April – Cookbook Memories

Do you collect things? My personal collection (read obsession) is cookbooks. My library shelves are bursting at the seams.

Some of the collection

Some of the collection

I really do need to do a purge but cannot bring myself to part with any of them. They are a very personal history of my life and that of the women in my family. They tell the story of my evolution as a cook, and how cooking has changed over the last few decades. I have cookbooks that belonged to my mother and grandmother, very precious for the memories they contain. With my mother (and grandmother when I was quite young) I spent hours discussing recipes, ingredients, and menus. When I visited my mother in Florida, we explored any new market near her. I remember her delight when arugula finally made it to the local stores. It was a regular in California where I lived, but less common for her and therefore highly treasured. Traveling together, local farmer’s markets and food specialty stores were goals and highlights. In the evenings we cooked together. Neither of us wanted to go out because it was so much more fun spending time in the kitchen together.

This was one of the first cookbooks my mother gave to me, with a cover she lovingly made herself.



Can you guess?

Mastering the Art of French Cooking b Julia Child

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

JC was always Julia Child to her.

But how do you tell, out of those hundreds (I am afraid to count) of cookbooks if it’s a good one? For me it’s the food stains on the pages and the notes in the margins.

Stained and well used pages of a recipe

Stained and well used pages of a recipe

I read cookbooks like others folks read novels. But unlike novels, which I mostly read on my Ipad, for cookbooks I want an actual book I can hold in my hands…hardback preferred.

The recipe pictured above came for the book The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. Paul is a Michelin-starred chef so his preserving manual is different from any others in my collection. The recipes are creative and imaginative, inspired by his restaurant, Vie, in Western Springs, Illinois. He gives menus plus suggestions for using those pickles. It’s a treasure trove of ideas.

My Meyer lemon tree is bursting with lemons which need to be picked. This will be the third year I’ve made Aigre-Deux with them, the jars from last year are almost gone. Look for a post later this week.

What are your favorite and most used cookbooks?

14 thoughts on “April – Cookbook Memories

      • Oh I agree! And frequently they have obscure ingredients. I like Jamie Oliver but some of his cookbooks are full of great photos but not much else. I was in London not long ago and saw his newest cookbook as well a Nigella Lawson’s. Nothing to write home about! The J.C is great haha!

  1. My Mum hated cooking, you were lucky to learn from yours. I’m a cookbook reader too Liz. I love older books, well researched, thoroughly tested, books that include some social history or contextual insight into the dishes. My most battered and well used is a simple Penguin paperback “The New Book of Middle Food” by Claudia Roden. I’ve been cooking from it for close to 30 years. I also have shelves groaning with books, most I refer to regularly. In defence of Nigella Lawson, her recipes always work and they’re delicious.

    • You know I think I learned to cook from her by osmosis, we would sit and chat in the kitchen while she prepared dinner each night. When she started her cooking school I had graduated from the University and was away in New York. Your recipes are fabulous, what prompted you to start cooking?

      I’ll have to look for that book, I don’t know it. And I also love the ones with some history or background on the recipes.

  2. Lovely post Liz – you have inspired me to write something similar. I recently managed a mini purge – it wasn’t easy but I tried to pass them onto family and friends rather than throwing away….

  3. What an awesome post. I love, love that handmade cookbook cover by your mother. Amazing. I haven’t read that cookbook from Julia Child but it’s one that’s reached ‘iconic status’ so I’ve wanted to track a copy down for a while. Like you, I read cookbooks like novels so it’s so much fun getting a new one to devour. As for seeing well-loved pages, I love going though my mother’s recipe book cupboard when I visit, figuring out which ones she made the most as a young woman (cakes, for sure!) and chatting about recipes. It’s wonderful how food, the process of creating and eating food, can bring us together 🙂

    • Hi Laura, thank you. The joke was that she called that first book by Julia Child her “bible”. Hope I don’t offend anyone. I used to do the same when I went to visit her, now I have a file box filled with her recipes and notes. It’s treasured.

  4. I feel so much the same way – there are so many memories! I love the cover, btw! My grandfather said that if you let a book fall open it would always open to a “dirty” part – and I always laugh inside because that is VERY true with my cookbooks…my fave books just fall open to the most used and dirtiest pages, lol!

    When I stay at people’s houses, I love browsing through their cookbooks and I do read them like other’s read novels, too. I gave so many away to my daughter and missed them until it had been so long that I’d forgotten what they were. My faves are the old checkered Betty Crocker, my Mom’s collection of different NY Times, a couple of Silver Palettes given to me by a friend, Fannie Farmer for reliability and my Mom’s Meta Givens’ Encyclopedia of Modern Cooking. I also have a huge collection of Mexican cookbooks, everything from little known to the biggies…

  5. Ha ha, love your grandfather’s comment, it is so true! Lucky you to have a daughter who shares your passion for good food. I’m hopeful that someday I will have a daughter-in-law who loves to cook, or that my son will catch the bug. He loves to eat, but cook, no so much. For me it’s Joy of Cooking, Gourmet, some hardback books from Cooks, Julia Child, Silver Palette (although I sometimes find the recipes don’t work as I imagined), Michael Chiarello’s books, those by Suzanne Goin…ok I better stop. This is why I can’t let go of any of them. I also love Mexican cookbooks although I find the various chilis difficult to find outside a Mexican grocery.

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