cooking the books…

I have a lot of cookbooks. Possibly too many. I even had shelves custom built into my kitchen bench to house them.

Each month I also subscribe to or regularly purchase at least another 4 foodie mags. Sure I buy them for the articles (I know- that’s what they all say), and I kid myself that I will cook from their pages, but more often than not I won’t.

I buy them for the dreams, the idea of a lifestyle, the cuisines, the cultures, the locations, the photography. Food porn.

It’s the same with the cookbooks. I have some that I use constantly, some that get dragged out for specific occasions, some I have never even opened. Seriously.

It all started the summer I worked in the accounting department of Australian Consolidated Press. One of the perks was a discount from the cover price of ACP publications. Yep, Womans Weekly Cookbooks- all of them. Dinner Party 1, Dinner Party 2, Italian, Chinese, Low Fat. I bought them all.

I tested out classic 1980s recipes like crumbed veal schnitzel with crab meat sauce, chocolate coated ice cream balls with black forest sauce.

Then I progressed to Delia. Her books had everything- precise, yet easy to understand instructions, plenty of pictures and the promise of endless English summers- which I have since found out is, shall we say, a slight exaggeration. Having said that her pesto risotto salad (Delia’s Summer) is a barbecue staple, and her foaming hollandaise (Delia’s Winter) is fool-proof.

It was these books that introduced me to the idea that cookbooks were about more than the recipes. Much more.

When I bought Bourke St Bakery I was intending on growing my own starter yeast- in a bucket, in the garage. The whole idea of having to feed the mutant mess each day didn’t seem worth it…although I’ve always wanted to bake bread. Not ordinary supermarket bread, but artisan bread.

Locatelli was going to turn me into a pasta expert and have me creating biscotti like a true Italian. Oh, and I was going to learn to speak Italian for when I went back to Rome. And I was going back to Rome- after all, I’d thrown a couple of coins into the Trevi Fountain back in 1995. I was guaranteed to go back.

And so it goes. Every book on the shelf is there for a reason. Unfortunately, many haven’t been opened in years. Worse, I’m now running out of shelf space so I need to rationalise. But how to do this?

Even though I like to cook real food, the fact is I have more recipes than I could ever possibly cook in what’s left of my lifetime– and I intend to live for a very long time.

Eat Your Books, an on-line cataloguing system, has tried to deal with this problem. Essentially you enter the names of the cookbooks that are on your shelf and they have the recipe listing for it.

Sort of like a recipe finder for your own library. It would certainly save issues like the one I had the other day when I was looking for a particular recipe and couldn’t remember whether it was in a Gary Rhodes, a Gordon Ramsay or a Matt Moran. Hmmmm.

The surplus books are destined for ebay- when I can bear to part with them.

So, how to decide what to keep and what to part with?  I don’t suppose any of you have any suggestions?

What’s in your cookbook library? What is it that attracts you to a particular author or chef?



4 comments on “cooking the books…”
  1. Hi Jo – Thank you so much for mentioning Eat Your Books and providing a link. Please contact me at for details of a free trial membership of EYB.
    Thanks again.

  2. Debbish says:

    I don’t have a lot of non fiction books, though have inherited some cookbooks over the years AND do have some self-help type books, though own mostly fiction. I find them really hard to part with. In fact I hate lending them to people – more so those who never return them (like my best friend who just ‘takes’ some back to NZ with her when she visits and mentions it to me later!!! Argh!)

  3. jo says:

    I’m a shocker for books- I have shelves all through the house and continue to buy more. Fiction, astro, cookbooks, whatever. Everyone has a “latte factor”- you know the thing they spend too much money on…& mine is music & books. I reckon with the money I have spent over the last couple of years I could have financed an overseas holiday!

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