Thursday, March 8, 2012

My Cookbook Collection

Okay, I've already posted about my somewhat erratic cooking, but as I was cleaning the dining room in preparation for the arrival of my lovely, beautiful, brilliant, charming and delightful niece, I paused to count the number of cookbooks I own.

This is the kind of thing I do when cleaning, but that too was the subject of an earlier post.

I have over thirty cookbooks.  Now that might not seem very many to those of you who think of meal preparation as an art or a social event or even, most confusingly, a way to relax, but I don't actually cook.  I just buy cookbooks.

I started collecting them in grad school, mostly because my best friend at the time, who is quite a good cook, liked to talk about recipes.  She had the famous Moosewood Cookbook, a vegetarian cookbook that every graduate student in the Northeastern United States is required by law and custom to own.  A futon, a pair of tiny little glasses and the Moosewood:  they'll set you on the road to a Ph.D.

If you're unfamiliar with the Moosewood, it's a kind of counter-culture book with a handwritten look.  It contains recipes served at the Moosewood Restaurant and is bound in a lovely soft cover that begs to be stroked.  I love my Moosewood, but I've only ever made one recipe in it:  the vegetable stew.  It's a great recipe, even for someone with no culinary skill at all, and it doesn't contain any confusing ingredients or require knowledge of complicated and suspect vocabulary (Blanching?  Really?  That's a thing?  Sounds like an embarrassing misdemeanor:  "The defendant was caught blanching in public for the third time this month, Your Honor.")

A normal person might simply photocopy that recipe and pass the book on to someone else.  But I just can't do that.  I love it.  Like most of my cookbooks, I don't cook from it, but I love it.

Of course, I read the cookbooks I buy.  I mean, they're books, and I'm an English professor.   An unread book is like a piece of really good chocolate or a tall gin and tonic on a hot day; it simply must be consumed and preferably before anyone else gets her grubby little hands on it.

Sometimes I like to talk about the cookbooks, too.   Not to be repetitive or anything, but may I remind you that they're books.  Next to reading them, the most fun you can have with books is talking about them.  And there's plenty to talk about:  Do they have photos?  Are they staged or is that real food?  How do you get a job photographing food and does it pay more than grading papers?    The organization?  The index?  Where are appetizers, and are there any good recipes for squash?  Is there a party section?  Is the terminology used in this s0-called ethnic cookbook an example of objectification and exploitation, or does it celebrate its culture of origin?  What about the font?  Seriously, what is with that font?

The best cookbook I own, by this standard, is The Joy of Cooking.  I can't actually make anything in it, but the narrative is lovely.  There are whole sections on the origins of spices and suggestions about which kind of custard is most palatable for Americans.  You know that movie where the woman cooks everything in Julia Child's cookbook?  Well, you could have a really fantastic reading group based on a chapter-by-chapter analysis of The Joy of Cooking.

But I'm not dragging that book into the kitchen.  Uh-uh!  It could get dirty.  The last place I want my cookbooks is next to the food.

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