Should cookbooks come with expiration dates?

by Terry B on April 21, 2010

Recent gift-giving situations have had me rethinking classic cookbooks and their place in the kitchen. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

mastering-french-cooking2Last summer, 48 years after its first publication, Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking finally made it to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. This was thanks of course to a certain movie, and it was totally cool to have Julia once again getting well deserved attention for her contributions to home cooks everywhere. But I can’t help but wonder how many people who recently got this groundbreaking cookbook will ever cook anything from it.

Don’t get me wrong. Julia fundamentally changed the way we cooked when this book first hit the shelves back in 1961. She continued to do so for years to come, with The French Chef, her pioneering television show, and with a mountain of additional cookbooks, more television shows and her very being. All that said, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is nearly 50 years old. As much as Julia changed food back then, countless other cooks and authors have built on her changes. We have access to all kinds of foods and tools and information that wasn’t available in 1961. And the revolution that she started has itself continued to evolve.

joy-of-cookingOur copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking greatly predates Julie & Julia, and as much as we enjoy having it around for the piece of culinary history it represents, I think I can count the times Marion and I have cooked from it on one hand. As happens to so many revolutionary ideas in so many categories, it just feels, well, a little dated now. The same is true—at least for me—of another classic, one that even predates this one. Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking.

A little full disclosure here as I go along cheerfully blaspheming and probably raising the blood pressure of anyone still hanging in there with me. I’ve always had a problem with this book. Oh, I’ve used our well-worn, sauce-stained copy of this one more than I have Julia’s. But I can never make it through a recipe, it seems, without being cross-referenced to at least three more recipes scattered throughout this massive tome, all critical to the completion of what should be a simple enough dish to prepare.

Beyond this admittedly personal issue with The Joy of Cooking, though, I find myself constantly surprised at what I can’t find in it. Dishes, techniques and even ingredients that seem fairly classic to me just aren’t there, either not yet invented when it was written or somehow not on Rombauer’s radar screen.

specialites-de-la-maisonSo what inspired this little rant? [Besides just being even more cranky than usual, I mean—ask my colleague Matt.] A couple of things. First, the recent re-release of Spécialités de la Maison, a compendium of celebrity recipes first published in 1940. On Monday, Tasting Table reported that the Algonquin Hotel is using it “as inspiration for an anachronistic dining series” that runs through mid-May. Try as I may, I just can’t get too excited about Charlie Chaplin’s Sour Cream Hotcakes, Eleanor Roosevelt’s Crab Soup or Tallulah Bankhead’s Southern Fried Chicken. I’m sure Spécialités de la Maison was a big hit when it came out, a peek inside the kitchens of the rich and famous. But resurrecting it now—and doing dinners around it—feels like an odd mix of charming but tedious and Civil War reenactor creepy. [Oops, just alienated another group.]

Second, in the past few months, we’ve had the occasion to give cookbook gifts to a couple of friends just starting out on their own—or making a fresh start. For some time, the default choice for an all-purpose cookbook was The Joy of Cooking. Many a mother gave many a daughter a copy for her first kitchen.  But if it had become a book we didn’t turn to anymore, how could we expect it to inspire other cooks?

So we turned to Mark Bittman. Bittman has always inspired me, with his genuine love of real food and his accessible approach to cooking it. Any time I’ve ever seen him cook something—on television, online, in cookbooks, in his writings in The New York Times, especially his The Minimalist column—I’ve pretty much always thought two things. First, that sounds good. And second, that looks easy. And what better message to give to cooks at any level?

Much as Julia and Irma did in their books, Bittman gives you more than recipes—he teaches you about food and shares basic cooking techniques. This is what helps beginning cooks move beyond simply following recipes to develop the skills—and the confidence—to really cook. He also encourages [and suggests] variations on his recipes, another great way to build cooking skills.

So the two books we’ve been giving these days, depending on the dietary interests of the recipient, are Bittman’s modestly titled How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

bittman-everything-books

Both have been very well received as gifts. The pair are even heftier tomes than The Joy of Cooking. How to Cook Everything, which celebrated its tenth anniversary two years ago, delivers 2,000 recipes in just over 1,000 pages; the vegetarian cookbook is similarly, um, beefy. Another thing about Bittman that wows me is how insanely prolific he is. I sometimes get the sense that, from the time he gets up in the morning until he goes to bed at night, he must be cooking with one hand and typing with the other.

