Hello, my name’s Zoe and I collect cookbooks.

I used to buy cookbooks like other people once, but I always seemed to like it a little bit more than most. One day Owen turned around and said “It’s a collection, you know that?“. I said “You say that like it’s a bad thing …” and I realised that I had Crossed A Line. I’m not quite at the point where I could appear on the ABC’s Collectors or anything, although my friend Nigel is the proud proprietor of bakelite fingernail polisher Mystery Object™, and hundreds of melamine cups and saucers and I may have to seek his expert guidance on the subject.

Signs you may have a problem: one day’s purchases at the Lifeline Bookfair.

I’m not saying that it wouldn’t have happened anyway, but in part I blame Neil of At My Table. He posted in May 2008 on his satisfaction at completing his set of the Time Life series “The Good Cook: Techniques and Recipes”.

germanyA little trawling showed me that his high opinion of them was shared, including in this 2004 post by Elise at Simply Recipes and the many comments on that post and at forums like eGullet and Chowhound.

I haven’t found many Good Cook titles in my habitual op shop trawling, but once my eye was in I’ve often found volumes from the other Time Life series loved by collectors, “Foods of the World”. For each country or region it has a hardcover narrative volume (with photographs and some recipes) and a small paperback spiral recipe volume. The recipe volume from M J K Fisher’s The Cooking of Provincial France, was my first find, and then the narrative volume on The Cooking of Germany. There is intense competition for the best cover, but Germany over there to the left is way up on the list.

Both Time Life Series were published in American and US Editions, and reprinted many times. You shouldn’t ever pay too much for them, particularly the Foods of the World Series which should never cost you more than about $3 each. The spiral bound books are often cheaper, but also often more tattered. Even though they have a Spatter Proof Cover! they were designed to be used, whereas the bigger volumes were designed to be read in bed with a glass of sherry. You can get the hardback and the spiral bound recipe volume in a slipcase (I only have one set with a case, Provincial France again) or groovy folder (I’ve a couple of those).

The Good Cook Series is collected by more people, and I have seen some of the more difficult to find volumes reach astronomical prices on eBay – most recently Patisserie which got to $78.50. (No I didn’t buy it – I waited a couple of weeks and got it for a great deal less than that). The first Good Cook books I bought were a partial set of 13 for $35, and I’d be lucky to pay that little per volume again. Some people get very lucky and stumble across a whole set cheap, but as I said, that’s being lucky. There’s a partial set of 18 (the US editions) on eBay at the moment for under $20, but the price flies through the roof right at the end in my experience (updated: it’s about 12 hours later and the auction’s at $71 + $25 postage -> still a bargain IMO even more updated: 5 hours to go and it’s up to $139.75 final update:end price was $197.50) They’re cheaper at events like the biannual Lifeline Bookfair, particularly at the end when you can cram whatever you can get in a bag for $10.

The reason I was drawn to the Good Cook series is the illustrated techniques, particularly of classic skills in the French cooking repertoire, but I’m still impressed by the recipes, which are drawn from a great range of cuisines and writers. Some of the advice I’ll be ignoring – even in winter I don’t find carrots need at least thirty minutes boiling to reach tenderness, and I’ve no need for the instant or canned tofu suggested in the Japanese recipe volume.

As a mark of the full nerdy glory that my cookbook love has reached, I have been putting my cookbooks on LibraryThing. There’s only about half of them on there so far (and I’m only going to include the cookery books, as I don’t actually collect the rest of the books I read), but there are some shocking book pigs on there who make my few stuffed shelves look positively abstemious.

Actually, that’s not the height of my full nerdy glory. This annotated list comparing the US and UK Editions of The Good Cook Series is. I am a little bit proud, and a little bit embarrassed. Updated to increase nerd levels: I’ve put up a cookbook set on flickr.

So yes, my name’s Zoe and I collect cookbooks.

I started writing this almost a year ago, but it’s taken me until now to actually get with the program (so to speak) and out myself properly. What sparked it was @eatnik’s pictures of her cookbooks on Twitter, and her comment that the pervy joy of other people’s bookshelves was just as interesting as looking in their fridge. Recent purchases have seen the four boxes of books under the bed emerge to shiny new shelves in the hall and loungeroom. Unpacking showed up a few double copies, so a happy Dr Sista Outlaw left after her delightful visit last weekend with an armful of surplus. The magazines are still mostly tucked away. I’m buying less, and more fussily. There are a couple of things that I Very Much Want – Ottolenghi, Deborah Madison, Fergus Henderson. But I have much better control over my desires than I used to.

