Friday, December 20, 2013

Keeper cookbooks in the age of the Google cooking school?

HALLIE EPHRON: A few weeks ago, I opened the cabinet where I keep my cookbooks and several of them fell out on my head -- nature's tactful way of telling me I had too many crammed in there. 

And why am I keeping them, anyway, because most recipes I need are out on the Internet along with endlessly entertaining reader reviews (about how this person left out the salt or sugar or cilantro, that person substituted kale for onions, or used organic almond milk instead of cream, and it came out great.)

I decided it was time to cull. These are some of what I kept, and you can see from their battered state they have been well used, their pages spattered and margins scribbled in:

  • The Joy of Cooking (so well used that half of the index is missing and I had to re-cover it)
  • Three cookbooks by Michael Fields, including The Michael Fields Cooking school which has a grilled, butterflied leg of lamb with egg lemon sauce to die for
  • Several of Mollie Katzen's, including Moosewoods and Enchanted Broccolli Forest
  • My mother's 2-volume massive set of Gourmet Cookbooks, not because I use them but because they were hers
  • Several New York Times cookbooks by Craig Claiborne
  • Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
  • My booklet of Bisquick recipes that I sent away for in '75

I lugged two big bags of cookbooks to the library, and then posted the question to Facebook: What are your keeper cookbooks? Among the 70+ comments, here titles that rose to the top...

  • #1: The Joy of Cooking (some mentioned the 70s edition specifically)
  • Runner up: The Betty Crocker Cookbook ("that my mother/grandmother gave me when I was 18"... )
  • Assorted cookbooks by Julia Child, especially Mastering the Art and Baking with Julia
  • Assorted New York Times cookbooks by Craig Claiborne
  • Fanny Farmer, of course
  • Better Homes and Gardens ("with the red plaid cover," "for the chili, old-time beef stew, and shortbread cookie recipes")
  • The Good Housekeeping Cookbook
  • The Silver Palate
  • Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet
  • Barefoot Contessa/Ina Garten cookbooks
  • Nigella Lawson cookbooks

  • Cooks Illustrated
Commenters mentioned more than 50 other books. Here are just a few that tickled me:
  • The Mystery Chef's Own Cookbook
  • Old West Baking Book by Lon Walters, 1996 ("interesting comments on chuck wagon cooking")
  • The Star Wars Cook Books I & II ("simple recipes with a new twist, great for getting boys to help with cooking")
  • New Karo [syrup] All American Cook Book," "The Special Collection" featuring Post cereal
  • Weight Watchers
  • The Hungry Girl cookbooks
  • The Elvis cookbook "Are You Hungry Tonight?"
  • The LooneySpoon Collection by Janet and Greta Podleski

Plus a there were some priceless comments from authors (including Lucy Burdette saying she's not giving up a single cookbook and I can't make her):

Tasha Alexander chimed in with: "I don't think anything could make me cull cookbooks. Favorites: Julia Child Mastering the Art v.1, The Pasta Book (Williams Sonoma), A Mediterranean Feast, David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop and his Ready for Dessert, Joy of Cooking, Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday, Betty Crocker, Classical Turkish Cooking, Memories of a Cuban Kitchen, The Flavor of France, A Taste of Madras... I'm completely out of control."
Tasha adds, on cookbooks with Mom's notes in the margins: "Cookbook marginalia is essential!"

And this list of cookbooks and a tasty memory comes from author William Martin: "Silver Palate. Definitely. Craig Claiborne's NYTimes cookbook. And The Grand Central Oyster Bar Cookbook, published in 1977, the year of my first trip to NYC to talk to an editor, who gave me a copy of the book as I was leaving. I still have the book and use it whenever I buy a piece of fish. An easy and excellent recipe for bouillabaise. Oh... and he published my first novel."

So, gentle Reds, what are your keeper cookbooks? New ones? Old ones? Which have earned their keep on your shelf??


  1. Cookbooks . . . oh, I should go through mine --- they fill a cabinet and spill over. But they haven’t fallen on my head yet!
    My keeper cookbooks: my Jeff Smith cookbooks . . . a well-worn copy of the Yankee Church Supper Cookbook . . . my wonderful Recipes From a Very Small Island . . . .
    My go-to, hands-down, all-time favorite is the Joy of Cooking --- and I’ve already ditched the 75th anniversary edition that I bought to replace my falling-apart Joy. It wasn’t the same Joy at all --- they changed the recipes to be updated “for the way we cook now” and they spoiled everything . . . .