As you flip through these impressive volumes [there are no photos, by the way—just the occasional black and white illustration], you’re struck again and again by how simple techniques and a few well chosen ingredients can turn into a satisfying dish or meal. You’re also struck again and again by the thought, “I can do this.” Followed quickly by the thought, “I want to do this—right now!”

After giving these books as gifts a few times, we’ve recently given ourselves a copy of the vegetarian volume, an area where I could use a little inspiration. I think before long, we’ll be giving ourselves the other book too. Just because. Will Bittman’s Everything books ever reach their expiration dates? Of course they will. Cooking continues to evolve. But for now, I’m happy to have them in our gifting arsenal.

Okay, your turn. What cookbooks do you like to give? What cookbooks have you received that had a big impact on you? What cookbook would be your “desert island cookbook”—if you could take only one and assuming the desert island had a stove, a fridge and access to all the ingredients you need? Tell us in a comment.

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The French April 21, 2010 at 5:23 am

Well, I would have to say I would probably also choose “How To Cook Everything.” Haven’t had a chance to browse through the book yet, but I have been nerding out about his iPhone app of the same name. Right now, you get the entire book plus tons of extra recipes for $1.99. It includes his techniques, advice about kitchen tools and variations for each recipe. It’s extremely well-organized and easy to use. You can even import the ingredients from a recipe to a grocery list that sorts them by section. And if you want to send the ingredients to a partner say, when you want him/her to pick up some stuff on the way home, you can email it to them. I was in the store tonight and pulled up a recipe for his chix soup with a chipotle variation. So simple and easy to use. I can’t say enough about the value you get for $2. And I’m not an app nerd! That being said, I’m all up Bittman’s grill right now, so I’d probably gift his new book:)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) April 21, 2010 at 10:50 am

While I also own Julia’s Mastering the Art (both volumes, predating the movie by several decades) and Joy (multiple editions), I seldom use any of these. I have Bittman’s first iteration of How to Cook Everything, and seldom use that, either. What I like to give for gifts are the Silver Palate books, especially the first one (Silver Palate Cookbook, which has been updated and reissued), and The New Basics. I think they inspired me to think about food in a completely different way, especially when it comes to seasonings. To someone who’s already a serious cook, I’ll give Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. To someone who likes or needs photos, I’ll give one or more of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, because the recipes are absolutely reliable.

The Nervous Cook April 21, 2010 at 12:59 pm

This is a really interesting post, and I’ve wondered about the expiration-date thing a bit, too: Earlier this year, I uncovered my mother-in-law’s treasure trove of vintage cookbooks, most of which are PTA fund-raisers from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

At first I thought, “Oh, how fun will this be? I can flip through here and highlight a different wacky recipe every week,” but then I actually started flipping through them, looking for something — anything! — that I would actually cook. So far, no real luck.

More practically (if less kitschy fun), I love “How to Cook Everything,” and I also absolutely love “Martha Stewart’s Cooking School,” which is more technique-heavy than recipe-forward, but still an indispensable tool in my kitchen. There are a few others I rely on that are quite old — I love my Boston Cooking School Cookbook from 1941, for instance, but mostly use it for decadent desserts and cream sauces, things like that.

This is a great post!

Holly @ Unintended ByProducts April 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Slightly before the Julie & Julia craze, I picked up MTAOFC at a used bookshop – and there is sits. I made her garlic mashed potatoes once, and did the traditional beef bergioun, but I think the trouble with cookbooks that have been out for a while (particularly nowadays) is that it just takes a quick google search to find someone whose made the recipe and re-tuned it a bit. The recipes in these books have continued to evolve, so no wonder the static recipes have hit an expiration point. I really look to the older tomes just for inspiration, the same way I look at my newer faves (Ad Hoc at Home, Jamie at Home). But I still love having them on my shelves.

judy April 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I admit I hadn’t considered the Julia cookbooks until enjoying the movie with my daughters and putting them on my wish list last Christmas. I changed my mind not because of an attack of health consciousness, or laborious recopies rather I browsed through in a shop and removed them from my list as for me cookbooks are a visual pleasure and these were not. This is a very shallow statement to make publicly, but the photos, the texture of the quality paper, these things really do matter to me and in part it is because out of every wonderful cookbook I handle, I actually cook maybe a half dozen recipes. When I am looking at the ingredients in my fridge and cupboard I often do a search on line and pull up something from the many wonderful web pages. I recently acquired the Esalen cookbook, (gorgeousness and the recipe for Shitake mushroom vegetable cakes was so good I will try several of the other sticky tabbed pages; The Zuni Cafe, also lovely and A year in my Kitchen, Skye Gyngell is so beautiful that I have accepted the horrible binding that literally split when I opened the book, but it remains on my shelf. For me, beautiful is as important as functional as much of my cooking is spent in the place of day dreams. Shallow, yes, but what can I say? To every dreamer their own.

