The cookbooks I can’t live without

I swear this is not an advertisment

I know. It seems so passe. Everything’s on the Internet these days. No one uses cookbooks anymore.

Well I do.

Nevermind, all the Epicurious searches or lunches spent surfing food blogs, I still have opened up Better Homes and Gardens‘ red and white classic so many times you can spot the flour and cookie dough. Page 85 lemonade base; page 117 cornbread. But even that classic I could do without. Many of its recipes, most tried and true, can be found elsewhere.

So I took a look at my shelf and narrowed it down. What cookbooks could I really not live without. Here they are:

The Silver Spoon. Call it the Better Homes and Gardens of Italy or Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking. It breaks down all the standard Italian recipes and ones you won’t find on the Internet. The type you get handed down from nana. Since my family’s originally from Sicily, it’s also nice to see what the northerners do. (Although, the southerners do it better.) The book’s organized by ingredients, but it’s alphabetical in Italian, so you’ll need to use the index unless you already know the Italian alternative. For example, swordfish comes before halibut in Italian. You can learn everything from how to clean squid to how to make ice cream the Italian way, which is to say correctly.

Charcuterie: The Art of Smoking, Salting and Curing. (Michael Ruhlman & Brian Poleyn) Unless you have the stomach for watching sausage being made, and being elbows deep in meat, this book probably isn’t for you. Have the time to spend eight hours smoking meat? Fantasize about building a shed to cure salami in your backyard? Then this is the quintessential book for you. It helped us perfect sauerkraut and bratwurst.

The Bread Bible (Rose Levy Beranbaum) You knead this. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I learned to knead dough and throw doughnuts in high school, working in a bakery. In baking, so much depends on the feel of the dough. The rest takes guidance, and really good recipes. Store-bought bread is expensive and it doesn’t hold a candle to what you can create with your own two hands. The book spends ample time on technique and breaks down using a mixer or food processor, versus kneading by hand. Recipes can be advanced, but many are accessible, even for beginners.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julia Child). For the record, we got this for a buck, before the movie came out. And no, we haven’t tried every single recipe. There’s a reason the word art is in the title. The recipes are exquisite, masterful. The technique is unparalleled.  My wife can’t stand the flip back involved. Spinach gratin (page 471) calls for spinach braised in stock (earlier on page 471) , which calls for chopped spinach (page 469). As an Italian, I find French cooking somewhat overrated. Too much butter, not enough olive oil. But they’ve got their sauces down. I’ll give them that. Not to mention Julia Child was exceptional at making a country’s cuisine accessible to anyone who was interested.

About Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide

This blog attempts to collect some of the things I try to create with food and booze. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. My hope is to entertain and maybe help people think a little harder about what they decide to eat and drink.
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24 Responses to The cookbooks I can’t live without

  1. I love, love my cookbooks! Even though I recently “cleaned” up my spot where I store my essential cookbooks, I saved all the ones I no longer peruse. I can’t bear to get rid of cookbooks. I have several boxes of them, and I love to display old ones or sentimental ones in my kitchen!
    P.S. if you love steel-cut oats, you should also try my “Nun” Bread that’s on my blog. It’s a yeast version of Irish Soda Bread–delicious!
    🙂 Lisa

  2. I use cookbooks… I too have my favourites, basically from these books I can pretty much cook anything – The good housekeeping one for me is a must! Jo

    • Thanks for pointing that out. They have way more classics than I do, but it’s good to see Silver Spoon and Joy in their illustration. I can’t believe it took so long for Silver Spoon to get to the states and that it isn’t on everyone’s shelf. But that’s the biased Italian American in me, I suppose.

  3. Loulou says:

    I love cookbooks and I use cookbooks! I don’t have any of the ones you have. I might get a couple. I love the cookbook MAD HUNGRY for Lucinda Scala Quinn and Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. If you like Mediterranean, try Vine Leaves Saved My Life by Nadia Sawalha.

  4. kayjayaitch says:

    I love cook-books! I have my own body-weight in cook-books! (Well, my body weight when I was sixteen anyway!) I have recipes dating back a hundred years+!
    The entire collection must be worth $10 of anybody’s money!
    But seriously, I’m a trained and qualified cook (Chef is a much over-used word) and the blog is my antidote to all the modern ‘twists and turns’ of modernity.
    If it’s not over till the fat lady sings, who is it who made the lady fat?
    Answers on a postcard please . . .