  2. Uh oh. I knew this was going to happen. Recipes From a Very Small Island: Must have... It's Linda Greenlaw and her mom with down home Maine cooking.

  3. I have a five shelf bookcase in the dining room packed with cookbooks. Like many others,I love the Joy of Cooking (my auto correct called it the Joy of Choking!), but my go to cookbook is The New Best Recipe (and The (old) Best Recipe) by Cooks Illustrated. I've never had a recipe fail from that book, and I like that it explains their experiments and why certain ingredients and methods do certain things. Other favorites include The New American Plate, the King Arthur Flour Baking Companion, Baking by Dorie Greenspan, and I'm Just Here for the Food/I'm Just Here for More Food by Alton Brown.

  4. In addition to these great classics, I have two by Madhur Jaffrey for Indian cooking that are must-keeps. As is Diet for a Small Planet.

  5. I am with Lucy Burdette! If there's anything I love more than the actual cooking of a meal, it's the hours pondering different recipes, usually coming up with a combination before I head to the kitchen. Google's a quick fix, but a pile of cookbooks on the couch, a little blanket, maybe a fire...

  6. Fanny Farmer for basics, plus Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, Madhur Jaffrey, Nigella Lawson, and some gorgeous cocktail books, including one from the Ritz in Paris.

  7. Also, Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking — Lucy, have you read that? Anyone?

  8. River Road Recipes by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, now in its 10 millionth printing, or thereabouts. Includes the definitive recipe for gumbo. Ask anyone from Louisiana and they will agree. (They should, anyway!)

  9. Oh Susan, I've read ALL of Laurie Colwin. Best food essays EVER. I am distressed to find that I seem to have lent my copy of Home Cooking and only have More Home Cooking... which I think was published after she died, much too young. Do you make any of her recipes?

  10. I am a terrible cook. Everyone says, "If you can read you can cook!" Nope.

    I use the Iowa Junior Miss cookbook and the Ottumwa Service League cookbook (both from the mid-nineties) because of their abundance of things that can be cooked in a 9x13 pan.
    I can bake (most of the time...), though, and my kids and I do a lot of things out of Sesame Street's "B is for Baking." The recipes are a little healthier than I'd normally try (Wheat germ. In everything. Wow.), but the Abby Cadabby Pumpkin Bars really hold their own.

  11. Mmmm, gumbo. I believe you Ramona... any chance you'd share it?

  12. Aha!!!!! Great minds!!!! Be sure to read MY take on my favorite cookbooks Sunday Dec. 29.... on your neighbor blog Crime Writers Chronicle!!! Thelma Straw in Msnhattan

  13. Oh, I love Laurie Colwin's essays! And that immediately reminded me of how much I love The Pat Conroy Cooksbook: Recipes of my Life. It stays on my nightstand. From the back cover: "This book is the story of my life as it relates to the subject of food."

    I love Susan Branch's illustrated cookbooks filled with snippets of poetry throughout, and pull them out often just to enjoy the gentleness of them.

    The one cookbook I use more than any other - Bibb Jordan's The Pound Cake Cookbook.

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  15. Oh, I JUST did this!

    I kept Joy of cooking, of course...I love to look at the food-splattered pages. ANd if you put it on the spine, it opens to turkey tetrazzini!

    I kept Mark Bittman, and the Martha Stewarts. :-)

    I also kept The BLue Strawberry Cookbooks--absolute GEMS. They are from chef MIchael Haller, and they don't really have recipes. They have the sort of chemistry of how food works--and they teach you how to make something out of whatever you have--because you understand what's going to happen.

    SO those books are filled with my yellow stickies of food experiments-like chicken with amaretto, garlic and almonds. Grilled swordfish with horseradish and fresh parsley--my big triumph, made from a refrigerator that seemingly had nothing!

  16. Oh, Kaye! That is such a southerners choice for a cookbook! Who knew you could even WRITE a book just about pound cake? Says me... a huge fan of southern cooking (Just ask Molly Weston!)

  17. Diet for a Small Planet (my favorite soup recipe is from that book), and the More With Less Cookbook are my favorites. I don't actually own the More With Less Cookbook. My mom did, and I copied out some of my favorites from it. (The recipe cards for my favorites are a mess!) My mom owned most of the small recipe booklets that compile the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I was happy to find the complete cookbook, although I hardly ever use anything in it because I NEED simplicity in the kitchen, and some of those recipes would take hours to do from start to finish! I can't remember the names of some of my other cookbooks, although I think I have the Yankee Church Supper one that Joan mentioned.

