Building a Cookbook Library

While studying tonight for my midterm, I was listening to The Splendid Table when Lynn brought up a subject very close to my heart: The cookbook library. Having just moved from a house with large built in bookshelves to a one hundred year old apartment with uneven floors and thick molding that proves impossible for standalone bookshelves, suddenly, my enormous cookbook and culinary reference library became more of a hassle than an asset.

Cookbook Library

One wee section of my collection

Lynn’s guest, Francine Maroukian, columnist for Esquire magazine and author, talks about paring down her culinary library and rebuilding her library around a new program.

First she starts with the heartbeat. For her it’s Julia. And though she admits not cooking from Mastering the Art one or two, it is her go to resource for everything. On either side of Julia she added other books that were at the heart of her culinary repertoire.

My Kitchen heartbeat includes Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, Didi Emmon’s Vegetarian Planet, Eating Korean, and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Now that I have moved into the meat-eating world I’m assuming that a few animal protein based cookbooks will work their way into my heart.

Next Francine suggests defining your interest. For her, a former caterer, it’s entertaining. For me its Asian and world cooking. In addition to every lonely planet world food series book, I’ve also started collecting Time Life Flavors of the World Series. I love this snap shot of life in the later 60’s, and anthropological approach to cuisines around the globe. I also try to pick up a cookbook while on holiday. I wasn’t able to find any in Cambodia, but I’ve returned from my travels with a Thai cookbook, a Goan cookbook, Singaporean, South African, Hong Kong; now that I think of it I didn’t get one in Italy. Though I most likely won’t cook out of them, they beat out a snow globe for nostalgia.

Step three, Francine bulks up on references books she says “from experts that are made up of more than just resources. People in the field.” Specifically she is speaking of the Stalwart, the cheese Primer author Steve Jenkins. My reference collection is built around the Oxford Companion to Food and Wine, The Professional Chef CIA, Schott’s Food and Drink Miscellany, A Dictionary of Japanese Food, Lets Eat Korean Food, Korean Food Guide, and French Cheeses. I also consider the Lonely Planet food books and Time Life series reference.

Finally, step 4, Inspiration/Aspiration. Here Francine touts books that inspire her or she knows she’ll be a better person for cooking from them. For her, it’s Jamie Oliver, because his personality is so clearly stated in his books, or The Balthazar cookbook from the New York restaurant of the same name (a book I am currently working out of in class and can attest to its inspirational quality)

My inspiration comes from both the old and the new (another piece of advice from Francine is to consider older cookbooks that have stood the test of time). The new Morimoto and the Aquavit cookbooks are so beautiful to peruse they immediately make me want to recreate their dishes. More inspriation; The New American Chef, The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, The Lee Brother’s Southern Cookbook, Laurel’s Kitchen, River Road Recipes (from the Junior League of Baton Rouge) and A Cooks Tour of Shreveport.

To see more books I’m considering adding to my library (space and Kevin permitting) have a peek at my wish list.
My Wish ListAnd you?

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3 thoughts on “Building a Cookbook Library

  1. My core cookbooks are “How to Cook Meat” and “I’m Just Here for the Food”. From those various bbq and grilling books, then soups and chili. Finally, slow cooker (crockpot). I can’t say I read any for just pleasure.