I saw a post on Facebook today that asked about favourite cookbooks. They didn’t mean websites, or even online recipes, but rather the good old-fashioned cover-to-cover tomes of cook’s notes on paper. I wanted more than just a tiny comment box to record my thoughts on the matter, so here I am. I’m hoping that my choices may interest someone else – or perhaps a reader may have a cherished volume whose name they will share. Do I need to mention I have more than one favourite?
If a favourite volume is designated as such by its frequency of use, then my stained journal with all the recipes of my childhood would win hands down. All my old stand-bys are in there and not only do I make them regularly, I also share them with friends and relatives. They aren’t on the internet in a way I can find them unless I put them in this blog, so the weathered pages are my kitchen bible. When I needed my Auntie Maxine’s foolproof Yorkshire Pudding recipe, that’s where I wrote it. I still use it, and when I get long distance phone calls asking for it, I like it to be handy.
The first cookbook I got as an adult was one my parents bought me. It was aptly named The Only Cookbook. Since I started cooking before the internet was around, it was an important resource. I learned details about roasting meat, making soup, preparing meringue and many other multi-step cooking feats from its pages. I still recommend it as a gift for any young cooking enthusiast leaving the nest. (It’s now even more affordable on Amazon.)
As for published cookbooks, The Frog Commissary Book has been a good friend for many years. This collection comes from two popular eateries (The Frog and The Commissary) in Philadelphia. It not only has plenty of practical everyday recipes like Frog Commissary Cookies , the margins of its pages are filled with handy tips about cooking and entertaining, like how to set up a bar for 50 people or an illustrated set of instructions on making lemon crown garnishes.
The other old friend I would not want to be without is The Chatelaine Cookbook, published in 1965. When I want a recipe for a preserve, or something like waffles or tomato aspic, that is where I look. There are few photos, no tales of how a recipe came about – just straightforward instructions. It’s what my grandmother would have told me if I asked about a recipe.
STYLE (aesthetic and cooking)
For a cooking style as a theme, I still have a fondness for Southwest cooking and my copy of Mark Miller’s Indian Market Cookbook is as useful as it is beautiful. Going to the Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe was on my bucket list for years, but now I live my dream through the pages. Our warm summer climate and relatively mild winters are a good fit for the aromatic and often bold flavours, and I enjoy growing chiles and herbs in the garden that I use in these recipes. Rosemary Pecan Bread is from this book.
One of my best girlfriends is from South Africa, and I was fortunate enough to visit her there many years ago, and sample some of the ethnically complex and flavourful food. The following Christmas she sent me a copy of Cook with Ina Paarman (she is like her American namesake, Ina Garten – a goddess in the cooking world in her country). You haven’t lived fully until you’ve had Milk Tart. (Full disclosure: this recipe is directly from my girlfriend, Merle. Ina Paarman now has a very comprehensive website, including many recipes.)
My mom gave me a copy of Larousse Gastronomique not long after I returned from my year living in France. I had spent much time while there researching French recipes through history, and it helped with some of my translations. The encyclopedia format means you need to know what you’re planning to cook if you want a recipe; it is equally as interesting only as a reference for classic European cooking.
I have a bookcase full of cookbooks, and I don’t use them all as much as I would like. Still, their presence is a comfort and an inspiration. I guess it is a reflection of my age that the feel of a book in my hands and the action of flipping through pages is much more comforting than typing and tapping through an internet search.
Do you have a favourite cookbook, or did you eschew your collection for an online app? How do you find recipes, and save those you want to make again? I’d love to hear your comments.
Baking bread is such a comforting activity. It’s a thoughtful process, a hands-on activity, a food meant for sharing… and it smells really good in the oven. Today as I took down the Christmas decorations I wanted to produce something, have a positive counterpart to the melancholy of packing up the lights and love of the holidays. Baking bread seemed to be the right kind of heart-and-kitchen-warming activity, integral to a happy day.
I could have just googled a recipe or checked my Yummly list, but I wanted something more tangible. I have no shortage of cookbooks, so I checked the older volumes for a real stand-by. I was rewarded when I opened “Cooking with Mona“, a book my Dad gave me that contained recipes from Woodward’s, a Canadian department store that had wonderful food floors. It had a straight-forward whole wheat bread recipe – just the thing!
I measured. I mixed, I stirred, I kneaded… and then I waited. I punched, I kneaded again, I rolled and tucked… and waited again. I baked, and smelled… and waited a bit more. (I did peek in the oven window a couple of times.) I knocked, I tipped and I smelled some more. Then I gave myself a high five. Fresh homemade bread for breakfast – I can’t wait! (Once I taste the bread and confirm it’s as good as it smells, I’ll post the recipe link.)
My Dad might have frowned today if he saw me vacuuming the tinsel off the tree before I took the lights off (my mom saved it and put it back in the boxes to re-use when I was a kid). I think he would have smiled at my bread though. Another happy memory 🙂