Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Recipe Books

I am a lurker when it comes to other people's blogs. I take a great interest and have many favourites and read every word and devour every picture. Sometimes, infrequently, I will even post a comment. One particular favourite blog,  has monthly random recipe challenges. While I am nowhere near confident enough to join in, because I blog as a hobby and don't feel I could possibly meet the standards, I do enjoy seeing what other food bloggers come up with to meet the challenge.

Last months challenge was slightly different and involved  taking photos of each blogger's cookbook collection. It was one I thought I might take part in - until I realised that my books are not confined to a collection. They are spread far and wide, nestled in amongst gardening and other reference books, and even fiction. So, with no time for rearranging, last month's challenge also got relegated to the Not This Month basket.

However, going through each blogger's photos and reading the stories behind their collections and favourite books made me see my own books in a new light.

Prior to moving house the first time, eighteen months ago, I must have had upward of 100 cookbooks. I did a lot of culling for that first move - books, ornaments, knick knacks, bedding, furniture - basically all the things that I looked hard at and decided were superfluous and taking up room.
My cookbooks were just as ruthlessly culled. I have a terrible habit of writing in them. If I make a recipe I scribble a comment below it saying how it turned out, whether I would make it again and, if so, did anything need adjusting (i.e. temperature, cooking time, quantities etc). 
See? My system works. I have no memory whatsoever of making this, apparently, horrible cake, but my note tells me never to go there again: "Thoroughly horrible 0/10"

I culled my recipe books down to approximately 20. What then to do with the other 80 odd...? Who would want scribbled in recipe books? A few friends jumped at first offerings. I donated a lot of sundry items to the local hospice charity shop and asked them whether my "personalised" recipe books would be of any use to them, or whether they would end up sitting on the shelves and become a nuisance for them. They told me to bring 'em in and I did.

A few weeks later, and with another bootload of items, I asked about the recipe books. The ladies laughed. They had all been snapped up by people who, once they realised there were handwritten comments in them, even began picking through all the cookbooks to find mine !! It gave me the warm fuzzies to think people actually liked having my graffitti-ed books.

Today, inspired by all those wonderful bloggers' cookbook collections - some nicely curated and others more informally - inspired to get all my favourites and go-to books in one place. If there is one thing that I have noticed as I get older it is that I like what I cook to be simple, tasty and healthy. I can't be bothered with fussy recipes any more. And this was borne out my my favourites shelf. It is dominated by 3 Jamie Oliver books, a couple of Gordon Ramsay books, a couple of slow cooker books, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook, Moosewood, and The Higher Taste, and my  absolutely essential, favourite Go-To bible when I am having people over and want a meal that I know is great - Ta Da...
My old, handwritten recipe journal. Started when I was barely out of school and learning to cook in my first flat, along with another girl and a guy both also learning how to cook. We were all trying hard to prove that we could cook and none of us wanted to admit that we were learning on the job, even though each of us could clearly see we were all in the same boat. We had fun times in that flat - the accidentally melted out tupperware container when Karen tried to cook ginger crunch in the microwave...she lifted it out the microwave and the bottom of the container simply fell out.  The frozen lamb chops which I put in a plastic bag and used Defrost on the microwave (which none of us were familiar with) and ended up cooking them on Defrost. They were the most tender, tasty lamb chops I ever remember having. We tried to replicate the happy mistake but never got the same great result. And Alex's amazingly light scones. He would make them randomly for us as a treat and we would huddle around the wire cooling rack and eat them hot with butter melting into them, and piled with jam and whipped cream. Heaven on a plate. He gave Karen and me the recipe, but ours never turned out like his - we always suspected that he deliberately left out some crucial step or ingredient, though he vehemently denied it.

As happens with flatters, we eventually went our own ways - me overseas, Alex to university, and Karen settled down with her fella and started having babies. When I returned it was with a daughter of my own and the cookbooks came out of storage - including that journal. More recipes got added, and one day when I was about to write in it again my wee toddler came and put her hand over one of the inside pages and, on a whim, I traced around it. About five years later I looked at the tracing and called her over and I traced her hand again. And then again another five or so years later.

I wouldn't, couldn't part with this journal. A lot of memories go hand in hand with the recipes in here - of wonderful meals and of the people who gave me these recipes.

Any starting out flatter or newly-wed in New Zealand has this on her shelf:
My, old now, edition carries an absolutely scrumptious winter comfort food recipe called Nun's Toast (which is in the "Cooking For Invalids" section. It is hardboiled eggs mixed into sauteed onions and then with the addition of a bit of milk and flour to make a white sauce, and seasoning. It is one of my all time favourite recipes, and I am still amazed that later editions have removed that recipe.

My mother's even earlier edition of the Edmonds book is, literally, falling apart. I learnt to bake in her kitchen as a child using that book.

And, as for Student Grub... well, I bought this for my daughter when she went flatting, but you wouldn't believe how many times I have used it as a fast reference to gauge how long something will take to cook.

I am currently waiting for River Cottage Everyday to arrive. I managed to buy it online with free shipping from the UK for half the price I could buy it here in New Zealand (exchange rates factored in). I can't wait for it to arrive !!


  1. Hey Lynn, more than happy for you to link to my blog, I look forward to reading this post (about to go to work, so no time now - just wanted you to know)... happy blogging xx

  2. I too, have shelves of cookbooks, just love reading them and looking at all the lovely photos. So many in fact, that we are thinking of adding even more built in bookshelves at our house.

    1. It was a hard task choosing which books to keep, but we had to downsize so much :-(
      I found that I have a "type" though when it comes to recipes and a lot of the books had very similar style recipes. In the end I kept the books I used the most - and I also have a million starred recipes in blogland as well as a further hundred or so on Pinterest, AND that's not counting the WhoKnowsHowMany on loose bits of paper in a file box :-/

  3. Hi Lynne, lovely to catch up with you again. This post made me quite reminiscent about old cookbooks. I do keep a few from the past for sentimental reasons, like the nursing mothers cookbook and cooking in a bedsitter. But I must say I hardly ever use them. I do love looking at recipes like do you and collect loose bits of paper in a box which I cull from time to time. cheers, catmint

    1. Hello there, thank you for your comment. I hope you are feeling well again :-) Oh! the loose pieces of paper. I do coral them into a box from time to time, but whenever I do a big tidy of all my drawers I inevitably find more. And they also get tucked into books I am reading, as bookmarks :-D

  4. Hi Lynne, I would be in line with the people in the charity shop snapping up your cookbooks with the graffiti notes. There is nothing better than having a recipe tested by a home cook. If you could do it and it turned out great, then so could I.
    I have a cookbook collection, though not near 80...yet. I love looking at beautiful pictures of food almost as much as I do eating it! Your own recipe book is a definite keeper. I love that you traced your daughter's hands onto a few of the pages.

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I don't count myself as a great cook by any standards, but I do enjoy cooking. I like to make new recipes at least 2-3 times each week, but even so my collections on Pinterest and via blogs and pieces of paper grow at a faster rate than I can cook them :-D