worn cookbook that falls open to the same page every time: a recipie for vegan chocolage cake. It’s stained with vegetable oil and apple sauce and coco powder, and the many smudges of fingers flipping through in advance of birthdays and celebrations and late night parties and saturday morning chocolate fiend baking sessions. They’ve made it for my birthday, I’ve made it for their birthdays and for others, and I know that every couple of weeks someone will bake one just because. That one page says everything about their friendships with each other and the life of their house.

  • amy

    I don’t even properly cook very often, but I collect vintage cookbooks. It’s such fun to see the photos of the elaborate spreads and imagine the sort of life I might have had in a different time and place.

  • Potter

    You are not going to read this because it’s like a tree with many branches but here goes:

    For me cookbooks are about recipes yes but also inspiration and appreciation of foods, well prepared. Artful glossy still-life close-ups on well prepared dishes, well chosen ingredients and other props move me too as the book publishers seem to know. In the last several years there have been some beautiful books. One I love, not new, is “Monet’s Table� by Claire Joyes with photos of Claude Monet’s house in Giverney, his journals and recipes.

    My first cookbooks from my mother were “Jewish Cookery� by Leah Leonard ( traditional recipes) and Adele Davis’s “ Let’s Cook it Right�. Adele Davis really inspired me as the variety of processed foods grew. Then I moved on to Frances Moore Lappe’s Small Planet books and combining foods to make complete proteins. From that a jump to the faddish Michel Guerard’s Cuisine Minceur ( currently the most unused cookbook I have) was easy….

    My mother did not really love to cook so much as she loved to serve. I also inherited a vegetarian cookbook/philosophical treatise that my grand aunt Lena wrote between the Catskill Mountains and Manhattan Beach long before the sixties wave of vegetarianism. My grand aunt foraged for berries my mother says ( as though that was weird).

    I acquired Julia Child’s volume one of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking� that my boyfriend Ed had traded one of his paintings for plus some cash in a Washington Square outdoor art exhibit. This was in the mid-sixties.

    Late sixties I moved to Boston and met my husband-to-be who came with a copy of Fanny Farmer cookbook ( from a former girlfriend). These were the days of commune cooking, Erewhon’s whole grains ( Newbury Street) and Moosewood cookbooks. My education in New England cuisine came from that Fannie Farmer book and from Globe recipes, a friend’s grandmother’s recipes and another friend’s mother’s card file and lastly my mother-in-law, with deep New England roots, who hated to cook. I gathered good recipes for scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, pork roast, leg of lamb, roast beef, cranberry this or that, blueberry and apple pies and above all strawberry shortcake ( the way it’s supposed to be with biscuits- not New York style on spongecake). You can’t live here without these in the repertoire, not in my house anyway.

    At the same time I went after my husband’s family’s southern Italian recipes especially the tomato sauce by interviewing my father-in law, getting an alternate version from his sister. Later the family published their own cookbook in loose leaf form. Uncle so and so’s this and Aunt so and so’s that, a useless book really with some good ones mixed in.

    I traded something, I forget what, for Julia’s volume two of mastering the Art of French Cooking early on. I still cook straight out of these books, especially volume one whose spine is broken. This book also holds a pressed pansy between waxed paper, the first flower that I grew- from seed. The recipes, which are exacting, are still well worth following for the lessons as well as the joy of coming up with great meals. My son is now following; he made the roast chicken and the potato-leek soup. (Sorry I am not giving you the French titles.. like “potage�) The braised beef recipes (once you have the right enameled iron pot) are superb and please try the “Reine de Saba� for the most delicious chocolate cake, dense, with little flour. Over the years I have learned a few shortcuts that I seem to get away with very well.

    In the 70’s I had a vegetable garden in the then more rural suburbs, great prime meats and poultry delivered from Savenor’s in Cambridge (you had to buy quantity for the freezer). Watertown Dairy grew corn in the field behind us and we would get the pot boiling and then go for the ears in summer. It IS about ingredients I found out before I knew your name, Alice Waters. I would travel miles in different directions to gather up the best I could find. When I ended my vegetable gardening (moving deeper into the woods) I went foraging a bit (weirdly for berries and wild rose hips) looking up things in Euell Gibbons’ book. Mostly I was fortunate to have the local organic farm (Penelope Turton’s Stearn’s Organic Farm in Framingham).

