For me, cookbooks are so much more than a vehicle for delivering recipes. They inspire and entertain me and teach me about the world. They represent particular a time in my life, a place I've traveled to, or my family history. Some of my favorites are beautiful, with amazing photographs and well-designed pages, and some are quite plain. What matters most are the integrity of the recipes and that the voice and passion of the author is clear and authentic. The internet has of course changed my relationship to my cookbooks, but despite the fact that nearly every recipe can be googled these days, it hasn't managed to replace them. I still get excited when I know a particular author is coming out with a new book and I can get sucked into the cookbook section of my local bookstore for hours. I guess I'm just an old-fashioned gal after all.
This list is influenced by the fact that I currently have about 99% of my cookbooks in storage. I thought this particular phase of my life was only going to last 3 months and at the time I was curious to see what it would be like to live without my precious stash. But it's looking like it will be closer to a year until I can unpack my cookbooks and it's been interesting to note that I did indeed miss them, quite a bit. Here are the top 5 I've missed the most.
Note: You will see that I've been sneaky and managed to tuck in a few more than five books. Forgive me, please, but a year without your cookbooks is a very, very long time.
1 Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison - Simply one of the best cookbooks I own for its astonishing breadth, its fail-proof recipes and its inspiring flavors. Even non-vegetarians should have this book on their shelves as many of the recipes make amazing accompaniments to meat, or can be adjusted to include it.
2 Tender Vol I and II by Nigel Slater - I can find everything I need to know about vegetables from volume I and fruits from volume II. Nigel inspires me like no other cookbook author and even if I'm not specifically looking for anything to cook, I still page through these books like they're a scrapbook from a favorite vacation. Beautiful, practical, aspirational.
3 Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli - This is another cookbook that inspires me as much as it delivers recipes. The chapter called "12 Ways of Looking at Tomatoes" contains everything I need to know about this beloved fruit and Bertolli's "Letter to my Newborn Son" is one of the most beautiful pieces of food writing I have read.
4 The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham - I love this classic cookbook. It has managed to make it through several cookbook culls over the years, despite the fact that it appears to be a single subject. (Not so, because breakfast is not just for breakfast in my household!) Ms. Cunningham is an old school cook and her recipes are both reliable and innovative.
5 The Joy of Cooking by Rombauer and Becker - For the basics. I have three editions - 1953, 1975 and 1997 - and while there is some overlap, each offers a unique point of view. Many people did not like the 1997 edition, which brought in scandalous additions such as chili peppers and vegetarian meals and a delicious gingerbread made with applesauce. Personally, I appreciate the way The Joy was trying to reflect a more modern America and am happy to have this edition sit side-by-side with its more traditional siblings.
Additional Thoughts on Cookbooks:
• Weekend Meditation: On Not Resisting Nigel Slater
• Book Review: Tender, Volumes I & II
• Kitchen Contemplation: How many Cookbooks is Too Many Cookbooks?
• An Astonishing Avalanche of Cookbooks
• In Praise of the Well-Used Cookbook
(Image: Radio Fan)