Carrying on About Cookbooks

I saw the headline “Cookbooks to Covet” and it caught my eye.  Epi-log is very good at catching my eye and their eyes seem to see everything so by regularly checking in there, I don’t miss much. And boy am I glad I didn’t miss this one. It was a link to Abebooks roundup of 25 Beautiful Old Cookbooks

There’s something about classic cookbooks that I love – it’s not that I have anything against newer ones or current ones. Those are nice too. But there’s a nostalgia with old cookbooks (even ones that aren’t directly connected to my own personal history) that appeals to me. You can sometimes tell which recipes were the most used by the state of the pages and how it falls open. There are often notes in the margins, scraps with reminders about using this brand or that whisk and forgotten shopping lists/menus clipped to particular pages.

I now consider it a personal goal to find and at least peruse a copy of Cook and Be Cool by Marie Harrison (1928). WHAT a great title.

Figgy Forgetfulness

Happy Fig Newton Day, everyone. I am afraid that as on top of things as I was last year, this year I am without newtons on this special day. After the celebrations of Peach Melba day just a few days back and the arrival of new reading in the form of cookbooks (I love after holiday sales) — well, I just plain forgot. Result? There will be no fig newtons consumed in a timely manner here. Why no last minute dash to the shops to pick them up? Especially in light of the fact that I live in Gotham and everything is either right next door or can be delivered? For two reasons.

  • I am not having fig newtons delivered. That’s silly. Not out of the question if you are some people who live in my building but then, those people have the doorman carry their briefcase for them – even more silly).
  • It is 10 degrees outside and yours truly, though perfectly happy to indulge in newton nibbling on occasion, isn’t such a fan that I am willing to head out into that sort of temperature (even bundled up as I would doubtless be). No.

So, I wish you and yours a Happy Fig Newton Day. I’ll be over here, prepping for some of the other key holidays of the month

  • National Cheese Lover’s Day (January 20) – you know, there can never be enough said about cheese and I am really looking forward to this one.
  • National Pie Day (January 23) – I still feel that this one might be just a tad out of season. I associate pie with so many others times of the year – other than January.
  • National Irish Coffee Day (January 25) – after an Irish coffee breakfast most mornings of my Caribbean cruise, I have a new appreciation for this beverage.
  • National Pistachio Day (January 26) – which is really for Dad since I am both lukewarm on nuts in general and late in coming to appreciate pistachios.
  • National Popcorn Day (January 31) – which I am very excited about because popcorn is the BEST.

And now if you all will excuse me, I’m going to go immerse myself in Starting With Ingredients by Aliza Green. I’m rather taken with the book’s premise – or rather with its non-traditional information structure. You see, each chapter (there are 100 of them) focuses on a single ingredient – showing the different ways of prepping it, flavors to pair it with and showing its place in various ethnic culinary traditions.

It’s a book I meant to get to some time ago but I was slightly daunted by its size – 1024 pages! Enormous for a single-volume cookbook. And so I hesitated. But I’ve got it in my hands now and have started thumbing through. I shall report back.

What’s Old Is New

Epi-Log @ Epicurious tells us that retro cookbooks are back. Actually, they are just telling you. I already knew it. How did I know it? Because I have sustained minor injuries the last three times I wandered into the cookbook section of my favorite used bookstore. A normally robust section, teeming with titles and shelves groaning under the weight of gastroporn of the ages – the area has been thinned considerably and consistently over the past few months by hordes of women, shoving each other out of the way to greedily snatch up not only the originals but any reprints they can lay their hands on. I wasn’t even all that interested in buying a cookbook that day – just thought I’d browse on my way to the mysteries shelf when I paused. BIG mistake. I limped for days.

Speaking of the whole “old as new again” thing, Grub Street reports the repurposing of beer in Brooklyn. I am not a beer fan as a rule so I must be honest and tell you that I am not all that sure I’d like it the second time around either – bread or no bread.

But what if we don’t care about cookbooks of the past (which actually I do care about but I’ll go in better prepared to defend next time) and what if we aren’t interested in beer saved and used again to form crunchy-munchy croutons (which upon further reflection, I may not object too as much as I did at first glance). But what if we’d rather look to the future?

Future coming right up!

Whilst on Grub Street, I was reminded that Winter New York Restaurant Week 2009 week looms large on the horizon early next year. Start thinking now, friends for there is much to choose from. In fact, over 100 of the restaurants will be participating for the first time. Reservations open on January 5 for meals from January 18 to January 23 and January 25 to January 30.

Do other cities do similar things to this? I can’t imagine that they don’t. Anyone?

