I remember the very first cookbook I owned. It was a gift from my grandmother for my high school graduation.
My grandmother lived in a small farming community in the Midwest. Twice a year, my parents would load up the car and head back “home” as they lovingly referred to it. There I learned small town life – very different from living in the suburbs of Denver.
I never thought much about cooking. But looking back, I’m amazed at how much my grandmother put into each of her meals.
She didn’t use cookbooks. She rarely used measuring cups and spoons. Instead, it was a pinch of this and a handful of that. And her food … mmm …
Home cooking. That generation of women knew cooking well. My grandmother was no exception. And even though she didn’t use cookbooks, she wanted to give her granddaughters the gift of home cooking. She bought hometown cookbooks from her church and shared them with each of us as we graduated.
And these are truly hometown cookbooks. Each recipe was crafted by a church member, containing ingredients I sometimes scratched my head over.
I haven’t used that cookbook in a long time. (Using lard? ? ) But it will always sit proudly in my collection. It’s from my grandmother, my very first cookbook.
These days, I look at cookbooks a bit differently.
People love cookbooks. It’s a huge business! Cookbooks are the fourth largest category of nonfiction, with sales in excess of $20 million per year.
That’s a lot of cookbooks!
Why a cookbook?
In today’s world, it’s almost hard to believe cookbooks are in that demand and generate that many sales. After all, the internet is filled with recipes.
Do a search for anything; you’ll find millions of options right at your fingertips.
I occasionally peer into my refrigerator to determine what’s for dinner. “I have asparagus and tempeh; what can I make?” In seconds, I can scan through oodles of recipes, trying to decide which recipe sounds good.
So why a cookbook?
Because cookbooks have a life of their own. It’s more than a recipe you try to keep open on your phone. Instead, it’s a loving guide that helps you prepare delicious food for your family.
There’s a difference between fast-food and an elegant restaurant. One you consume for calories. The other you go to for an experience.
A recipe pulled off the internet is similar to fast-food. It gets the job done.
But a cookbook? A cookbook gives you a chance to browse through it. To tag recipes destined to become your favorite. To tantalize your tastebuds with the images. To make notes in the margins for better cooking the next time.
Does this make you look at your cookbooks differently?
Ready to get started building your own home cookbook library?
I honestly don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to build your cookbook library. The best way is just to get started.
Find a place of honor for your cookbooks
I believe every house has a spot perfect for cookbooks. Maybe it’s in a nook in your kitchen. Or on a bookshelf in your family room.
The most important part of creating a cookbook library is having them where they’ll get used.
I also believe this should be a highly personalized space. Create a place you’ll love to use, and are equally proud to show off.
Add cookbooks you already love
The only good cookbook is a cookbook that gets used. So start there. Head to your bookshelf, cabinet, or box in the garage to find the cookbooks you currently own. Then go “Marie Kondo” on them, sorting them into two piles: keep and give away.
If you haven’t used it in years and it holds no sentimental value, it’s time to give it away. Yes, I’ll always have my grandmother’s cookbook. But The Joy of Cooking I received as a wedding present? I let that go years ago.
Now it’s time to add cookbooks
I have a secret to how I select cookbooks. I pay attention to new plant-based cookbooks that are published each year. I have favorite plant-based bloggers I follow regularly. When a new cookbook comes on my radar, I see if it’s in my local library. I’m consistently surprised at how many they carry.
Then I bring it home and try it out. I can tell within a few recipes if it’s a keeper or one I’ll rarely use. If I love every recipe I try, it’s worth the price. (And I love supporting favorite cookbook authors!)
If my library doesn’t have it, I do a little more sleuthing online. I peruse websites and Instagram profiles. I try out different recipes. Again, I’m good at telling how well I like something with just a few recipes.
And if I don’t use a cookbook much, I can always gift it away.
Try new things
I sound pretty disciplined in how I select cookbooks. Not true!
In fact, I’m open to trying many new things. And I’ve found a ton of value in finding cookbooks that stretch my imagination.
I adore Mark Bittman’s books. Bittman Bread taught me the simplest way to make great-tasting whole-grain bread. His books Animal, Vegetable, Junk, and How To Eat sit proudly on my shelf. One that surprised me was Dinner for Everyone. It comprises 100 iconic dishes you can make in one of three ways: easy, vegan, or perfect for company. I’ve tried a lot of the vegan dishes, and converted just as many of his meat dishes into vegan entrees. (They’re all delish!)
I LOVED the book and Netflix show Salt Fat Acid Heat. And frankly, I believe it made me a much better cook. It helped me get to the root of what makes good food good. I understand the basics as well as what it takes to create flavor. And that matters whether it’s tofu, veggies, or more traditional foods.
I am always on the hunt for new cookbooks. That’s why I started my Cookbook Club! It’s a great way to share great cookbooks and even better food. And it allows me to select a new cookbook every single month. Are you following along?
I’m mixed on how I buy cookbooks. Some are print – I love placing them on the counter and marking up the pages as I cook. Some are digital – I love bringing along cookbooks when I travel. Airbnb has made it super easy to stick with a plant-based diet while you travel, and most are stocked well enough that you can use your favorite cookbooks.
Now it’s your turn.
Build your cookbook library. Fall in love with cooking. And let me know which cookbooks are your favorite!