    Years ago we had a memorable meal at Madeleine Kamman’s restaurant in Newton (The Modern Gourmet ). I found her almost out of print “The Making of a Cook� obsessively looking to duplicate the incredible chartreuse frozen mousse cake we had that night. (I go after cookbooks this way). This book is for reading as well as the recipes. Kamman is a perfectionist, a teacher and a culinary chemist in that she gives explanations on that level which are very helpful, if not essential, for a deeper understanding of the process of transformation (like making pots). I have her cookbooks on the Savoie region of France, and another, “How French Women Cook� which attempt to preserve the hearty country cuisine that she remembers from France before and during the war ( WW2).

    I love Elizabeth David’s book on Bread and Yeast Cookery which is also makes for good reading. Her French provincial and Mediterranenan cookbooks are great references, the recipes are more casually written and really a pleasure .

    Diana Kennedy’s Mexican cooking series (from years ago) fascinated me and I taped it- the whole series- even though I cannot get the ingredients to do the recipes. She fascinates me, her love of and feeling for Mexican cuisine. I have her equally unusable (for me) “The Art of Mexican Cooking�.

    I also loved Pierre Franey, his tour of the provinces and their chefs on PBS. I miss him.

    Another chef-person I love is Jacques Pepin. I have his memoir “The Apprentice� which I have not read yet.

    Lately, last several years, and for inspiration, it’s Jean-Georges Vongericten (Vong, NYC), Roy Yamaguchi (Roy’s NYC) and Charlie Trotter ( on TV). They have cookbooks and I have fallen. They put together flavors and textures in new ways that clear the cobwebs and are often memorable. Recently we had a cantaloupe soup with a small mountain of seafood in the center at Roy’s. Vong makes a sweet rice steamed in banana leaf. The flamboyant televisional Ming Tsai is in this category.

    The bouillabaisse ( fish soup) recipe at Café des Artistes in NYC which I can still taste years after is found in a little book that they sell at the front desk (or they used to).

    Nancy Silverton’s book on breads (I actually followed her instructions to capture natural yeast over a period of days to form a starter) and her books on sandwiches and desserts are wonderful. She is another perfectionist. I’d say she’s really “into yeast�.

    For vegetarian cooking I use Deborah Madison’s big book and “The Greens� books.

    Cooking various cuisines (the fusions and modern interpretations) is a great way to know and connect with other cultures. I recently made a most delicious Arab dish, Maklubeh, (rice chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, caulifower and “seven spices�) that I got from a Haaretz blogger. I love the Julie Sahni books on Indian cooking, classics and vegetarian.

    The piece on Marcella Hazan written by David’s friend Yair above is just wonderful. I agree about her. Her dishes are simple and delicious. Thanks to David for sharing.

    The internet has made the hunt for recipes easier and I keep a folder of folders of recipes on my desktop but this does not eliminate the need for the books. You can’t find everything you want, but the internet is a great help in finding recipes and certain ingredients, like the disappointing pink sea salt from Hawaii. This is salt with some red clay in it ( ugh!)

    I am looking for the recipe for FDR’s favorite dessert: Blueberry Chambord Icebox Pudding Cake. Anyone?

    That’s it for now—more later…..

  • JFH

    My absolute favorite cookbook is Marene de Blasi Regional Foods of Northern Italy. It is a wonderful collection of carefully researched Italian dishes.

    Each cookbook serves a different purpose, the context is all important.

    These recipes are gems from Italy, many of the dishes are classicsm but each of these contain rare, authentic localized interpretations that deliver delightful combinations of flavors from a surprising set of flavors.

    The recipes are full of simple combinations that require the highest quality ingredients (possibly expensive and only when in season). While these are involved dishes that require ample time to cook, for most of us, it is this time that is the most rewarding.

