At any given point I usually have at least three or four cookbooks in a stack by my bedside. This week’s selection includes Shelley Adams’ Whitewater Cooks: pure, simple and real creations from the Fresh Tracks Café, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Patricia Wells’ Vegetable Harvest, and my latest fun acquisition, Edna Staebler’s Food that Really Schmecks. Mennonite Country Cooking.
I tend to read cookbooks like other people read magazines. At night, and sometimes in the morning, I will go through each of them slowly, hovering over beautiful photographs and interesting stories, usually marking off pages with bits of scrap paper or sticky notes; highlighting the recipes I want to try next and making notes of some helpful tips and techniques. After a few days I will carefully put them back in their designated bookshelf or stack, and pick out a few more.
They are my escape. But also, my inspiration.
From these books, I have learned to become not only a better cook, but a more relaxed one. Cooking has become my way of de-stressing – a mindful practice that starts long before I enter the kitchen. It begins with the hunt for new and interesting cookbooks. And by new, I mean new to me. I prefer to find cookbooks in thrift stores, garages sales, used bookstores, as well as at garage sales and church rummage sales. I especially like it when someone has already marked off their favourite recipes with notes and suggestions. This way I know which recipes to try first.
I also enjoy attending cookbook launches where the author is present and I can purchase their latest book. I love hearing their stories firsthand as well as learning about their personal journey with the publishing process. I am usually the one in the back with my hand up asking a bunch of questions. Which recipes stand out most to you and why? Do you have a favourite cookbook (other than your own), and if so which ones and why?
The last question usually leads me on another hunt if I don’t already have the cookbook they mention. From them I have learned about highly respected cookbook authors such as Patricia Wells, Paula Wolfert and Judy Rodgers. And sometimes the answers are surprising and fun. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Yotam Ottolenghi when he came to Vancouver to promote his latest cookbook Simple. When I asked him what his favourite cookbook was, without hesitation he said “Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat.” I have a few of her other cookbooks, but not this one. So a new mission is afoot!
And all of this has further deepened my love affair with cooking and cookbooks.
With so many recipes and cooking information available on the web, I am often asked why I still bother to purchase cookbooks. My answer is simple, I don’t believe that print is dead. Especially when it comes to cookbooks, new and old.
Although you can go online to find just about any recipe, it doesn’t give the whole story. A digital search works just fine when in a hurry as it is efficient and practical, but it lacks the piece that provides the context and the extra bits of information that I love so much. And where would I put my sticky notes?
Good cookbooks evoke a sense of place and time, providing us with a picture of how people live. They preserve traditions and recipes, capture stories, and are entertaining. They also encourage us to find our own voice in the kitchen. This has certainly been true for myself.
I will continue to add to my rather large collection of cookbooks while also finding new and wonderful recipes to try. There is always room by my nightstand for at least one more!