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Jan 22, 2009 04:27 PM

cookbook purge: how do you choose?

i am facing a chore of having to cut down my tons of cookbooks. i came upon this little story on a blog, and could relate to the very few so far that were culled -- from hundreds.

how do you decide which ones have to go?

one criterion is that the ones that stay must offer something "special" or be beautiful in some way.

"special" can mean, e.g., sheer creativity in food/ingredient combinations, excellency in describing techniques, unusual ingredients references, encyclopedic references (like larousse and oxford companion), anthropological aspects of food development, cultural/regional cookbooks, beautiful photos with good recipes......

there are not really many categories left. i guess that's my problem.

do you use them all, like i do, to cook, or for reference, or planning and dreaming, or reading in bed, like a novel ?

what do you think about the "culling criteria"?

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  1. I have too many once again, and used to have too many, and then inherited tons more when my mother died.

    To be honest, in the first purge, cracked spines and books with pages turned down, little bits of paper in them, etc. got to stay. Ones that "just looked neat" stayed. A lot of the others got donated. Now I have a few on specialty areas: Breads, Baking, Pressure Cooking, one on how to cook almost any veggie, a vegetarian meal one, etc. etc. Still too many. But I"m trying to pare it down to one essential in each area (eg., have 4 books on Pressure Cooking when I ony need one.....I might copy out a recipe or two from the others before liberating them) Then I have a bunch of "standards" JoC, Julia Child, etc.

    Finally, I have the "gifted ones" that folks have given me over the years. Some of those I'd like to chuck but don't dare - yet!

    I also have 2 nice cork boarded sprial ring binders that I"ve filled with my own ideas or that I have purloined from others and modified. I find I use these the most.

    Now, the next project I gotta start is going through my hard drive for all those luscious goodies I found on the internet! That could keep me busy until the NEXT Millenium!

    1. My rules: a cookbook gets tossed (donated to the library for their quarterly book sale!) if:

      1. I've had it for long enough that I should have made something out of it, but I haven't because nothing has ever sounded worthy of being made, or
      2. I've made a few things out of it and they were all icky, or at least not worth making again

      These tend to work pretty well for me. I only keep a few "reference" cookbooks (hey, that's what Chowhound is for!) and cook out of the rest.

      1. I keep cookbooks signed by the chef.
        I keep cookbooks with favorite recipes.
        I keep cookbooks from NOLA before Katrina.
        I keep my grandmother's Joy of Cooking.

        I donate the cookbooks from my college days: many start with take a can of.... or mix a box of yellow cake mix...

        For some, I've gone in, checked on their version of recipes I use and if it's dumbed down, the book goes.

        1. Oh's my number one rule: If I have room for it, I keep it. This a rule for most books in our house, and I am starting to think of the books as insulaion!

          You being a lawyer, I'm certain that you would want to keep the very good reference books you have in your library. The ones that can win you an argument on alfredo v.carbonara, for ex. (A recent argument with my Hub:-) ) Volumes with good descriptions of ingredients should stay. Volumes with good details on techniques should stay. Volumes with info you can't get elsewhere should stay (reeeeaallly look at copyright dates with your decision-making process, as some of the older books are superb and valuable). Likewise books that give you ethnic instructions that you cannot get elsewhere. If you're like me, then save all the culinary history books (again, for argument settling).

          I didn't read your link, given computer restraints...and perhaps I am arguing for saving more then you want. Let's say this: If you look at the book and love it (even if you haven't cooked from it) keep. it. If you look at the book and ask yourself whyon earth you have it when you don't like it, chuck it off to another home.

          You're inspiring me to chuck a few things (a very few, sadly!). I so wish there was a cookbook exchange in these boards!


          3 Replies
          1. re: cayjohan

            Same here, cayjohan. I am getting better at culling the fiction books and other non-cooking books, but cookbooks, I cannot get rid of. I have weird 60's cookbooks with food I would never make, but I love being able to pull them out and look through for a laugh (good conversation starters).

            1. re: Sooeygun

              Sooeygun, a lot of the recipes in those 50's-60's books make for a great starting point for a retro dinner that people love. Not just conversations, but food from our childhoods...good for you for keeping them! Try crazy molded foods in aspic! It's a hoot! (And, I admit, tasty.)


              1. re: cayjohan

                i'm waiting for the "mold" comeback, as i have several! ;-).

                aspic is coming back in restaurants? or is it not trendy enough? .... maybe if it were micronized aspic beads suspended in a nitrogen bath? ... then served on sous vide veal "carpaccio". lol!

          2. is a related topic which you may find useful.