    An example that illustrates: My favorite recipe – blueberry and mushroom risotto. The risotto is perfect, but fairly standard, but the addition of blueberries is, to borrow a cliche, divinely inspired. The blueberries are briefly sauteed following the mushrooms such that they turn a royal purple, lose all their bitterness and melt effortlessly on the tongue (the effect is very similar to those of blueberry pancakes). What remains is only the essence of blueberry, sweet and rich to counteract the meaty flavor and texture of the mushrooms (I prefer portobello but porcini also work).

    While I normally prefer an iluustrated book (I’m just a visual person, so deal with it), this book does not suffer from a lack of almost all illustration, it reinforces the simplicity and authenticity of the meals. In their stead is provided a knowing and familiar narrative to each dish that describes the locale, the restaurant, the chef, the setting, the history of the dish which the author has discovered.

    Truly a classic.

  • keepmoving

    Aside from my favorite cookbooks, I really enjoy some radio shows about food. The Splendid Table, from Minnesota Public Radio (I think) is one of those shows that inspire me to try new foods, find new recipes, and find new cookbooks.

  • avecfrites

    It would be good to discuss how cookbooks and recipes have evolved over the years. My impression is that old cookbooks assumed the reader already understood cooking and was just looking for new variations. New cookbooks seem to assume a much lower undestanding of cooking on the part of the reader. I’m not much of a chef; am I right about this?

    Here are some old materials:

    http://www.classic-cooking-school.com/

    http://www.classic-culinary-arts.com/

  • Anne L.

    I recently moved and had to downsize to fit into my new place. The hardest of my possessions to part with were my books, particularly my cookbooks. I allowed myself to keep one shelf’s worth of cookbooks. Among the books I kept are my old standby “basic”, Good Housekeeping and all of my Moosewood Cookbooks. I don’t use Good Housekeeping for the recipes so much anymore as for a reference for how to buy and keep various food items. I collect recipes from family and friends and keep them in a binder. These tend to be favorite recipes and having them made giving up all of those cookbooks a bit easier. I learned to cook from my paternal grandmother who never wrote down recipes. Her daughter knows almost all of those old family recipes so over the years I’ve gotten her to recite many of them so I could write them down. Some day I’ll translate a pinch into a more meaningful measurement. For now, I remember my grandmother’s pinches as being rather substantial!

    I love to use the internet to get recipes. Browsing for the “right” recipe is more cumbersome than using a book but in the end I have just those recipes in which I’m interested. I’ve been very surprised and pleased by the recipes I’ve found at Cookling Light and Weight Watchers Websites. I prefer to cook using healthy ingredients and less fat than many recipes call for and find absolutely delicious recipes at these two sites.

    That said, I still find the sensory experience of holding a book in my hands and feeling the pages roll from one hand to another, an integral part of preparing a dish or a meal. So as with other books and the newspaper, I’d rather read from an actual page than from a computer screen

    I look forward to hearing this show.

  • acSusan

    Cookbooks! Oh, do I LOVE cookbooks!

    In looking over my collection, I have 2 copies of about 8 titles because my grandmother and great aunt were great cooks and in the food business. The best part – the personal notes, and the additions and subtractions to the good recipes.

    When trying to find a recipe, I will look through about 10 different books and end up using a compilation.

    One of my absolute favorites is a book I took out of a library when I was working at a theatre in central Massachusetts. Yes, I did return that book and it took almost 20 years for me to find another copy – The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook. The recipes are updated from their original and the comments and history are wonderful.

    My other favorite is The Yankee Cookbook, published by Yankee Magazine with a date of 1939 – ok, so I have 2 copies of that one, too. One with a red cover, the other – blue. If you haven’t seen it, a fun part is “R U A Yankee Cook.”

  • Personally, my favorite cookbook related topic is the rise in popularity of cookbooks aimed squarely at the science of cooking. These books are as much chemistry or physics textbook as they are collections of recipes.