The oldest book I have is rescued from my grandmother’s house, a 1892 edition of M J Pearson’s Australian Cookery which is discussed in this article. The newest was purchased today, at a Gunghalin op shop, the Breakfast volume of the Healthy Home Cooking series which came after Foods of the World and The Good Cook and involves considerably less duck fat. The last before that was Anna Del Conte’s awesome The Classic Food of Northern Italy and the Oxford Companion to Italian Food, $20 each from Clouston & Hall (a brilliant academic remainder bookshop – search “The Culinary Arts” category).

Owen came to our relationship with one cookbook. It’s on LibraryThing and there’ll be a prize for the first to guess which one it is.

And before you ask, I haven’t read every word of every one. In any event I don’t buy into the whole tight-lipped superior view that “people have cookbooks but they don’t cook from them”. If I’m feeling very pissed up myself, I’ll point out that the whole “but they don’t cook the food” meme originated with a Roland Barthes article “Ornamental Food” comparing cookery articles in bourgeois and working class magzines, and was soundly debunked in Stephen Mennell’s “All Manners of Food”, by employing the cunning methodology of reading the articles that Barthes claimed to be speaking about. It’s still a hot issue, and there’s some interesting back and forth in the comments on Michael Ruhmlan’s recent excellent post about “foodies”, “cooks” and the forthcoming movie “Julie and Julia“.

If you’ve a favourite that you love, or a cookbook that you’re craving, do share it in the comments. It will make me feel a little better.

83 thoughts on “Hello, my name’s Zoe and I collect cookbooks.

  1. What’s in that aspic? (Do I want to know?)

    When cooking, I find myself reaching for Nigella’s “How To Eat” a lot, and for my well-worn Family Circle and CWA cookbooks. For page-stroking, Maggie Beer.

    While we’re on cookbooks, I’m looking for recommendations for a tome of Chinese cooking and a tome of French cooking, something that will cover most of the bases in one. I realise this is asking for a lot (particularly the Chinese request), but if anyone has some great recommendations, I’d love to hear it.

  2. After I took my new cookbooks and the organic gardening book I bought on Saturday (remember?) and left your place I was in search of a Dymocks in which to spend boy child’s birthday book voucher (remember?) And at the bookshop was a new Australian book about Vietnamese cookery … so when I got home there was much reshuffling of the small art deco bookshelf that holds my beloved cooking and gardening collection.

    Having spent a Friday night with Zoe poring over these books whilst getting stonkered I am willing to attest they are the most excellent technical manuals, and beautiful to boot!

  3. PS: My best cookbook is the two-volume red and blue and white bound Doubleday Cookbook: Complete Contemporary Cooking, written in 1975 by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna and published in New York, with pages that had to be sliced with a knife when it was new (I remember). It patiently explains how to boil rice and eggs, and takes you right up to how to butcher a bear and kill a snapping turtle, with much pastry, cake making, frosting and dessertification in between. There are more modern and multicultural books, but few more detailed, and the recipes are pretty reliable. I’ll often cross check a more modern cookbook against it.

    My mum didn’t want it because it didn’t have the sort of detailed step-by-step pictures that Zoe’s TimeLife collection has. You actually have to read and imagine with this one. I adore it.

    I also love PWMU, which I have written about.

  4. Strangely, I also have a copy of the Esk Valley Cookery Book – that CWA must have had a healthy membership.

    That’s an impressive collection. Looking through it made me realise that I (unconsciously) don’t buy any cookbook that my parents own. They’ve got Margaret Fulton and Women’s Weekly aplenty and I have none despite referring back to them occasionally. Mostly I tend to buy books that I plan to cook almost everything in – I’m driven much more by function now than vintage tomes filled with oversaturated shots of things in aspic. Which is an equally worthy cause.

    However, my dysfunctional cookbook obsession at the moment is anything that fits in the genre of “Westerners destroying Asian Food in the 50s and 60s”. Double points for books with “Oriental” in the title. Canned tofu, ahoy. I really should get my shit together and get my cookbooks up on shelfari or librarything.

  5. The aspic is rather alarming, isn’t it, but only eggs. I like “How to Eat” too – and there’s another rockfan-like post in whether later cookbooks reach the heights of an excellent first one. Nigella is very good for lovely English family food, and her shortcrust pastry is the standard one I make. As for Chinese books, Yan Kit-So has a couple of excellent introductory volumes, but beware of buying them online for inflated prices. For French stuff, I have old paperbacks of Richard Olney and Julia Child (and the Good Cooks), although a dear friend who is an excellent cook loves her Damien Pignolet “French”.