KJ April 21, 2010 at 3:12 pm

My first cookbook was Better Homes and Gardens which I still turn to when I need some basics, for example substitutions, how long to cook something, what temp meat should be, etc… Above and beyond the basics, not so much. On the other hand, I have 8 ginger snap cookie recipes and the BH&G recipe is still my favorite.

I recently inherited my grandmother’s cookbook. It has basics in it such as a recipe for marshmallows. The recipes in the cookbook aren’t necessarily what I would make, but they are a good starting point, without having to work around ingredients such as cream of mushroom soup.

What I am trying to say is that although we may not turn to these non-speciality cookbooks for recipes they remain a great resource and thus are timeless.

Christine Schwartz Hartley April 21, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I’m really sorry to hear you can’t get excited about my reissue of Spécialités de la Maison!!! Did you take a look at the book and the recipes in it, or just react to the Algonquin’s choices? I got this book back into print for all kinds of reasons — the cover and illustrations are pretty and the crowd who contributed recipes super glamorous; the book was put together to raise funds for a charity that set up clinics and mobile cafeterias to France in wartime (and I am French), etc. — including the fact that I thought the recipes were totally doable, most of them good, and all really refreshing in their anachronistic way.

This weekend, for example, I made photographer Cecil Beaton’s Green Tea Punch (with rum, brandy, white whine, sliced oranges and a bit of lemon juice) — very strong stuff, but not at all sweet or syrupy, and lovely-looking in a big bowl. Much appreciated by all. On Monday, with a team of enthusiasts, I shot a video in which I prepared Katharine Hepburn’s Chicken Burgundy Style, which we all devoured with glee at the end of the day (the video will be on YouTube in a couple of weeks)… All this to say that anachronistic is fun AND good!

I really hope you check out the book in its entirety and come to appreciate it. Also watch the Martha Stewart Show on April 30 — she’s going to mention Spécialités and make one of its recipes. I don’t know which one, but I’m glad she likes it!

Tristen April 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I actually use my Joy quite a lot, but for nuts and bolts things, not too many recipes. I don’t really have one cookbook that covers everything I love to cook, but I do love the “A Journey for Food Lovers” series, and have been devouring the Moroccan one like wildfire. I also like the Williams Sonoma series. I’m a sucker for good photos.

Terry B April 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm

The French—You made me laugh out loud [and please note, I didn’t say LOL]. I’m surrounded by iPhone geeks at work. And one of them just upped the ante, bringing in his shiny new iPad. He tried to bring me over to the dark side, showing me the Epicurious.com app on it. I’m good with books and the old-fashioned Internet for now.

Lydia, we’re fans of The Silver Palate Cookbook too, but for beginning cooks, I kind of feel even this book is like being thrown into the deep end of the culinary pool. Maybe one reason I like Bittman’s vegetarian book so much is this is an area I need to explore more. As much as I call myself an omnivore, I generally plan most meals I do around meat or fish.

The Nervous Cook—Your experience with your mother-in-law’s vintage cookbooks is exactly what I’m talking about. Somewhere we’ve got a book from the 50s, Wolf in Chef’s Clothing, clearly aimed at swinging bachelors. I keep meaning to cook something from it as a novelty post, but it’s just a little too weird, even for that. But after the interesting responses I’m getting here, I may have to dust it off after all.

Holly—You bring up an interesting point about the Internet. It really has changed the way we cook and the way we look for inspiration. That said, we’re still huge fans of cookbooks and really try to support their continued publication. We usually figure if we get two or three recipes out of a book that make it into our cooking rotation, it’s paid for itself.

Judy—That’s not being shallow at all. We eat with our eyes, as the saying goes. I almost always prefer cookbooks with photography—not only can I tell what the dish is supposed to look like if I cook it, I can usually get a sense of what it will taste like and whether it interests me.

KJ—You’re absolutely right; we still occasionally turn to some of our classics for some basics. But I think if you look at Bittman or some of the other non-specialized books readers have mentioned here, I think you’ll find those same basics and more current recipes you might actually make.