    Several of the most popular are tied to popular cooking shows and magazines that take the same “how it really works” approach to food preparation that the books do. The shows “Good Eats” and “America’s Test Kitchen” revived my interest in cooking and the books “I’m Just Here for the Food” and “The Best Recipe” were instant hits in my house.

    From there, books like “What Einstein Told His Cook” and the book I’ve found more of the others used as inspiration, “Cookwise” by Shirley O. Corriher have effectively made every recipe in the rest of my cookbooks into open source starting points. Instead of being some great secret to be followed religiously, they are the source of inspiration and the basis for many an unnamed meal in my household.

    As a geek myself, I find great comfort in 3 pages of explanation for why the 2 substitutions you planned on making after just reading the recipe are, in fact, the gateway to disaster.

    I’ve also recently been made aware of http://www.cookingforengineers.com/, on which the author has created an innovative (if unfortunately patent pending) recipe format that presents both ingredients and preparation in a grid that just makes sense to me for some reason.

  • Margie

    Hi — I live in France, enjoy food (natch!), have some cookbooks – but am surprised to see that no one yet has mentioned the masterpiece that the re-edition of The Joy of Cooking (in around 2000) is – of course the original is a reference but the son of the original author worked on the mammouth re-edition and it is political correctness gone to extreme and for once it is really great thing – because it will tell you how to do just about anything from a multitude of cultures. In fact, when I do translations from French to English that involve any kind of menu or food reference I can depend on the Joy of Cooking to let me know what not to translate – I wonder do we say “bouillon” or not?

  • benchcoat

    some of my favorite cookbooks make great reading whether or not you ever cook anything described in them–some of the stories in the classic Joy of Cooking are a hoot! I’ve spent many evenings browsing through Harold McGee’s entertainingly talmudic “On Food and Cooking” just stopping at whatever topic catches my eye only to find that hours have passed (and that I then knew more about subjects such as apple varieties or the history of dairying than I ever expected to learn).

    on a side note: the drink recipes in the Joy of Cooking are some of the best (and most potent) cocktails I’ve ever used for a party. If you ever try the Rombauer’s egg nog, you realize that these folks must have thrown great parties.

    I second the recommendations for cookbooks along the lines of The Best Recipe series that give readers the whys and wherefores of a recipe along with the hows. I’ve used these books (along with the America’s Test Kitchen and Good Eats television shows) to help people with no cooking skills and a fear of the kitchen become comfortable and adventurous cooks.

    while it’s not a cookbook, Kingsley Amis’ “On Drink” is a great companion for great cookbooks.

  • plaintext

    Mom’s copy of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook (nicked from her a while back) opens to pancakes – don’t tell the kids – it’s my “secret” recipe.

    Primo goto book: “Cooking at Home”, Julia Child & Jacques Pepin.

    Soup book: “The book of Soups”, Lorna Rhodes. Lots of pictures. Made Spicy Lentil Soup yesterday – yum.

    BBQ: “The Barbeque Bible”, Steve Raichlen. Memphis Ribs!!

    To impress the guests: “The New York Times Cookbook”, Craig Claiborne. Opens to Braised Lamb Shanks.

    To get it right: “La Methode Pepin”, Jacques Pepin.

    Stash: dozens of 3×5 index cards with recipes for Apple Pie, Chocolate Cake and that Lobster & Oyster stuffing that I’ve never got around to making.

    Gotta go – Jacques Pepin, “Fast Food My Way” is on the tube.

  • One angle you might want to explore is the growing popularity of DIY cookbooks, indie-distributed cooking zines, and cooking blogs/communities (there are, for ex., a ton of cooking communities on Livejournal, some explicitly recipe-posting-only, some for original recipes, some for themes, etc…). The Berkman blog group did a session on food blogs a while back: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/thursdaymeetings/stories/storyReader$361

  • tara

    Love it, love it. Another angle to explore would be the recipes developed by food companies — think of all the things you can do with, say, canned biscuit dough! I always considered it an amusing hallmark of my southern upbringing that most of my family “heirloom” recipes have at least one, maybe two, brand name products in them: Velveeta, Coca-Cola, Jello, Ritz crackers. The entire fifties movement of “convenience” cooking, sparked by the food industry’s need to market products it originally developed for wartime use, is absolutely fascinating, especially in opposition to the whole Alice Waters, use-what’s-fresh thing. Cookbooks represent our aspirations for what we want to feed ourselves and the people we love, and those 50s recipes are so linked to the ideas of modernity and efficiency, like the household could be run like an assembly-line factory. You can still find lots of these recipes in those little church-assembled fundraiser-type cookbooks.