    DSO, bear butchery would be awesome, although I’m glad there are no pictures. What’s that Vietnamese book? I’ve seen an article about it, but forgotten the name. Is it good?

    Phil, I’d love to see your books. Let me know if there’s any special titles you’re after, as I very frequently come across horrendous Oriental cooking titles. I’ve got a few early Australian ones, but they’re very earnest.

  6. It’s Nhut Huyhn’s Little Vietnam. I bought it because it’s Australian and has good advice about sourcing ingredients, which is important when you only have one Asian grocer!

    Zoe, there are no pictures in Doubleday, but there are sketches …

  7. So pleased you got ’round to this.

    Deborah Madison is great (as you knew I would have to say) and I’m with Phil, here in a way. My mother collects dessert books, cakes, chocolates, all that sugar-y stuff (as well as Margaret Fulton’s) and, thus, I do not. Mum’s got some beauties from the 1960’s and 70’s. My one exception is Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. Fabulous – all about flavour and simplicity. Her almond cake is alarmingly good and I can’t quite work out why…

    Love my George Bernard Shaw Vegetarian Cookbook and am a sucker for any ‘healthfood’ cookbooks.

    Far out, Zoe. Just one purchase? Makes me feel as though we are sisters.

  8. I’ve got a few yoga food books, and love my Holly Davis and even Therese Cutter.

    And that one purchase cost $20, at the end of a bookfair. Much more restrained the following year. Sort of.

    For anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, another recent purchase was “An Honest Kitchen” the excellent emagazine Lucy has put out with Kathryn of Limes and Lycopene.

  9. I recall that when I first bought Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian I cooked from no other cook book for about a year, so smitten was I with it. I had a similar experience with Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

    The Thai recipe book that I use the most is Charmaine Solomon’s Thai Cookbook because in that she’s created a cook book that takes ‘the fuss and fiddle out of presenting a Thai meal’. She basically does it by giving recipes to 6 basic pastes that can be prepared and frozen for later. The result is very tasty Thai food–that has not been Westernised–there are still those smelly little dried shrimp throughout–but that doesn’t require a Royal Court to prepare.

  10. 15 years of veganism largely prevented me from acquiring this habit (somewhat like the effect that having tiny feet has had on my capacity to buy shoes).

    I do love browsing my mother’s rather large collection though and have recently taken to checking out lots of cookbooks from the library to drool over. I’m quite a big fan of Maggie Beer at the moment – especially Harvest (though the offal section is a little off-putting).

  11. I have a collection too. Lots of baking books but the cookbook I find I use the most is “Margaret Fulton Encyclopaedia of Food and Cookery”. The first copy I had fell apart & I picked up a replacement at the Lifeline Book Fair along with quite a few others. I also have 3 “food of the world” large hardcover cookbooks. If you don’t have them I’m happy to give them to you to help complete your collection. I’ve got “Spain & Portugal”, “Russia” & “Scandinavia”. Let me know if you want them.

  12. I haven’t looked at your librarything yet, so this is a guess without parameters: is Owen’s cookbook “Cookery the Australian Way”? My partner brought it to our relationship (along with several Women’s Weekly’s, PWMU and some remaindered books from the shop outside the Nova cinema), I brought Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander and Jill Dupleix. Our combined cookbook collections fit very easily on one shelf, but I do borrow cookbooks from the library regularly for reading in bed.

  13. I used to have a fantastic wartime cookbook. It was novel sized, in green canvas hardback. It was great because you could look up any ingredient and it would list recipes, and also suggest substitutes (for those tough times like war rationing, or student sharehouses).

    It had endless recipes for without eggs, without sugar, etc etc. It was great and also had instructions for all the basics like roasts etc (eg – how many minutes for what cuts of meat), which most books just assume everyone can do.

    Anyway – I lost it in a move, and keep my eye out for another one – it would help if I could remember it’s name, beyond ‘mum’s green cookbook’.

  14. I bought Margaret Fulton’s Encyclopedia today for $5 on ebay … and I would really like Sarah Brown’s Vegetarian cookbook, which I lost in a move or to a lightfingered flatmate.

  15. I’m a big fan of the library – in Canberra you can order online, they text you when it’s in and send you an email when it’s due. I must have renewed Claudia Roden’s “Book of Jewish Food” about 8 times.