Christine—Well, now, I feel properly chastened. No, I hadn’t looked at the book, so after reading your comment, I went straight to the library website and ordered it. It appears that what I will soon be receiving is the original edition, by the way! I look forward to checking it out. While there is something to be said for anachronistic fun, but when I’ve looked through vintage cookbooks, I’ve generally found the recipes more anachronistic than fun. All that said, I bet there will be plenty of great dinner conversations started by recipes in your revival of Spécialités. Good luck!

Tristen—We’re big fans of the Williams-Sonoma series too! Not only are there gorgeous photos of food, but they give you a real sense of place.

Hillary April 21, 2010 at 7:25 pm

I got How to Cook Everything Vegetarian fairly soon after it came out (I don’t remember if it was a gift or I bought it), and honestly I was a little disappointed. I’ve been cooking pretty well for six or seven years (since I finished college) and I’ve been vegetarian for 15 years. When I got the book I was already at the point where I’d figured out the basics, I use recipes for fancy/complicated dishes that I can’t visualize/create on my own. My favorite cookbooks are the Moosewood series, even if I adapt them to reduce the fat.

I like Alton Brown’s books for beginners because they include science and technique as well as the recipes.

Mint Creek Farm April 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm

This is such a great posting! I have to confess I adore vintage cookbooks. I agree that they are outdated in the ingredients category (who still uses oleo instead of butter?) but how fascinating is it for me to discover the tastes of my parents and grandparents generations. Food is how I connect with loved ones and learning a little history lesson helps me to appreciate the past and learn from it. I especially am drawn to any cookbook that emphasizes the “Waste Not Want Not” philosophy. Not only do you get some funny recipes, but you get neat little tricks on how to eat more economically and waste less precious food. I do use the internet to find recipes, but cookbooks tell a story. And through that story we find a tried and true technique. When I was first learning how to make tomato sauce, every recipe that I could find called for canned tomatoes. However, I had a bumper crop of fresh tomatoes and I wanted to make sauce with them. I finally found a recipe in one of my vintage Italian cookbooks. I knew I kept that book around for a reason. I may not use it all the time, but it proved to not only be entertaining but very useful for making a basic fresh tomato sauce!

I also received the The New Basics cookbook as one of my first cookbooks. I actually asked for it when I graduated from college. It has never steered me wrong. It may have been a little over my head, in the beginning, but it enticed me to explore and try new flavors and foods. Something that I needed, if I was to grow as a cook. I also want to suggest another cookbook that I have given as a gift. The Rebar Cookbook is a spectacular vegetarian cookbook from the Rebar Restaurant in Victoria, BC. I once received this as a gift and it transformed the way I thought about vegetables, and how to combine herbs and spices in unique, healthful and (more importantly) tasty ways.

(Sorry for the extremely long posting- this was fun!)

Terry B April 21, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Hillary, I think you make an interesting point not just about the Bittman books, but generalist cookbooks in general. They’re probably most appropriate for people just developing their cooking chops. More specialized, focused cookbooks are great for more experienced cooks looking to do more sophisticated things or explore new cuisines. That said, for day to day cooking, well written general books can nudge us out of ruts, reminding us of techniques we’ve perhaps not used in a while or giving us new ingredient combinations to consider.

Mint Creek Farm—Long comments are always welcome, especially when they share such great stories about connecting with family and history through food. And now you’ve given me yet another cookbook to explore. Thanks!

Mint Creek Farm April 21, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Since it is a little hard to find info on the Rebar Cookbook, let me entice you with some reasons why I love this book. It taught me to add sweet things, like apples to my veggie stock. It taught me to add dried fruit (not just nuts) to my chocolate chip cookies. It inspired me to eat seasonally (they have seasonal omelettes even). You will never approach brunch the same way again (Apple and Spinach Tart with blue cheese and sweet onion-thyme confit). Every recipe comes with “helpful hints” that are very useful. And finally Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without Wanda’s Roasted Yam Pierogis, complete with smoked gouda, leeks and caraway! Everything sounds complex, but the book lays it all out in an easy to use format that makes vegetarian cooking healthy and fun. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have and still do.
Cheers!

