Wondering what to have for dinner this evening, I went to my cookbooks for inspiration. As I glanced over the titles I realised a couple of things. First, we have a lot of cookbooks. I’m not sure how we accumulated so many, but there they are, filling a bookshelf in the bedroom, because there isn’t enough room for them in the kitchen. Second, I realised that we use many of the cookbooks on the shelf for just one recipe—the one gem in the book. Those books are in pristine condition, though some are well over 20 years old.
Then there is the handful of books we use over and over again. Their spines are cracked, their pages greasy and smeared with chocolate, turmeric, and unidentifiable globs of dough. Joy of Cooking (both the 1975 and the 1997 editions) is one of those well-loved books. We destroyed our first copy of Joy of Cooking in Panama. Of the 50 pounds of stuff we were allowed to take, three were afforded to this indispensable book. By the end of two and a half years in the tropics, the book was completely ruined. We proceeded to purchase and destroy a second copy, but when we went to get a third, we found it was a new edition, and significantly different from the old one. So we bought it, but kept the old one. Now both copies are so well used, I had to write “old” and “new” on the spines so I could tell them apart.
The well-used cookbooks are ones I can recognise by feel in the dark on Sunday morning when I’m planning the weekly cooked breakfast. I’ve memorised the page numbers of my favourite recipes, too. Page 281 in the Mennonite Community Cookbook is the best brownie recipe ever, and the same page in The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking is one of our weeknight staples, green bean and potato charchari. Page 932 of the “new” Joy of Cooking includes Texas chocolate sheet cake, a super easy cake for those times you need baked goods on short notice; and cornbread is found on page 627 in the “old” Joy of Cooking, but I make that enough, I don’t need the recipe any more.
These books are like old friends, each full of inspiration and advice. Though I know I could simply pull up a recipe off the internet, it’s just not the same flipping through a good cookbook.
What’s your favourite cookbook?