Friday, June 24, 2016


In the early 1980's, when I was managing a large Doubleday bookshop in a mall in Northern California, Mr. Nelson Doubleday himself paid us a visit over the holidays. I am not sure if it was Christmas or perhaps some gift-giving event like Mother's Day, but a new edition of the Joy of Cooking had come out and we were loaded with them. An endcap in the cookbook section was devoted to the fifty or so copies on display with some promo placards. On the shelf, the only other such offering was a copy or two of the Doubleday Cookbook, a similar but not so popular compendium of cooking. Mr. Doubleday had a titan-worthy fit and called the head office to order one hundred copies of the Doubleday Cookbook shipped to us and to the twenty other Doubleday Book Shops by overnight delivery so we could replace the Joy copies with "his" cookbook. But the customers did not want the Doubleday Cookbook. They wanted the Joy of  Cooking. Eventually, we had to send back copies or store them until he reappeared. It was such a misguided effort. He might have gotten publicists and media folk to give him equal time and interviews to create demand but that was not his way. I don't think we sold more than three or four copies of the
Doubleday Cookbook all year although it is a good overall recipe book. It could use an updated cover I thought at the time, and sure enough, by 1990, it had a colorful illustrated jacket as the The New Doubleday Cookbook was published.

So here off the top of my head are my ten favorite cookbooks of the hundreds I own. I do so little cooking these days, you'd think I was working full-time.

Julia Child's The Way to Cook
Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash
Plenty and Jerusalem (two volumes counted as one)- Ottolenghi
The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
Gourmet Today Cookbook by Ruth Reichl
The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan
Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy
The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy
Classical Turkish Cooking by Ayla E. Algar
Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax

Vegetarian Cooking by Deborah Madison
The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson
Lulu's Provencal Table by Richard Olney
The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert
Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
Time-Life Good Cook Series
Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham
A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

The Ottolenghi books are the only new titles I have embraced as his recipes are popular among so many of my friends. My Asian cookbooks are well represented on the shelf, but almost never used, as with the Hungarian, German, Polish and Greek cookbooks. Then I have the single topic collections on soups, cookies, cakes, pies, meat, zucchini, bread, preserving. James Beard is a favorite with the other cook in my household. John Thorne's books like Simple Cooking and Outlaw Cook are favorites to browse, as is Alan Davidson, M F K Fisher or Elizabeth David. Then I have lots of antiquarian cookbooks which are fun to leaf through like Bettina's Cakes and Cookies or Charleston Receipts but which I have never cooked from. Some serious shelf weeding is in order but as soon as I start, I am lost in browsing. Stay tuned for progress reports. Think of the shelf space which could be freed, she said persuasively.

1 comment :

Marilyn Mc said...

I have different uses for my cookbooks - ones with good pictures that I use when I want to try a new recipe, research books when I want to use particular ingredients, old and antique ones that I just around keep because I’m sentimental, good literary cookbooks that I like to read because of the writer’s experiences, a few major cooks that I like (Otalenghi), and a few like Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman, etc. that have any recipe that you can think of and look up. Recently I wanted to make my Armenian brother-in-law’s shish kebabs and found it fascinating that he never added olive oil. So, I began to look in my cookbooks and found a similar recipe that did use olive oil. I think his family had been meking that recipe for several generations and probably couldnt get olive oil when they came to America. Those things fascinate me. Thanks for writing about your cookbooks! I like all my cookbooks - even the ones I never use. Go figure!