    A great book on this subject: “Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America” by Laura Shapiro.

    I just noticed that my own shelf of cookbooks has “The Express Lane Cookbook” sitting right next to “The Pleasures of Slow Food.”

  • benchcoat

    Great idea on the DIY cookbooks! there’s a long tradition of them–especially if you include community group cookbooks like those produced by the Junior League. cooking blogs should be included, too–egullet is a fantastic resource and vibrant community. and I was remiss to omit the family recipe cookbook–our family recipes have had a huge influence on how I approach cooking. they’ve taught me not to be afraid of complex traditional recipes, but also not to turn up my nose at recipes that include shortcuts like “add one package Dream Whip.”

  • Also possibly of interest: Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote, by Janet Theophano. A friend of mine has a quick blog entry about it here. Essential take: Food and Recipes as collective memory, as feminist history (often the only historical record a woman in past generations would leave behind were her recipes).

    Also If you do decide to look at DIY and zine cookbooks, I have several friends who are involved in that scene.

  • bessbird

    I love finding recipes on the Internet! I have found some of my most favorite recipes online, on all different kinds of sites. Some of the most interesting recipes have been from places like Vegweb, or other specialty-palate sites. People have so much creativity with food!

    I don’t keep many cookbooks long. I try to make all the dishes that appeal to me, and the best ones go into my own cookbook. When I started my own DIY cookbook, I kept all my recipes in a looseleaf notebook on the shelf in my kitchen. I’ve since started a database of many, since my friends ask me to email them recipes from my collection.

    My cooking motto: make everything… once.

  • nother

    http://www.bestofneworleans.com/dispatch/2002-05-07/ae_feat.html

    this guy has or had a great cookbook store just off the quarter.

  • Marcel

    A bit late I know, but you should look into Julian Barnes, a Brit and author of a short, humorous and insightful book called The Pedant In The Kitchen, a book about vagueness and ambiguity in “cookery book” recipes, and how to deal with it gracefully.

    Also, Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe Cookbook. Perfect for the pedant in the kitchen as it’s always explaining WHY!

    Lastly. After a 17 year marriage during which I felt relegated to the kitchen sidelines (yes, only felt; I should have more assertive and less passive and thin-skinned), I have blossomed into quit the adventurous cook. While the word “gourmet” should be reserved for brilliant results, not just bold attempts, I am now regularly cooking well over my head and am personally happy with the results (not good enough to be entered into a competition, but well good enough to be entered into my mouth!) I’m also wowing my friends in the process. It helps that people don’t do that much cooking these days. For me it has become cooking for sport. And as a nice sidelight, I listen to PodCasts while I cook, included yours Christopher! Thanks, it’s one of the best I get!

  • Marcel

    Brendan. Is the link to the Julie/Julia Project corrupted? It takes me to an August 2004 date, and I can’t seem to get to a more recent date, let alone today’s date. Thanks.

  • Marcel: The site isn’t corrupted. Julie is simply no longer an active blogger. All of the archives are still there, though, searchable by date.

  • Sean

    How about the one’s we bought and never, ever used?

    Like: “From Emeril’s Kitchen,” Emeril Lagasse.

    At $27.50 for the hardcover version, it’s a fairly expensive consumer of bookshelf space.

    But yes, I’ve read it – cover to cover.

    Not exactly a page turner.

    A little thin on plot.

    I go to it often for ideas but I never emerge with a recipe.

    The food sounds absolutely gorgeous.

    Just too impractical for my household.