    (Alright, alright, for you $9, but YOU pay shipping!)

  5. jtbexp says:

    An outstanding must have collection. Might I also suggest “Larousse Gastronomique.” It is an encyclopedia of everything food, from Ambaisse to Zuppa Inglese. It is not as much as a cookbook as a great source of information. I can find almost anything I need in this, and often use it for inspiration in creating my own recipes.

  6. lnverte says:

    I LOVE my cookbooks. They were the fisrt thing that I unpacked when we moved into our new flat.
    For French cookery, there is a great book called Ripaille. Someone gave me the English version for my birthday and even my (French) husband uses it regularly.

  7. katie o. says:

    Are you kidding me? I don’t have books. I have cookbooks. And loads of them. To the point that you’d think I’d have mastered all types of cooking. Some of my favorites are the ones I’ve taken from grandparents, grandparent-in-laws, etc… They’re deliciously hysterical and as much as I would love to test some of those recipes out, I can’t. But I keep them because they’re just that fantastic.

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  9. Oh, just ask my husband about my cookbooks. There is nothing like a Sunday morning with a pile of cookbooks, a big mug of coffee, and reading and getting excited about the next something wonderful to cook, the excitement isn’t the caffeine , at least I don’t think so, ok, maybe somewhat hypes me up , but what hypes me up more is the what is inside these wonderful books! ~Maggie

  10. kayjayaitch says:

    I did have a very good, 1973 edition of Larousse Gastronomique in my colection until about eight years ago. I stupidly lent it to a so-called colleague at the hotel I was working in at the time and two days later he was fired! I never saw it, or him, again! A word to the wise, exchange recipes by all means but NEVER lend your books!

  11. Veronika says:

    It’s great to see someone else agree with my opinion that the Internet does not replace a good, proper reference cookbook (or a flashy inspirational one for that matter!). What I find on the internet is often interesting and quirky, as it is usually put on there by people who have written it to their specific taste. This is not to say that cookbook writers don’t do this as well (to an extent they do), but in my view, in good cookbooks there is at least an attempt at the classical interpretation of the dish, which is often more correct and less affected by passing fads than the Internet tends to be due to its fluid nature.

    … and now I feel like I should go and write a post of my own about this.

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  13. I’ll be featuring the odd entry about favourite cookbooks in my own blog. Some of my favourites are “Cookery the Australian way”, a venerable title used by generations of Australian high school students. I recently visited my son’s school, and was pleased to see that they’re still using it.

    Australia’s answer to Julia Child might well be Margaret Fulton. It’s no mistake that one of the big supermarket chain is using her as the face of their current advertising campaign: her grandmotherly visage is instantly recognisable to any Australian over 30. Looked at now, some of her books are a trifle … daggy (to use the classic Australian term) … but they were an essential guide to many of us setting out on our cooking adventures.

    One of my prize possessions, though, is a book that was given my wife by one of her elderly clients: a 1930s vintage C.W.A. (Country Wive’s Association) ‘calendar of puddings’. I don’t use it much (apart from the suet Christmas pudding recipes it was given to me for), but I just love to look at its torn and stained pages.

    I have many more, and I will feature my favourites over time on my blog.

    • Wow, thanks. As an American, I don’t know too much about Australian cuisine. We went to Melbourne in 2008 and loved it. Wonderful seafood all over. (We plan to go to Sydney in 2013 for our 10th anniversary.) My wife did just get a book by a guy called Pete Evans. If he’s your version of Rachel Ray, you can laugh. But he’s got some great recipes.

      • I’m not sure. I lose track of all the food porn on tv these days. I’m not a great watcher of cooking shows, truth be told. In fact, much as I’m pretty much a rock nerd, I also dislike music video.

        There’s a couple that I do like, mainly on the strength of the personality of the presenters. I liked ‘Jamie at home’, mainly because it was very similar to the way I cook; otherwise, although I sympathise with his aims, he can get a bit preachy for my liking. Another I like is Emeril Lagasse, mainly because of his accent: he sounds like he’d say, ‘an’ if you don’ like it, I’ll kill ya an’ make it look like a accident!’ 🙂

      • Yep, his accent is unique enough here. I can imagine how funny it sounds to people outside America.

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