    Julie, I have a couple of Margaret Fultons, but not that one (and good score DSO!). I loved her autobiography, “I sang for my supper” – not at all the little wifey type that people today seem to assume. And I don’t have the Spain and Portugal Foods of the World and would love it! I’ll email.

    Kate – ‘fraid not. It really is very obvious once you see it. Seepi, do you remember what war it was from? Happy to keep my eye out.

  16. Oh yes, the Canberra public library is fab. I often get PhD books there too.

    I have just requested Margaret Fulton’s “encyclopedia of food and cookery” (2009), Margaret Fulton’s Kitchen (2007), Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion (2009 – this came out This Month and I didn’t even know that it was available yet!!), Stephanie Alexander’s Winter, and, of course, The Cook’s Companion.

    I am trying to work out which of these is sufficiently veg friendly to be worth purchasing, but I may just place them on high library rotation…

    Did I mention how much I love the library?

  17. What an amazing collection! We are constantly buying our “last” cookbook (as in we-don’t-need-any-more-cookbooks-we-have-the-world-covered-now) until we see another one, but our bookshelves are modest by comparison.

    Of our books, Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible is in regular use, as are Fuschia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Cookbook and Sichuan Cookery. And now I want Nhut Huynh’s book…

  18. Gay Bilson – who admits to having around 300 cookbooks – plays a game with her friends based on Desert Island Discs: you have to choose no more than ten of your cookbooks to keep and give the rest to the local library. She goes through her ten in a chapter in her book, Plenty.

    I’m unsure whether I’d keep the encyclopaedic, go-to, reference type ones (Cook’s Companion, Jane Grigson’s Fruit and Vegetable Books, Roden’s Book of Jewish Food, and I’d include Lawson’s How To Eat in this category) or some of the quirkier and/or more specialist and/or sentimental favourites.

    In any case, I guess I get to hang onto the expanda-files of photocopies, scribbled notes and pages ripped from magazines.

  19. It was WW2, the green cookbook.

    I also really want a copy of the ‘vitamizer’ cookbook from about the 60s. It was spiral bound, with little pictures in blue and pink of housewives whipping up blue and pink concoctions. It came with the vitamizer (blender).

    I only ever used the cakes chapter, but it had fantastic recipes for great cakes, and in every single one you just threw everything into the blender, blended, then stirred in the flour and cooked a great cake.

    Every now and then I type vitamizer into ebay, but no joy as yet.

    I think I see a need for a vintage cookbook library – you could sell photocopies of people’s favourite recipes from their childhood.

  20. Hi Zoe. A fun post and what a great list of Good Cook editions, thanks! I started down the collecting path for Good Cook and Foods of the World and then managed to smack myself around a bit and calm down. Whether I’ll keep that discipline in the long term is another question!

    I wonder if I can try persuading you to think about reviewing some of your other favourite books for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf

  21. Zoe I can drop off the book to next time I’m in Canberra or if Cath is going to visit you before that I’ll give it to her.

  22. I love borrowing cookbooks from the library. I go into the book shops write down the names of the cook books I’d like and then order them from the library. If I like the book enough or if it has heaps of recipes that I like then I try to buy it. I also have heaps of recipes I’ve ripped out of mags. Really into cheesecake recipes at the moment.

  23. Cristy, the “Stephanie Alexander Winter” will be The Age/SMH one ftg her and others – $13 at Cantys in Fyshwick if you like it, they had a big pile. Also, it is very kind of you to ask for a picture.

    Injera, Fuchsia Dunlops books are everyday references here too – she is just so incredibly good. It was a revelation to me to read her Sichuan book and see a hundred recipes with the same ingredients in different permutations and massively different tastes once you’d cooked them. It changed the way I read European cookery books.

    seepi, did you know you can set eBay to email you every time someone lists an item with “vitamiser” in the description? I have a few standing ones, including “good cook”.

    Anthony, I think the ProgDins readers and writers should post our top tens, and criteria. You keen?

    Duncan – I admire your restraint, particularly given your obvious ability to focus when something’s really serious, like macarons 😉

  24. My family heirloom cookbook (which I am consulting now for ideas about how to pull off an upside down quince and pear cake) is A Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium, compiled by The Good Housekeeping Institute, published in London in 1952 and reprinted often until 1962 and inscribed by my mum, who loved it for its picture instructions, ‘Naomi, please pass this on to the one who will value this book the most as I am to you, love Mum, 2/12/03’ (my 35th birthday).

    I bloody love having this book!!