Cookbook Questions

cookbook.jpg yes, yes – the Friday Food News Peruse is late. Mea culpa. I promise that as soon as I return from my Sunday brunch, I shall peruse more news than you could shake a stick at. In the meantime, I’ve had cookbooks on my mind the past couple of weeks – after spending a considerable amount of time and backbreaking effort getting my mother’s collection in order. I shall have to take pictures of it one day – the collection, I mean. Not my broken back. It’s an impressive site. So while I am trying to get myself together, consider these cookbook questions:

  • What do you do with cookbooks you’ve “outgrown” or bought in a misguided moment of retail therapy? I have a pile of Chicken and Poultry cookbooks that I must donate soon. I don’t know why I bought them – except that they were marked down so dramatically and I was in a shopping mood.
  • Come to that – is it possible to outgrow a cookbook? I long ago outgrew “Cooking For One” – given to me 20 years ago as a graduation gift from one of my mother’s friends. A non-ironic gift, I am sure. Gee, thanks.
  • What are your favorite kinds of cookbooks? The ones focusing on a particular type of food or regional ones? “Themed” cookbooks? My mother prefers those “junior league” collection ones – with the spirally binding. She says it’s because those are real people’s recipes. They’ve made them, tried them and set them in front of their own families so you know they work. I like the ones that have some food history and commentary in addition to the recipes. Recipes are all well and good but I do like a little context with my instructions.
  • Do you write in your cookbooks or do you have a separate place for your personal notations? I’m currently sitting on the notation fence. I have post-its in my most used titles. One day, the “sticky” will wear off and I will lose my note. I will have to make my stand. To write in or to write elsewhere. But I’m putting it off for now.
  • How do you use your cookbooks – as inspiration or as a road map? I find I do both. I may find a particular recipe I want to try as is or I may find a recipe that makes me think – “huh? I’ve never thought of doing a sauce like that. I wonder if it would be good on this other thing. Maybe with this ingredient instead of that.
  • Are cookbooks a primary source of recipes for you or a secondary source? I find myself browsing more and more online – NOT for buying cookbooks (though I do that as well) – but for recipes. Sure, I’ve bookmarked particular sites but I also print out and collect my favorite online finds into my own “custom” cookbook.
  • Which begs the question – what are your favorite other “cookbooks” or sources for that sort of information? Friends, the internet, cooking shows?
  • And finally, a variation on the desert island question – if you could only have one cookbook, which would it be? My gut instinct is to say Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat since it’s a glorious read as well as downright useful but I am just starting to delve into Aliza Green’s Starting with Ingredients in a more serious way and I am liking it a lot.

Anyway, I found mom’s collection frustrating and fascinating at the same time. Frustrating because honestly, who NEEDS that many books and I know it’s been decades since she’s looked in some. Even worse, she has multiple copies of others and refuses to part with the dupes. But she’s had some forever – made some of her own (her handwriting is absurdly, preternaturally neat), inherited some, bought and bargained for others. I have a modest collection of my own but it is not anywhere near as well worn and used as her collection. And make no mistake – hers is a working collection. None of this carefully preserving titles in dust jackets. These books are marked and marred, stained, notated, dog eared, bookmarked . . .

Huh. This was supposed to be a filler post. Dashed off as I hurried to pull my brunch-self together. Now I’ve got cookbooks on the brain even more. Funny how that happens.

Stocking the Foodie Bookshelf

Epicurious caught my eye with one of the oldest headline tricks in the book today. The old “top items list” stratagem. This time it was Top 20 Essential Wine Books.

I don’t even care particularly about wine and I felt compelled to look. Sure, it might be my love of all things bibliocentric but it’s partially because I love Top Ten Lists, Top 20 Lists, “Best of” shows etc. Imagine my glee when I saw that they had put this post together as a sequel or response to one from last week (while I was still on tidbit hiatus) called The 20 Essential Cookbooks. Now, I know our own Fabulous Foodie has strong feelings on the top cookbooks, the must haves etc. So I was thrilled to see this and look forward to what Fab has to say.

  • American Cookery (1996), James Beard
  • Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (2007), Rick Bayless
  • Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (2004)
  • Classic Indian Cooking (1980), Julie Sahni
  • Complete Techniques (2001), Jacques Pepin and Leon Pererr
  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1995), Marcella Hazan
  • How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (2006), Mark Bittman
  • The Joy of Cooking (2006), Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
  • The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook (2003)
  • Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts (1999), Maida Heatter
  • Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook (1999), Martha Stewart
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One (2001), Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
  • The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes (1996) Barbara Tropp
  • The New Food Lover’s Companion (2007), Sharon Tyler Herbst
  • The Oxford Companion to Wine (2007), Jancis Robinson
  • Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood (2004), Rick Stein
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook (2007), Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso
  • The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes, and Down-Home Barbecue (2002), Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (2007), Deborah Madison
  • The Way to Cook (1993), Julia Child

My own view: I was SHOCKED to see Nigella’s How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food not among the list (it’s frankly one of the best BOOKS over all in my opinion much less cookbook) but equally shocked to see the 2006 edition of Joy of Cooking. Not that the 2006 Joy is a hideous edition (that would the 1997 edition) but it’s certainly no 1975 edition, widely considered to be the best. I will say with complete prejudice however that the index for the 2006 edition is the best index of any edition produced to date. What? I said with complete prejudice. Can I help it if a project lands on my desk?

What books do you think belong on the foodie shelf? Cookbooks or otherwise.