Tailynn April 21, 2010 at 11:44 pm

I must admit I do not own any of the books mentioned yet I collect cookbooks. wow i find this so strange the i have not even considered purchasing them. my first book, given as a gift, was better homes and garden. currently i have been collecting america’s test kitchen books. not sure if you’re familiar with them, it’s a pbs tv show that tests recipes hundreds of times to find the best method for making them. So far everything I’ve made I’ve been very pleased with. they also test kitchen equipment/gadgets. thank you for the thought provoking post, next time I’m in a bookstore I definitely will take a look at your two recommendations.

Terry B April 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Mint Creek Farm—The Rebar Cookbook sounds interesting indeed! It is available at Amazon [I of course looked right away after reading this latest comment], but I may look at one of the cookbook stores in New York when we visit there next. I always like to kick the tires on cookbooks before buying—and to support bricks and mortar stores when possible.

Tailynn—Not as surprising as it may sound that you don’t recognize these. The cookbook universe is vast, and there are many unexplored corners for all of us.

Christine Schwartz Hartley April 22, 2010 at 1:35 am

Thanks, Terry B — I hope you like your vintage edition as much as I did mine when I first came upon it!

tariqata April 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I do love my Joy of Cooking – my first cookbook, given to me by my mother when I moved out :) – just for reading and appreciating the history of it, but the only things I’ve ever cooked from it have been pancakes and cookies. And frankly, I have lots of better cookie recipes!

Duchess April 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

Another favorite in the same ilk of how to cook everything are any books by Donna Hay. She’s wonderful and the stuff always works. And I still use my Joy of Cooking, its my go to for basic stuff.

Darla April 23, 2010 at 11:59 am

I have a rule that if a cookbook has 300 recipes, it’s likely that 290 of them suck. Those recipes are necessarily not best examples of each food since there’s no way one author or editor is that good at everything and no way they were all rigorously tested.

I second the idea of the Barefoot Contessa books for a new cook. Those recipes always work perfectly, are crowd-pleasers, and will give confidence to anyone starting out.

Constantine April 23, 2010 at 11:53 pm

No mention of the Cook’s Illustrated books? This series — along with the magazine, of course — contains the best-tested and tuned recipes I’ve found. The detailed descriptions of different variants the test kitchen tried make most other cookbooks look sloppy in comparison.

Tailynn April 23, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Constatine,

America’s Test Kitchen are the same poeple who make Cooks Illustrated so if you like the cook’s series you may want to check out the test kitchens items. My mother recently purchased americas test kitchen last ten years of recipes cookbook. I have several of their Best of books (best light recipes, best new recipes, etc)

Lou Doench April 25, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I’ve been gifting a lot of Cook’s Illustrated cookbooks this year because they keep mailing them to me and I’m to lazy to send them back!
I actually picked up my used copy of MtAoFC just before the movie hit (loved the movie), and I’ve made a point of cooking from it a bit. I made her leek and potato soup last week to rave reviews from the Girl.

Terry B April 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Thanks, Christine!

Tariqata—I know what you mean. Even though we don’t use it much anymore, we’re still happy to have our copy of Joy among our cookbooks.

Duchess—I have to say, what little I’ve seen of Donna Hay’s books, they seem pretty approachable and filled with good, doable recipes.

Darla—Interestingly, Julia apparently did test and refine every recipe in her book—and was somewhat taken aback that Irma Rombauer didn’t. You’re right about the Barefoot Contessa books; I always get the sense that she loves to cook, which puts me in the same frame of mind when I look at her recipes.

Constantine and Tailynn—I’ve cooked a little bit from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and you’re right, they test the heck out of recipes and techniques. Haven’t really looked at their cookbooks or the America’s Test Kitchen series, I have to admit. I’m often overwhelmed by how many cookbook choices there are out there!

How funny, Lou! Julia’s leek and potato soup is one of the few recipes I’ve made from her book too. Also to rave reviews.