  25. Enjoyable read – my most treasured cookbook is a collection of my grandmother’s recipes, typed up by my sister several years after my grandmother’s death. It includes a note about how she recalls my grandmother still collecting and writing down recipes when she was well into her 80s. I remember she was still cooking at 90.

    The book itself is both a source of amusement and a link to someone who died when I was quite young and not smart enough to ask all the questions I should have.

  26. Wow, the canned tofu made me think of an episode of ‘Are You Being Served’ where they drank Japanese champagne from a tin… there’s a whole other blog post about weird things in tins, isn’t there?

    I bet Owen’s cookbook was the Hari Krishna one? Haven’t looked at the Librarything list, but most people own one because it’s free, don’t they? I have two 🙂

    My fav cookbook is my blank indexed ex-public service account book where I write up all the recipes I never want to forget…

  27. OK – since I last looked on ebay, the Vitamizer cookbook has become ‘vintage’ and is available, so I lashed out and bought one. If only I could still buy a 50s Vitamizer too – that thing could crush ice in seconds. Not like the plasti-crap blenders we get now.

    Here’s hoping the cake recipes are as good and easy as I remember. Some of the other links I dug up look a little questionable…


  28. I dream about the day when I have my forever house with shelves in the kitchen to store my collection of cook books.

    when I came to London i could only bring a few things and Jill Dupleix’s ‘Simple Food’ and Nigella’s ‘Forever Summer’ were stuffed in my suitcase and have been much used since. Good thing about only have 2 recipe books for quite a while was I cooked just about everything in them!

    Mu mum’s a kiwi and so I also have a copy of NZ’s Edments Cook Book, which is a bit like the CWA ones and I use it to check the correct times for cooking poultry etc… although they do say to boil cabbage for about 3 hours…

  29. me, i’m an edmonds cookery book girl. i find it hard to purchase another, but loved hearing about your polygamy.
    I’m going to put my bet for owen on…. sandra cabot’s liver cleansing diet, cause really, where’s the food?

  30. oooh! interested to see you’ve got a David Thompson Thai cooking book. I saw him on tele last week and want to get a group together to go to Nahm.

  31. seepi, I would have bought that just for the cover! I have a very old Sunbeam Mixmaster cookbook (and a very old Mixmaster) but it doesn’t come close to the tropical colour you’ve got happening there.

    Nice try andra, but even though he is a Virgo, Owy’s cookbook is not the Liver Cleansing diet. Emica I want the big pink David Thompson Thai Bible one day, but the one I have is fantastic. Out of print, but well worth hunting down. Also a lot lighter to carry back when you leave London.

  32. Zoe, here’s a go at a top ten:

    Grigson’s Vegetable Book; The Cook’s Companion; Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens (although Maddison’s earlier Greens Cookbook would do just as well); Lynn Kasper’s The Spledid Table; Wolfert’s The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean; Casa Moro; Roden’s Book of Jewish Food; How To Eat; Alford and Duguid’s Mangoes and Curry Leaves. That leaves one more to cover baking. Carol Field’s Italian Baker would be a good pick, but no sourdough bread recipes in that. On the other hand, many good books featuring sourdough bread have little else in them.

    This is a very pragmatic list, in that if I were really on a desert island and was designated cook, these are what I’d want to be able to reach for in the kitchen (And as for desert island scenarios, I’m supposing I’m cooking for, say, Thurston Howell III, the Professsor and Mary Anne etc etc, rather than Golding’s horrid schoolboys). Even then, I’ve had to leave off good contemporary cookbooks that I use a lot, such as Karen Martini, Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater.

    So it leaves out those cookbooks I often browse for inspiration as to flavours and tastes and ethos, like Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed, or Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, even Day-Lewis’s West of Ireland Summers.

    Similarly, left behind are books that, rather than serve as a repository of often-used recipes, have taught me a hell of a lot by way of technique and knowledge, like the Zuni Cafe Cookbook and The River Cottage Meat Cook Book, although Deb Maddison and Paula Wolfert straddle both categories.

  33. Stastically, cookbooks are the most borrowed category of items in the library service I work for (learned this in a resources type meeting last week, talking about how the budget is spent).

    I’m a complete sucker for Nigella’s books and own them all and cook out of them all except one.
    Cookery the Australian way from high school is still my default cookbook for lots of sweet stuff. Campion and Curtis in the kitchen is a terrific book. Bought about 3 CWA booklets at the Royal Melbourne show last year. I own one Jamie O. I don’t own any Stephanie A or Donna Hay.

