5 Bargain Bin Cookbook Finds That I Use All the Time

published Apr 2, 2015
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(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

I have a huge collection of cookbooks. When I moved to Canada from England, I had to give up quite a few, as there just wasn’t enough room to ship them over. But I made it my mission to get back to my original collection — and then some!

I source my cookbooks from all over the place, but some of my favorite and most-used books have actually come from thrift stores, garage sales, and bargain bins. Here are five of my best cookbook finds — ones that I bought on a whim and now use all the time.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Preserving Made Easy by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard

I found this book in a second-hand store and paid about Canadian $2.50. I was looking for a book on canning and making use of all the produce my husband had been bringing back from our local urban farm. I’d actually been recommended this book by a reader on my own blog, who wanted me to make the zucchini relish, and none of the bookstores in town had it. It was also out of stock online. So I swung by a local second-hand store, and voila!

This book comes out during canning season (and anytime I have a glut of vegetables or fruit) and is one of the best-used books in my collection, as I love small-batch preserving. It’s full of notes that I’ve made in the margins, and my famous salsa and sweet-and-spicy pepper jelly is from here. I love their recipes for jellies, jams, and pickles, and they are easy to adapt to my own tastes (with a pH reader, to be safe). For what I paid for it, this is a book that has rewarded me many times over.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

The Bon Appétit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild

This was a purchase from my local Chapters bookstore. Now, Chapters is not a thrift store, but they do have a fantastic sale rack where you can pick up dozens of books for very cheap prices. Let’s just say I spend a lot of time (and money) in there, as it is close to where I live, and let’s face it, there is something about bookstores that just draws you in. Chapters is just beautiful, and it has some lovely housewares on the main floor in addition to books. Food writer heaven, basically. This book was on the sale table for Canadian $9.99. Seriously? If that is not a bargain, I don’t know what is.

I make recipes from this book all the time, and its pancake recipe is my go-to. This book has some fantastic basic recipes and, just like in their magazine, each recipe is tested so you know it will work every time. I grab this book when I want to make a simple dinner with what I have in the fridge, and it has never failed me. This is a beautiful book that is going to be passed down to my daughter, for sure.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Southeast Asian Specialties by Rosalind Mowe

This was a brilliant find. I am deeply immersed in ethnic cooking, and I love books that can demystify it. There used to be small Asian grocery and convenience store across from my daughter’s school, and the owners knew everything there was to know about Asian cuisine. We had long conversations about cooking and recipes, and one of the owners made the best Malaysian curry puffs (I can still taste them).

That grocery didn’t actually carry books, but they had a few on the shelf behind the cash register, including this book. I asked the owner if it was for sale, and he smiled at me and said yes. I would have been happy to pay full price for it, but when I looked at my bill, he had only charged me $2.50, as he knew I loved cooking. When I thanked him, he was happy to see that book go to a good home.

This book is a comprehensive collection of recipes and information on cooking Southeast Asian food. It is divided by country and includes traditions and snippets of information on the culture of food and eating, along with a great section on tea. I reach for this book when I want to cook a recipe that is unfamiliar to me and when I want to know the background and history of a recipe, and it has never let me down. Google might do the same, but I can’t curl up in bed with Google, now can I?

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Around the World in 80 Dishes by David Loftus

This was a find in Winners, a discount store. I love Winners, and I source a lot of my food photography props from there. They have unusual items and are very reasonably priced. They also have a really great collection of cookbooks, and if you go at the right time (usually early mornings), you can get some fantastic bargains. This book set me back Canadian $5.99 and I love it, as I have always admired David Loftus’ photography and have used it often as inspiration for my own work.

While I love dense, incredibly detailed cookbooks, I also have a soft spot for personal stories and books that have beautiful imagery. A cheeky nod to the original Jules Verne novel, this book delivers on both counts, and even better, has recipes from well-known chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, Ruth Rogers, Nigella Lawson, and Heston Blumenthal. I always get compliments for his Andaman Island Squid. My sister currently lives in the Andaman Islands and I sent her this recipe. She loves it, and I can’t wait to visit her so we can cook together. This book stays not just in the kitchen, but also travels with me to the bedroom, as I love reading the recipes and stories as bedtime reading. I still can’t believe that I got it for the price I did.

(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)
(Image credit: Michelle Peters-Jones)

Le Cordon Bleu Quick and Easy by Jeni Wright and Le Cordon Bleu Chefs

Did you know that your local library probably does book sales? Mine does, and I make a beeline straight to the cookbooks, some of which are almost new. I am always guaranteed a few bargains. This beauty set me back Canadian $4.00 and what a bargain it is.

Le Cordon Bleu is famous all over the world, and this particular cookbook focuses on their quick and easy recipes. I love quick and easy, as I work during the day, write a lot during the evenings, and do photography during weekends, so my time is strictly limited. However, I do not want to compromise on the quality of food that I feed my family and that is where this book comes in so handy.

The recipes are quick, simple, full of flavor, and incredibly satisfying. The book has simplified recipes from all over the world, not just French classics, and they are easy enough for a beginner cook to whip up in no time. Don’t tell anyone, but my moules recipe is from here.

What’s your best thrift store cookbook find?