Why Hand-Me-Down Cookbooks Are the Best Gift

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Recently I received one of the greatest gifts a home cook could ever want. It wasn’t a shiny new food processor, or a jar of a gourmet salts, or even a gadget I’d been coveting. In fact, it was something I didn’t even know I wanted: a stack of hand-me-down cookbooks.

The pile of mint condition cookbooks arrived in a big brown shopping sack a few Saturdays ago courtesy of a family member on a fall cleaning spree. Initially I squinted at these sight of these — Did we really need more cookbooks? After all, we just picked up a few and hadn’t touched even these yet. How will we ever prevent ourselves from becoming those crazy book people with stacks upon stacks of unread tomes??

Cracking open the first book, my angst lifted immediately. The books were absolutely wonderful and without a doubt something I would never buy for myself. Nowadays, I typically pick up a cookbook because it’s from one of my favorite blogs or because I know the chef’s style well. It’s rare to receive something so foreign and yet so exciting, like one filled with entire dinner menus designed by chefs from start to finish.

In the stack there was one entirely about grilling, and while we have zero access to an outdoor grill, the flavors and ideas are brilliant! We’re looking forward to adapting. Mostly though, I can’t wait to cook one of the six different matzo ball soup recipes from “Stepping Out of Our Kitchen Closets” a cheekily titled cookbook full of recipes from a gay-friendly synagogue in San Francisco, circa 1986.

While these books are nearly untouched, one of my favorite parts of passed down cookbooks are the spatters and stains that mark a well used recipe. Corrections and variations noted in the margins give a glimpse into the process of refining a recipe to be one’s own. Some may look down on re-gifting, but in the case of cookbooks there couldn’t be anything more special to me.

What are your favorite hand-me-down cookbooks?