    This makes me unpopular in cookbook discussions, but I have NEVER liked the Joy of Cooking cookbook! I've looked through it, and I just don't "get" why people like it. Recipes for things I might like look overly complicated to me in that book!

    I do use the Internet a lot for recipes but I still prefer cookbooks.

  18. Wow! These cookbook devotionals show how much we all have in common when it gets down to it.

    Hallie, I could not give away my Joy, or Moosewood, or Enchanted Broccoli Forest any more than I could give away a trove of family photos.

    Joan, I use Recipes for a Very Small Island all the time. The Greenlaws eat like we like to eat.

    Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything and (yes, Sandi!) New Best Recipes from the Cook's Illustrated folks are essential references for me.

    And Hank, I somehow lost (or perhaps in a moment of lunacy) gave away my Blue Strawberry cookbook. I loved the subtitle: Cooking (Brillantly) Without Recipes. Did you ever go to the Blue Strawberry Restaurant when it was in Portsmouth? It was ahead of its time.

    My treasures not on anyone's list so far is a slim volume called The Provincetown Artists Cookbook, a long-ago gift that keeps on giving, and a Weight Watchers slow-cooker cookbook called Slow Good, which it truly is.

    And just for kicks, I also have Peg Bracken's cookbook, which is called I Hate To Cook (clearly, that is untrue.)

    Great topic, Hallie - thanks for the bright start to the day!

  19. This is reminding me of when we used to get together with friends to plan group dinners. We'd pile the cookbooks and clipped recipes on a table and put together a menu. Each make one of the dishes.

    I remember the first menu:
    Onion soup (start with roasting beef bones...)
    Tournedoes Rossini (filet mignons, truffles, artichoke hearts...)
    Gateau St. Honore (a mound of tiny cream puffs filled with orange liqueur flavored pastry cream in a caramelized sugar cage...)

    Recipes from Julia, the work for one dish equivalent to making an entire normal meal.

  20. Yes Brenda! I did goto the Blue Strawberry! Maybe I saw you there!

    OH, Hallie, Julia's onion soup. Worth every ridiculous step.

  21. I am so thrilled by this post. I adore cookbooks, and it makes me smile to read how many Laurie Colwin fans there are out there. Along with MFK Fisher, her food essays are at the top of my list. I remember when I was working at the Elliott Bay Book Company, and my manager called me into the back room and told me that Laurie had passed away ... I burst into tears, and I was grateful to my manager for knowing me so well that he would make sure he told me in private.

    I too cannot get rid of my Betty Crocker (from my mom) and Hallie, my Marcella Hazen is my Italian cooking Bible, especially now that I have married an Italian! Edith, I just reordered a copy of Diet for a Small Planet so I could read the 1970 original, and you are so right about Madhur Jaffrey - definite must-keeps. I will confess that I am also a huge fan of Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbooks. And I rely on Jamie Oliver for many of my weeknight dinner staples.

    As for getting rid of cookbooks, I use recipes online, but I love a good old-fashioned cookbook splattered with grease and wine (that I'm drinking while I cook). And my collection just keeps growing because every year the Southern California Culinary Society holds a cookbook sale in partnership with the library - last year I went home with a shopping bag full of vintage cookbooks for $7!! Yes, I'm an addict, and happy to be so ... especially since I'm in such good company!

  22. Deb R, the latest Joy of Cooking editions are way better than the first couple. They include microwave instructions, and much more modern recipes. Less tomato aspic and more flourless chocolate cake. I have four different versions of Joy; the additional information included in each, beyond the recipes, is invaluable, and both my husband and I love to look stuff up there.

    Ethan Becker lives in my community, and the second last edition of Joy came out the same year as one of my books. We were both invited to the Ohioana Society's annual roundup of Ohio authors, and I followed him with my own book synopsis. Since my book was about the business of sewing, it was really sad to have to follow him!

    Hank, my favorite microwave cookbook flops open to the turkey tetrazzini recipe!

    I'm not getting rid of any of my cookbooks, but since I put together a "family" cookbook for my girls a few years ago, my go-to book for most things is the binder I made for myself of all our favorite recipes. Printed on light cardstock and encased in protective sleeves, I keep adding to it. Hallie's recipe for Chocolate Orange Peel is in there!