  34. Anthony, I reread Gay Bilson’s list today and am still pondering mine – I might steal your comment to kick off a new post later this week.

    librarygirl, I do own a few Donna Hay books, but they’re ones with her name in tiny print inside as a food stylist and home economist, not her own branded ones. Not at all surprised that your library borrowers go crazy for cookbooks – I’ve bought more than one after loving the library copy, but the best is Janni Kyritsis’ Wild Weed Pie.

  35. I’ve only been collecting for a few years and after finally scoring a Cooks Companion for cheap, I’m trying to only add titles on regional cooking or specific ingredients/techniques (avoiding restaurant + celebrity chef books for the most part) – the wishlist currently includes James Petterson’s big sauce book, Wild Sourdough, Saha, and a heap of regional South Asian titles.

    Currently enjoying cooking from the Burmese cookbook hsa*ba – recipes have been great so far.

  36. I have a complete collection of the Time Life Foods of the World that I got from scouring local 2nd hand bookstores and ebay. They are great.

    We used to do challenge dinners from them. We’d randomly assign each person a cookbook (using 20 sided dice) and everyone got to choose and cook a recipe which we’d all share. They were dinners with a huge amount of really good and really rich food.

    They are also very useful books for Eurovision parties.

  37. I don’t mind the odd celebrity/restaurant cookbook, but usually from the 1980s 😉 I do love Sean Moran’s Let it Simmer and Janni Kyritsis’ Wild Weed Pie, and quite like the Skye Gyngell books.

    And why had I not thought of Eurovision parties! Genius.

  38. This is an interesting thread, because I’m kind of the anti-Zoe: I don’t do cookbooks much. This is what I do: I go out to dinner and I go, “oh, look, they’ve used this with this, or done it this way.” And then I rip them off shamelessly. And then once I started feeling a bit out of my depth, along came the internet, so I keep a plastic-sheet folder with printouts of this and that which I’ve come across.

    Reading this thread has inspired me to go out and maybe get a few cookbooks. We do have Charmaine Solomon’s big hardback Asian Cookery I think the title is, husband cooks out of it a lot and the results are stupenduous, Lauredhel pls note.

  39. I must admit, I am rather taken with the idea of Eurovision parties, prob much more fun than actual Eurovision

  40. Thanks Helen. We have Charmaine’s vegetarian book of course, and given that we’ve got good Indian books and Thompson’s Thai, I was looking specifically for Chinese. I’d guess that any pan-Asian cookbook would have a reasonable amount of Chinese cuisine in it, but I was wondering about something a bit more focused – preferably by someone who grew up in China, and with food writing in it as well as recipes.

  41. Do you use Thompson’s Thai much, lauredhel? It’s on the greedy wishlist.

    In additon to the ones I suggested upthread, there’s some more suggestions on good Chinese books at these chowhound threads. [link] [link]

    I have one of the Wei Chuan ones and would love more. And I agree with whoever said avoid Barbara Tropp’s “China Moon” – weird California/Taiwan fusion stuff.

  42. That Chowhound thread is terrific, Zoe, thanks. I haven’t used the Thai book much (I mostly do the everyday weekday cooking and the odd bit of baking), but it has quite a few drips on the lovely pink cover – so my partner’s used it a bit (he does the fiddly/special-day cooking.) We’re just starting to plan a Thai dinner party now.

  43. And more threads at eGullet here and more recently here

    Dangerous territory! And funnily enough, I’m not fussy about cookbooks staying pristine. Even ripped all the dustjackets off most of them a couple of years ago, but over that now.

  44. I just admired Tetsuya’s 1990s cookbook – very lovely to look at in jades and blues but not really a cook book. More like a design frenzy and impossible ingredient parade. Example, tomato and tea consomme instructions: ‘cook until the flavours come together’, which is fine if you know how it’s supposed to taste but I only ate there once, 8 years ago and … I forgot.

    I did not forget the Granny Smiths in Sauternes jelly, or the Petuna trout, but that’s another story and I still think I couldn’t pull those off without more guidance than the feeling that perhaps Tetsuya waved his hand over a galley proof of this page once!

  45. While I’m not especially fussy about the covers of cookbooks, I would be a little fussy about keeping that beautiful pink silk clean. When I worked in a bookshop, we covered that book with clear plastic to keep it clean and I used to gaze at it longingly every now and then…

  46. With cookbooks that are a bit large or otherwise precious, I write out an abbreviated ingredients list for the kitchen bench, read the instructions and leave the book open on the kitchen table (which is only 1m away) safe from mess. My copy of the big pink silk book has stayed nice working this way – since I usually cook more than one thing at a time from it, it’s also easier to have lists rather than flick back and forth.

