Kitchen Contemplation: How Many Cookbooks Is Too Many Cookbooks?

Kitchen Contemplation: How Many Cookbooks Is Too Many Cookbooks?

Dana Velden
May 4, 2008

I have two cookbooks in my Amazon cart right now and they're burning a hole right through to my desktop. One I've already seen and know I'll love, the other I haven't seen but I just know anyway. (OK, the former is The River Cottage Cookbook and the later is Tamasin's Kitchen Bible.)

I haven't purchased them yet because every time I go to one-click, a little voice pipes up in my ear whispering, "Another cookbook? You really need another cookbook?"

The obvious answer is no, I do not. If (godforbid) my apartment were to catch fire, I could easily grab Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and The Joy, make a run for it and still live a long happy life at the stove, everyday a new tasty dish. The truth is, I have dozens of cookbooks on my shelves, not to mention a subscription to Gourmet and permission (from my own self) to purchase the occasional Food & Wine or Meatpaper. And when you add the Internet, well, it boggles.

So, if cookbooks are merely utilitarian objects ferrying cold hard data in the form of recipes, then no, I don't need another one. But for me they're also a source of pleasure and harmless distraction, objects of beauty and inspiration and identity. They allow me to connect to history and culture (both my own and others) in a very immediate, tangible way.

When I page through Samantha Cook's Moro books, for example, I'm immersed in the flavors and culture of Spain and for a brief moment this sense of belonging knits me to the people and history of that country. This is good. It's good for me (and the friends I cook for) and it's good for the planet in that it makes evident both our communally held imperative to fill the belly and the many interesting, different ways we go about doing just that.

It's also true that I can read a cookbook like a novel (Nigel Slater, Patience Gray) and that I have cookbook crushes (a very special one with Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques has been going on for over a year now.) There are even cookbooks in my collection that I haven't actually used but that I'll never give away because their presence on the shelf still inspires, reminding me of possibilities not yet discovered.

So how many cookbooks do you own? Do you read them in bed at night? In the bathtub? Or have you shifted over to Internet bookmarks and virtual recipe boxes?

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