    Here’s another: “Country Inns of America Cookbook,” Ed. Robert Reid.

    Great stuff.

    Fabulous fare.

    Makes you want to visit your local Inn.

    Been on the shelf since 1982.

    But never, ever used.

    Why?

    And what to I do with it now?

  • mdhatter

    “The Joy of Cooking” is the only one I use. I know what I want my food to be, I just use it as reference for ratios and per lb. cooking times.

    Also, as a chemist I have noticed that A LOT of chemists are excellent cooks. I doubt this is a coincidence. (and I think I just strained my elbow in patting my own back)

  • Sean

    Another angle.

    How about hearing from those who never ever ever would think of opening a cook book?

    I know some great cooks who just do it so to speak.

    And obviously someone has to write these things.

    What makes someone a cookbook author?

  • bea

    I am amongst those who love cookbooks too, but I am also very selective in what makes me choose one. First, since I am visual, I need pictures!!! And they have to be nice! But…I also have all sorts of cookbooks, from the very dull plain ones, no pictures, not good fonts, and the very beautiful ones. In the end, I use the ones that are practical and the ones that work! Because let’s put it this way, there are well-tested recipes, and some for which it is obvious that the steps/ingredients lists were written quickly, with approximation, hence they do not work.

    Since I am lucky to have experience with cooking, I always adapt for the cookbooks I do not trust too much.

    There is a whole collection of very nice compact, easy to use, cookbooks that I simply love. My first one was given to me by a friend in New Zealand. Called “Bowl Food”, published by Murdock Books. Since then, I acquired many more. Then, there is the whole set by Donna Hay, and the traditional Lulu’s Provencal Table. I have to stop the list….

    So in short, cookbooks are like a wardrobe, you need a bit of everything to feel you have completed the circle!

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  • tajayana

    I am embarassed by my love of cookbooks. In particular I enjoy the books from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. I am completely self taught and these authors have such a great attention to detail. The end result is always fabulous and they also tell you why you are doing things. As far as food porn goes, the books of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid are on the top of the list. Beautiful pictures, adventurous stories and wonderful recipes. What could be better. How about a show about food blogging. I heard the great Thanksgiving show but I want more. I’m a little biased though, I just started a food/life blog.

  • dolma

    I love to cook. I have my tried and true recipes passed down from generations, a couple of well-worn cookbooks, and some cookbooks that have barely been cracked open. Lately though when I want to try a new recipe I go to the internet – to gourmet.com in particular because their recipes are rated by users. Every day cooks tell you their experience of actually trying to make the recipe, how it tasted, their suggests for alterations, and whether or not they would make it again.

    This way, trying a new recipe is less of a shot in the dark. I hate it when I put a bunch of time and money into cooking something new (like the five hours I spent once on a grilled potabello with mascarpone polenta something or other cookbook recipe) and it turns out not tasting very good. The interactive nature of recipes on the web is what I like. (I guess that is also why I am posting comments for an interactive radio show.)

  • A little yellow bird

    Here’s a yum-aceous vegan substitute, complete with mouthfeel, for mac-‘n’-cheese; and I betcha that even ol’ Garrison Keillor’d be able to stomach it, if he was stuck on Defoe’s island, or in Big Sur in a brokedown jalopy waitin’ for a tow in the rain: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/000685.html . From “101 Cookbooks” @ http://www.101cookbooks.com/ .

  • I would like to recommend a cookbook. It’s Italian of course but moreover it’s local. If you want a real down-to-earth, genuinely wonderful cookbook try Marguerite Dimino Buonopane’s “The North End Italian Cookbook” I have the Globe Pequot edition.

    I had the luck of having one of Buonopane’s meals nearly twenty years ago as a guest with the late state Senator Michael LoPresti. She was cooking and serving delightful cuisine at a social club, the North End Union. Her cooking blew me away. Get this book if you want a taste of Italian, Boston style. I’ll go further and say no kitchen is complete without Mrs. Buonopane.