  47. If I’m cooking a few Chinese dishes, I just measure everything out into some of my hundreds of small bowls and line them up in a row for each dish. Then I run back over to the book on the bench 😉

  48. hi Zoe. Yes, you’re right: once I set my mind to something it can be difficult to step away. I am very proud of my restraint re the aforementioned series (which doesn’t translate to restraint in general, cos my food book collection had exceeded 350 at the start of the year and is growing faster since starting the book review site… eeek!).

    The eGullet threads you mentioned are great aren’t they!

  49. Somebody got lucky – that second set of 26 vols of The Good Cook went for $86.50, probably because it had to be picked up (from Murrumbeena, 13 kms from the Melbourne CBD).

    And Duncan, I hope you’re going to be outing your full collection?

  50. Zoe there was an interesting article in the AGE Epicure section last Tues. which fits nicely into this topic.

    The Epicure writers pick of the top cookbooks

    The one I’m fondest of is the Claudia Roden Middle Eastern cookery. I lived in a share house back in the 1970s (!!!!) in Brunswick, oh yes we were pioneers, and we loved to eat of the delights there such as Baba Ghanoush and Hommous and Falafel. My Housemate bought Claudia Roden and cooked out of it and it was a bit of an epiphany, you don’t have to have a specific gene to do this sort of thing, you can learn it. It was a teachable (or learnable) moment in my life.

  51. Thanks for the link Helen – and for after The Age hides the article, the list is:

    1. The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander
    2. French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David
    3. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
    4. A New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
    5. The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
    6. Good Things by Jane Grigson
    7. Thai Food by David Thompson
    8. Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters
    9. White Slave by Marco Pierre White
    10. Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson

    and the runners-up:

    Larousse Gastronomique
    On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
    The Good Cook Series by Time-Life

    They sought opinions to find “the most important cookbooks you would recommend to improve cooking skills and food knowledge”. Don’t know the Marco Pierre White book, but I’m curious to see it there.

    There’s a lot of cookbook lists you could write, aren’t there?

  52. I think that they (the Age people) also asked chefs, which goes some way to explaining the Marco Pierre White book. I imagine that a list compiled by enthusiastic home cooks would look quite different…

  53. Not just chefs, but “more than 100 top chefs, food writers, publishers, restaurateurs and respected home cooks, asking not for their favourite cookbook, nor the most colourful, the heaviest or costly.”

    I await the list of the heaviest cookbooks with anticipation.

  54. Yeah, but I still got the sense that it was quite skewed towards professionally-oriented cooking and that it was the chefs and restaurateurs that got the Marco Pierre White book in the top 10 for example…

    Heaviest would have to include Stephanie & Thompson no? Plus Maggie Beer’s Harvest – it’s bloody heavy and I have to lug it back to the library today…

  55. It strikes me as a very safe or ‘proper’ list. It might be what you’d recommend to someone totally new to cooking who wanted to stock the kitchen book shelf from scratch before getting started.

    It dutifully tries to cover most cuisines, and sticks with the pre-eminent authors who first interpreted that cuisine to Australian audiences. Which means it probably reflects some of the preferences of certain generations of cooks, but I suspect most people’s top ten lists would be a little quirkier and tell something about their own culinary journey.

    And does anyone actually cook from Elizabeth David these days?

  56. @ Anthony

    interesting point about la grande dame Elizabeth David. I have cooked from her books on occasion (first ever ratatouille), but find I have to adjust the instructions because she uses far more oil or cooks things for far longer than I would – as well as converting gills etc into metric!

    it goes to the heart of that old chestnut – whether one read cook books for instruction or inspiration.

    I also have to admit a guilty secret… I am far more likely to use cook books that have pictures. I know, I know I’m failing to be a purist using some grimoire-like tome, but while people rave about Ana del Conte, I hardly use it cos there aren’t any pictures to get me all excited.

  57. I don’t rely that much on pictures,but I think they influence me when they’re there. And shat I love about Anna del Conte is her utterly uncompromising approach – and how her food tastes, her emphasis being on making the main ingredient really sing. Her osso bucco recipe is the best I’ve ever had by a huge margin.

    And in cookbook greed, I snaffled the Good Cook:Confectionary on eBay over the weekend, so only one – Breads – to go.

    If you’re after a whole set and have $550, you can buy one now – item 130329265457.

  58. To my great joy my friend Jem has just come over bringing me the copy of the Breads volume he got me on his Christmas holiday. He’s a fantastic preserve and jam maker and I’d given him an extra copy of the Preserving volume that I found in an op shop.