Dani H April 27, 2010 at 8:44 am

I think I love this post more than any other that I’ve seen in the past year or so since I found your site, Terry. No offense intended {though since you’re “crankier than usual” I’m prepared for the chance you might be offended, though I’ve not once thought of you as cranky} but I’ve bookmarked the post for all of the cookbooks listed in the comments. {{Getting ready to run if you’re upset…}} I am a cookbook fanatic even more than a food blog fanatic. It’s never once entered my mind that the value of a cookbook is if I actually making a recipe from it. The only drawback to Mark Bittman’s books {at least to me} is the lack of photographs. I will spend an hour just looking through a cookbook, reading the recipe and ingredients for the ones that have a photograph that captures my attention. That said, I have several editions of the Joy of Cooking, as it does get updated. I buy a new one every 5 to 10 years. And I use it for techniques and inspiration more than the actual recipes. I also have a lot of the Martha Stewart cookbooks, but really only use her “Cooking School” and “Cookies” books. I have several of Julia Child’s books on my wish list at Amazon because I watched all of her PBS shows, recording many of them to VHS, also outdated these days. Tiny, but packed with not only recipes and photographs, but also the history of every goodie are “Field Guide to Cookies” and “Field Guide to Candy” by Anita Chu. The candy book is especially wonderful including everything from licorice to gummy bears to marshmallows and candied flowers. I give the pair of them together as a gift. If I were to list all of the “baking” cookbooks I have, it would fill up 2 or 3 pages. As for the recipes I use the most? I frequently pull recipes off my favorite food blogs {like yours} but use my late mother’s recipes as much as any, whether it’s comfort food or holiday dishes or desserts. One of these days I’m going to get them all on the computer. This was a great post with fabulous comments and I thank you, cranky sir. {I’m just getting such a kick out of trying to imagine you as cranky!} See you next time, and take care.

Terry B April 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I’m actually not cranky, Dani, but Matt and I were butting heads over a project at work, so this was a little inside joke. Of course, others may hold differing opinions on my crankiness. I’m generally with you on photos in cookbooks; many of my original recipes have gotten their start from looking at a picture of food and taking off from there in a whole different direction. And you really should get your mother’s recipes on to a computer. Are there enough of them to be the beginning of a food blog for you?

Dani H April 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Thanks, Terry! I have enough recipes for a food blog. What I don’t have is a camera, technical expertise to set a blog up the way I want it, and enough time to do what I would want to. {I’ve learned the last two things through having my haiku blog.} If I can’t do a food blog the way I have envisioned, I’d rather just add recipes to my haiku blog, which I’m in the process of doing now. {I made roasted garlic soup and mini-baguettes last Saturday.} Also having limited access as my laptop keeps overheating, so all in all not the time for a food blog. It means a lot to me though that you would think I could do it. Thanks, Terry. And happy to hear you’re not really cranky.

Mary May 6, 2010 at 3:07 am

The books I’ve given the most (to employees, to students, to family…) are the Cooks illustrated Series, most frequently the Italian Classics, American Classics and the Guide to Grilling and Barbecue. All three ae chock-full of really usable, tasty recipes that always turn out well.
For the more experienced cook or passionate food lovers, whether eating or cooking, I am absolutely recommend the “A Journey for Food Lovers” series. The recipes are great, the photos a veritable travelogue devoted to food, and the background info on WHY the country’s cuisine has developed the way it has is endlessly fascinating. I’ve used the books on Italy, India and Morocco extensively, and am just launching into Spain.

Yvonne May 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

It may sound odd, but I read cookbooks as if they were novels. I agree that many of the classical cookbooks do seem dated. I use the Fanny Farmer cookbook as my failsafe resource for basic recipes, general info, and cooking directions. Since I know my way around the kitchen, I am comfortable tweaking these recipes and making them my own. Whatever your preference is, everyone should have one basic cookbook that includes basic recipes (i.e.-quiche), substitutions, measurement conversions, ingredient info, and basic techniques.

Terry B May 17, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Dani—To be totally honest, I have to admit to a little crankiness once in a while, but who doesn’t?

Thanks for the suggestions, Mary. So many cookbooks, so little time!

Yvonne—Cookbooks as novels? So when a recipe calls for making a roux, I’m guessing you’re thinking, “The plot thickens!”

Bonnie May 20, 2010 at 8:53 am

oh my goodness! I desperately want Julia’s first cookbook! I grew up watching her shows with my mom on Saturday mornings as well as the multitude of other cooking shows on PBS. I have several of Julia’s later books as well as the Joy of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens 1960s, Betty Crocker’s 1960s….ok I am a cookbook horder. I admit I close to (if not well over) 200 cookbooks of which I have read most cover to cover. As a kid I would peruse my mom’s 1960s cookbooks looking for new things to make (especially when I was sick) and pretend I was teaching a cooking class on TV :) Yes some of the recipes I have found in these older books make me want to gag, but some of them are still tried and true pie and cake recipes (and savory dishes) that I still make today. Sometimes substitutions are more responsible as far as one’s health is concerned, but then again you only live once and moderation is most certainly the key! BTW I do have many modern cookbooks as well, but I still find myself refering back to the older ones for inspiration and memories!

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