Saturday, 11 September 2010

No Cook, No Book

Grandmother gave me my first cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1976), as a wedding present when I was 21. These recipes, many of which started with a can of soup, were about all I could manage, though I wouldn’t rate it much these days. Now I know what goes into cream of whatever soup, I just make it instead of buying an overpriced tin. I rarely use this cookbook now, except for a few go-to pages, for cornbread at Thanksgiving or for cookies at Christmas time.

Mom gave me a few other cookbooks over the years, which of course I still have. Hers tended to be for ethnic cooking and though I quite like Chinese and Mexican food, these recipes are neither particularly healthy nor quick to make. H1 wasn’t much of a fan of either cuisine. The first cookbook I bought myself was Betty Crocker New Cookbook (1987), because it had calorie counts for each recipe. I circled all the ones below 350 calories. H2 thought he was being starved to death, but it was on then he was fit instead of chubby. I still use this cookbook occasionally.

Over the years I’ve acquired many more cookbooks, kept in the kitchen on shelves probably intended for decorative items. I have the large New Good Housekeeping cookbook I gave to Mom in 1986 (selling for $39.97?); I don’t think she used it very much, but it gives good hints about how to succeed at things like biscuits (scones), pastry and angel food cake. From yard sales and flea markets, I’ve collected Native American, Russian, French, East Indian and German cookbooks. Again, the recipes are horribly fattening, so I use them very occasionally. A sports cookbook, Eat to Win, at the opposite extreme, uses no fat and only Parmesan (Bill calls it dirty sock) cheese for flavour. I’ve not used that one in a while and I’m sure he’s very grateful. I’m more likely to dive into one of two cookbooks labeled Food for Sport Cookbook; one British (Judy Ridgeway), one Australian (Christine Roberts et al), both very practical for tasty and healthy meals. 

Two other specialist books that have been useful are The Breadmakers Bible and 

The Bean Book


I also have a good number of my Aunt Rita’s cookbooks, which fall into two camps: diet or luxury. Though her Weight Watchers Meals in Minutes cookbook has points instead of calories, it still has great ideas and reminds me what portions are supposed to look like. Most recipes are for one or two people. I think cookbooks should err towards this as it is usually easier to multiply the quantities than to divide, or maybe that’s just me. 

One of the books Jack urged me to take was associated with a vacation they’d taken. Being Williams Sonoma, the recipes call for the most expensive ingredients known to man. 

This has always been my bias against Cooking Light recipes, though I took the Light Baking and the Best of books. It’s nice to be able to make something festive that is still a bit healthy.

Bill has bought me several low fat cookbooks, that you’d think I’d use more that I do, also, include Delia’s Frugal Food, mentioned before.

One Christmas he gave me The Vegeterranean, written by a couple of chefs about their posh restaurant in Montali, Italy. It is more a coffee table book, filled as it is with lush pictures. I wasn’t very excited about this book until I looked at it with dinner parties in mind. I marked a couple dozen recipes that looked fun to present. I finally had a go at making crepes with a goat’s cheese filling the other day. It tasted great, but definitely needs more practice. If I ever master any of these, you’ll be the first to know!

I also have most of Ella’s cookbooks, collected from her various moves, for example The Best of Good Housekeeping (1973). 
I’m not a big fan of traditional (high fat/cholesterol) British cooking, but these have occasionally been indispensable when faced with local but foreign-to-me foods, eg gooseberries or rhubarb.

My ideal cookbook is one I’m probably going to have to compile myself. I prefer recipes that are universal (encouraging substitution of whatever is on hand), inexpensive, healthy, relatively easy and fairly quick. It’s asking a lot, I know. So far, the healthy section at comes the closest, allowing me to enter the ingredients I already have. On the other hand, I like to know the country of origin a recipe has, and this is not generally provided

I’m determined to cull some of these cookbooks but, like Frugal Scholar, find this difficult, for the usual sentimental reasons. I’m torn between learned to cook without relying on a cookbook, and wanting to learn more; between wanting the variety of ethnic foods and the healthier lower fat recipes. I’ve made a list (never!) of these cookbooks and will try use at least one recipe from each over the next year in order to justify keeping them. “No cook, no book.”

Yeah, right.


James said...

I just realized I left a comment thanking you for your Grandfather's story on your 2008 post! So thanks for both of your posts.

Pauline Wiles said...

It's funny, with so many cookbooks on the market, how hard it is to find just the right one. I'm with you, I prefer recipes for one or two people, and, for practicality's sake, quick is good and I find long ingredient lists put me off. Another weirdness of mine is, I much prefer recipes with photos. For some reason, I have a very hard time imagining the finished outcome otherwise.
My hubby recoils from Parmesan, too. Maybe that's a guy thing?? :)