    That’s it, all of them, and what a way to finish what has been a beautiful collecting journey. Now I’m just looking for the ones he needs 😉

  59. Great to read your blog Zoe.I too,am an addicted collector of cookbooks.,mainly old ones have a strong attraction for me.I have many CWA cookbooks.I love them so much!I also have Isabella Beetons wonderful cookbook it was printed in 1891!! Latest find a 1933 CWA cookbook called the Birthday book.,this small hard covered book is a delight! Faded covers but perfect inside! Yes,I have MasterChef too,and Matt Preston’s Cookbook.Fundraiser cookbooks appeal to me too and I love the Church ones!These are the collectables of the future! When I go to thrift shops,2nd hand shops etc,I head straight for the book section and ususally come away with a bundle of treasures!So if you think it is an unusual hobby,that of collecting old cookbooks.Its Not.Many have the bug.Once you start you cannot stop.And do we really want to?

  60. Hi Deborah – I’ve got quite a few fundraiser cookbooks myself. Sign of the times – the hard copies of my women’s group cookbook have all been distributed so we’ve made it available online.

    And I’m trying to be a lot fussier these days, mainly due to considerations of space and domestic peace.

  61. Toinght was better than Christmas!!! We’re packing up to leave London and because books are so (!) expensive in Aus, I’ve just bought about 8 cook books at Foyles to ship home.

    This post was very helpful 🙂 I got Fuchsia Dunlop on your reocmmendation Zoe and the ‘Little Vietnam’, and Claudia Roden, although went with ‘Tamarind and Saffron’ because it’s so pretty.

    Also got a couple of Nigel Slaters, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage’ and Nigella’s How to Eat/ Be a domestic goddess. They were very big holes in my library.

    I feel completely indulgent but I’m justifying it because books are so well priced here, it would be a shame not to!

  62. Hi, I came across this thread and blog by chance. I was wondering if you know if there is a rehab for cook book addicts? If so, please don’t tell my other half or he will have me checked in quicker than he can say “Did you get another package delivered today”.

    Where is this magical LifeLine Book Fair held? I wanted to cry at the pictures of all the Foods of the World, I haven’t found a decent sized set yet. I also wanted to cry at the photos of the bookshelves, since most of my lovely books are in storage.

    Emica, have you looked at bookdepository.com ? It’s a UK website, the US site is cheaper though, they deliver for free. Don’t worry about feeling indulgent, the UK books are so competitively priced, you really had no choice!

  63. Thanks Zoe! I did a bit of googling and found it.

    Might drive down from Sydney and check it out, will be a bit of a close shave though with 20 people coming for dinner on that Saturday 😉

  64. Hi Zoe, thanks for the tip off – my sister and I drove down on Saturday morning, wasn’t super impressed with the cookbook section (probably because I found some books for $10 I just bought new for $25+, and was rushing) but did pick up a few things.

    Also picked up a trolley full of history and geography books, after that I forbade myself to look at the rest of the aisles so heaven knows what I missed out on but we were both very pleased with our purchases and our self control!


  65. Hi Zoe, Like you and all your respondents I LOVE cookery books. I especially love baking books and, to narrow it down a little further I especially love U.S. baking books. Have just returned from New Orleans where I managed to top up my collection by 10. When I go to U.S. which is about every three years, I go with the same friend and she loves books but can’t understand my fascination for cook books.I mutter on about social history but it doesn’t seem to get through. In the years when I don’t make it to U.S. I rely on Amazon U.K.
    My children have accepted my obsession, after all they benefit when I cook from the books but some friends raise their eyebrows, ever so slighty, when they see that I have added so many since their visit that I’m running out of bookcase space.
    Only really wanted to leave a comment as I rarely come across anyone who loves the books. I read a quote in Nigella’s latest book where she admits having 2000 but says that there’s no point in stopping a collection once you’ve started and that’s going to be my strap line from now on.

  66. Zoe, I am impressed… and wondering why it has taken me until now to read this post! We have more in common than I realised. My cookbooks are (almost) like my babies… I treasure them. Perhaps the one I love the most dearly is a 1950 something edition of a classic Hungarian cookbook that my paternal grandmother posted to my mother in 1958, after the family had fled Hungary during the uprising. My grandmother’s inscription on the first page always makes me cry. The spine has fallen apart due to age, so I need to take it to a good bookbinder to preserve it.

    I’m planning to take my nanna trolley to the next book fair! See you there!

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