  23. Karen - What a GREAT idea for a holiday gift... And I'm so pleased my orange peel is in there.

    I'm off to the market in a few days to buy the oranges and dipping chocolate.

  24. Many of these same volumes live on my shelves, too -- and don't you dare touch them! I probably use my own binders the most often, but I'm also a devotee of Lean Italian Cuisine by Anne Casale. No heavy cream sauces here,but it's not a diet cookbook by any means; it's simply the most accurate and reliable cookbook I've ever used -- so well planned and written that every recipe turns out exactly right.

    Not the case for the Butte Heritage Cookbook, but I use it as much for cultural hints to my amazing home state as for the recipes!

  25. When we moved, I culled a few cookbooks. Went through each and cut out my favorite recipes. Some of my treasures aside from Craig Claiborne and Julia are Vincent Price's cookbook (with his wife) and The Artist's and Writer's Cookbook, the first such book I ever purchased. Hallie, I also have the Bisquick book and love, love, love the "Onion Cheese Supper Bread." Is it in yours? Quick and delicious. Finally, I am able to toss the cooking magazines after a year, because I rip out the recipes I might try. I have umpteen years of November, December and barbecue issues--taking up two shelves in the basement. Anybody have a great recipe for crab cakes?

  26. Leslie,

    I have that same Anne Casale cookbook and you are right, it is terrific. Light, authentic recipes, sort of healthy Italian.


  27. I confess a fondness for Mrs. Beaton--the old English staple, even though too many of her recipes need oodles of eggs and butter and cream.

  28. I have the Bisquick cookbook too, and a Campbells soup book a friend gave me many years ago. I have the red plaid Better Homes & Gardens, the blue McCalls cookbook from the early 70s; a ton of Southern Living cookbooks. Best of the Best of Texas and Deep in the Heart of Texas--both compilations of recipes from women's clubs. A couple of Episcopal church cookbooks from Minnesota. A number of New Orleans cookbooks and The River Road cookbook. A cookbook pamphlet from the green chile council of New Mexico. Oh gosh. A whole bunch more I don't even want to think of. And I'll never get rid of them. I just accumulate more from relatives. Occasionally my husband will get weird and buy one: The Rice Cookbook for cryin' out loud? Oh well. They are fun to read even if you don't make anything.

  29. "Onion Cheese Supper Bread" in the Bisquick Cookbooks - Judy, I've never tried it but I'm going to look it up now.

    Love Bisquick for biscuits, waffles, pancakes... topping for deep peach dish pie. When kids were home we went through lots of it on weekends.

  30. What fun! I have both the old and new editions of Joy, and have to admit I have never used either. Just not my sort of food, apparently.

    My Laurie Colwin's may not even be touched by anyone else, much less loaned out!!!

    I love Jeff Smith's books, but my copies disappeared somewhere over the years. I still cook some of his recipes from memory.

    Absolute faves? Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book. Almost all of Jamie Oliver's books, but the one I use most is Revolution. It was designed for novice cooks, but I like it because most of the recipes are simple and fast enough for me to put together on work nights. And my picky-eater husband likes them.

    I have my Moosewood books but mostly for the pictures:-)

    New coolest book? Ottolenghi's Jerusalem. I also bought Plenty on Kindle, but so far the e-book just hasn't been the same experience. Cookbooks may just be one of those things you need to touch, although I use recipes off the internet all the time. But I love browsing cookbooks and it's just not the same with an e-book....

  31. Oh, how I wish I had my mother's loose-leaf Betty Crocker cookbook from the fifties, with all of her cookie recipes taped inside. It was the only cookbook she owned, and she only used it for baking. But it's gone, along with her cast-iron skillet (fifty years old or more) and her ten-inch aluminum pie plates. I was young, foolish, and not cooking then.

    I buy cookbooks for the food porn, but most of my recipes come from the internet, and then I collect them in a loose-leaf. But I couldn't get along without Mark Bittman when I want to know how to do something basic, or without Ina Garten's dips.

  32. Hey, Christopher!

    I've asked Santa for a 12" cast iron skillet for Christmas. I even sent him the link. After thirty years of cooking I have come to the conclusion that it's the best, most versatile... even if it can't go in the dishwasher.

    A blog for another time: keeper cookware.

