Friday, 19 November 2010

From my kitchen bookshelf....

My good friend Rami recently posted on his great blog Hummus Boy about his recent clear out of little used or outdated cookbooks. This set me thinking about my own collection....and I warned him that I would shamelessly steal his great idea for my own blog, so here I am! I recommend reading his post first, though, if you haven't already...

I've been collecting cookbooks for years and years. And unlike Rami, I am incapable of thinning out the vast numbers, however sorely it needs doing. I keep them all. From the 1980's decadence (and, lets be honest, ridiculousness) of Antony Worrall-Thompson's Menage a Trois cookbook (yes, it's a signed copy....yes, I ate there...yes, I left hungry, although not poor as my first boss was paying!) to the 1970's splendour of Graham Kerr's Galloping Gourmet...I've never cooked a thing from it, & keep it purely for sentimental reasons as this wonderfully entertaining man was one of my first crushes (blush)....

I have great classics: Robert Carrier, Elizabeth David, Patience Gray, Florence White, Marguerite Costa, Delia (of course).

I have ancient books handed down from my great-great grandfather,Robert, my great-grandfather, Walter & my dear grandad, Keith - all of whom were bakers. These include 'All about Gateaux', German patisserie manuals like 'Praktische Konditorei-Kunst' (Practical Cake & Confectionery Art) printed in 1913 (still useful today for decorating inspiration!) and my treasured copy of 'The Complete Confectioner or The Whole Art of Confectionary, Made Easy with Receipts for liqueures (sic) home-made wines &c' printed in London in 1808.

These jewels sit alongside frankly ridiculous volumes such as Food & Friends by the late, great actress Beryl Reid (?) & the 'No Cook Cook Book' complete with fab 1960's line drawings of useless women opening tins (badly!)

So, you see - my tastes are wide-ranging, eclectic & perhaps not discerning enough in some cases. But keep them I must.

What books do I actually use? Well, setting aside those I've mentioned in this blog already, and obvious ones like early Nigella, Ursula Ferrigno, Susan Branch, Peter Gordon, Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden (well, they're obvious to ME anyway!!) I've picked some other favourites in use a lot of the time:

spending a lot of time in Australia has led me to discover much more about the fabulous Maggie Beer & her sometime collaborator but equally amazing Stephanie Alexander. All of Stephanie's books are great - I particularly like those in diary form for their candid look at the reality behind running a food business. I've picked this one of Maggie's because of it's beauty and the way it's divided into seasons(although, of course, being Australian Summer & Winter are the wrong way around for us in the Northern Hemisphere!) Sumptuous writing and wonderfully Aussie. She & Stephanie are national treasures!

This & 'Real Fast Food' are my favourite of Nigel's books. He has a very strong 'voice' when writing, which is amazingly sensuous & evocative in it's description of food and the experience of eating. Great stuff.

Deborah Madison. An absolute pioneer in the field of interesting, non 'hemp & hessian' vegetarian cooking. The Greens Cookbook & Vegetarian Cooking for All are seminal tomes and I love them both. But The Savoury Way is my favourite!

The Silver Palate books - Julee Rosso & the late, but great, Sheila Lukins brough the USA to my kitchen in the mid 1980's when it was still a mysterious, far away place. Slightly dated but I find it invaluable for basic American recipes, entertaing tips and sheer readability.

Possibly out of print, this one, but still available second hand. Sarah Leah Chase ran a catering business and shop on Nantucket Island in the 80's and this book from 1990 is a seasonal wonder, I find. Packed with unusual and inspiring recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas and the cold weather each side of the year, I'm looking at it constantly right now. Makes me feel hungry!

I'll finish for now with a recent acquisition. I'm always picking up strange flours when I see them - things like kamut, buckwheat and I use a lot of spelt too. It's hard to know whether it's ok to just substitute them for regular wheatflour and still get good results. This book explains them all - how to keep them and how to use them, with a section specific to each flour. It produces interesting and delicious cake, breads and pastries...wholefood without being too worthy! A good addition to my huge and ever expanding culinary library.

I'd love to know your particular favourite (s) too....such an interesting subject, I think!

have a great weekend xo


  1. My wife also has an expanding cookery book library. Even though I am a gourmand, I do not share her enthusiasm.

  2. I love cookery books too. My weakness is knitting books. I just hoard them and pour over the pages. I also covet the yarns. The colours and textures, I can never have enough, although the rest of my family would disagree. Not quite as useful as your flour, Rachel! xxxxxxxxxxxx

  3. Thanks Rachel, I couldn't havew asked for a kinder testimonial but you have of course out-blogged me on this one! I didn't realise you had bakers going back so far in your family - that's amazing. I haven't thrown away any of the boos I WOULD NEVER THROW A BOOK AWAY but might sell it at a car book however for now they're in attic storage for now. I have to say my collection is deeply conventional at least for the UK. I need to find odd querky books, in second hand stores. with great writing. once I lived in Notting Hill 20 years ago and visited Books for Cooks regularly but alas, that place is a one off. btw I need a recipe for pannetone and brioche. any thoughts?

  4. I absolutely ADORE cookbooks- it was fun to see that one of your favorites is the Silver Palette- I have three from that collection. I also just love with all of Susan Branch's cookbooks- I have every single one of them and a prized possession is a Fanny Farmer cookbook that my great aunt got for me when I was a young girl. I do want to check out the grains cookbook of which you speak- I'm always curious about substitutions- very interesting! I shall give it a look!


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