  • meechigan

    The cook in our family was my father who passed away last April at the age of 89. He used cookbooks as inspirations, but in essence, he was an alchemist in the kitchen who liked to experiment. He had invented a unique meatloaf recipe involving corn flakes instead of bread crumbs and left me that meatloaf experiment scribbled out on an index card. After he died, I made his version of meatloaf. It brought tears to my eyes. Re-creating a dish of his evoked the most powerful memory of him. That recipe was part of his legacy.

  • M.A.

    My beloved godmother, Jennie Botosan, was a first generation Romanian-American. She was a marvelous cook whose tiny kitchen always produced buttery cookies and dark breads and deep, rich stews. A few years before she died, she gave my sister and I copies of Pofta Buna, a Romanian cookbook. She annotated the books for each of us and on the back flap she hand wrote a recipe for “Never Fail Pie Crust.” And it was true, the recipe never failed me…until this past Thanksgiving. My chronic procrastination caused me to be overwhelmed by making pies. I ran through the recipe quickly and refrigerated the dough. The next morning I began to roll out the dough for my four pies. The dough was too crumbly, not cohesive at all. And I became grumbly, and began to think that Gramma B had failed me with that silly recipe. Then I went back and re-read the recipe. Realizing that I had forgotten the necessary 1/2 cup of cold water, I measured out an 1/8th of a cup of cold water for each crust and poured one directly into the crust that I had already laid into a pie pan even though it was miserably crumbly. I massaged the water into the crust, pushed the crumbles back together and poured in my filling. That crust turned out to be perhaps the best crust I ahve ever made. Gramma B was telling the truth and I will never doubt her annotations again.

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  • stoutwoman

    Wonderful show! Oh I love cookbooks. “The Splendid Table” holds the keys to the secret world of my Inner Italian … “The Belfast Cookery Book” lets me slip into the world I might have lived in had I not left Northern Ireland as a child. Funny thing, it was “Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook” of ca. 1980 that saved my culinary life …

  • chip

    I had called in to the show following up on the theme of passing down recipes from generation to generation – the “familyâ€? cookbook. My mom, Marion Celenza (now 73), is the daughter of Italian immigrants and she grew up in Brooklyn. Her cooking has always been Italian-based but it is also influenced by cuisines from around the world. Growing up on Long Island, I remember that she was an “index cardâ€? person and in even hand-wrote a number of recipes for me (manicotti, lasagna e.g.) before I left for grad school. Then about 20 years ago she typed out selected recipes on different color paper in order to color code the recipes organized by menus. She came up with 52 complete menus (one for each week) along with several menus for holidays. My mom then assembled these recipes into a manuscript complete with 20 or so photos of different dishes and tried to get it published as a book called “Menu Logâ€?. Being a neophyte at the book publishing game she ended up “self-publishingâ€? Menu Log a year ago ending up with 1000 copies in her garage. She initially sold the books by word of mouth and publicity from her church, but then found a book distributor who got the book into her local Barnes and Nobles, where she did a book signing this past summer. (At this point she is trying to find a publisher to do a second printing of Menu Log.) One can still buy the remaining books through a number of on-line services such as Amazon.com. – for more info go to http://home.earthlink.net/~cookiecrone/ .

    People who have used the book (mostly friends and family at this point) have commented that the recipes perform well and it makes for an interesting conversation starter. For me, I enjoy reading through the book as it brings back many memories of meals that my mom would prepare for various occasions. In fact, she is currently preparing her own variations on the traditional Italia fish dinner on Christmas Eve. On a personal note, I get a kick out of preparing one of the recipes when I have guests over and then pass off the complements to my mom!

  • Red Wylie

    I listened several times to compile a list of some of the cookbooks that were mentioned in the show. Here is what I have:

    From Julia Child’s Kitchen – Julia Child

    Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One – Julia Child

    Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two – Julia Child

    Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – Marcella Hazan (not sure if this is the exact text)

    Fine Art of Italian Cooking – Giuliano Bugialli

    Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book – Jane Grigson

    The Zuni Cafe Cookbook – Judy Rodgers

    The Tassajara Bread Book – Edward Espe Brown

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