  33. See Hallie, all that is happening here is the fierce urge to order MORE cookbooks, not cull them out.

    Here's another one for the list: remember I bought a cookbook called SOUTHERN CAKES at McIntyre's in Chapel Hill? I just made my first cake--a yellow layer cake with real caramel icing. It looks a little lopsided but we're dying to dig in...

  34. Was caramel icing hard to make? It's easy to burn the sugar.

  35. I'm home from my annual Christmas lunch with my mother, so now have had a chance to look at my shelves.

    I also have the Bisquick book--the very best shortcake recipe is there, and a must for strawberry season. A Hershey's cookbook I bought at Bloomingdale's in 1983 has the best Cocoa Peppermint Icing/Fudge recipe, bar none.

    The best all-round cookbook is the Better Homes & Gardens, 14th edition, spiralbound. My oldest, and best-loved of all cookbooks is my 1970 (and falling apart) copy of The Pocket Cook Book by Elizabeth Woody. My dad cooked from one, and I still make some of the recipes he and I cooked together when I was a kid: biscuits, scones, muffins, cornbread, cobbler, chicken & dumplings, Swiss steak. Have to admit that I've never made his specialty, which was stuffed pork chops.

    In 1976 I was the first person I know who bought a microwave. It came with a cookbook from Litton, and I still use so many of the recipes in it: apple crisp, brownies, gravy, scrambled eggs, quiche Lorraine, and so many more. Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet has some great recipes, too, including the best and fastest Potato Leek Soup of all. The one with the turkey tetrazzini is an HP book, and it also has a lot of go-to staple recipes.

    Hallie, the family cookbook was my Christmas gift to the girls several years ago, and they all loved it. But it's a huge project, definitely a labor of love.

  36. I've packed away all my cookbooks except for an old BH&G that was a wedding shower gift and my favorite Cooking Down East that I bought before I got married. Best chowder and fish cakes recipes ever!

    I have a huge manila file folder with recipes I've printed from the net. I eat very low carb, low sugar and I collect recipes when I find them and like them.

  37. I've been out all day with my mom, so I've missed this wonderful discussion! Now I'm having fun playing catch-up.

    Speaking of our own Molly Weston - I have a great cook-book recommended by Molly. Jean Anderson's A LOVE AFFAIR WITH SOUTHERN COOKING. it is excellent!!! Hallie, you would love it.

    And for Hank (are you there?). I have a book published in 1971. Secrets from Atlana's Best Kitchens by Earlyne S. Levitas. It includes recipes from some of the great restaurants from back them - most of which are closed now, of course. Harry Baron's, Coach and Six, Herren's, Midnight Sun and many more.

    This is fun!

  38. My original Joy of Cooking that my mother gave me when I got married (she said, "If you can read, you can cook.") has disappeared in one of my many moves. I had to recreate her Date Nut Bars from memory. After a few tries, I think I've got it right. It was deleted from later versions by those know-it-alls who bought the rights to the book.

  39. silverlining1:
    Those Date Bars are in my copy of the Joy of Cooking . . . would you like the recipe?

  40. Judy in Boston, I asked about crab cakes earlier this year and several people sent me this recipe. It's the best of the 5-6 we tried last spring.

    Ottolenghi: Want.

    And those little pamphlet cookbooks for a particular ingredient -- Bisquick, Athena phyllo dough, Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, even the pickling handbook I sent for from Heinz: love 'em. There's even a cookbook from the mid 90s collecting "the best recipes from bottles, jars, and cans."

  41. I'm with Lucy/Roberta. I have hundreds of cookbooks of all stripes and boxes of "community" cookbooks besides. I do use the Web to find recipes quickly (what *was* that zucchini recipe with sesame seeds and Parmesan cheese?) or (what's a good candied bacon/bacon candy recipe?) but nothing beats a real cookbook for sitting down and flipping through pages.

    OMNIVORE BOOKS in San Francisco is a cookbook-only store and my idea of Heaven.

  42. Latest cookbook purchased (from Green Apple Books, another favorite San Francisco bookstore): Carolyn Jung's “San Francisco Chef’s Table” (Lyons Press).

  43. THE JOY OF COOKING. Always. Learned to cook from it.

  44. I have a whole collection of cast iron skillets. Once seasoned, they are great and a side benefit is that they're good for toning your right arm (if right handed) as well as for cooking. I don't understand the chemistry, but some of the iron gets into your food, a good thing. And they hold the heat. Sears used to have them. Get the lid if possible.