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Jan 7, 2011 10:56 AM

If you read cookbooks as literature as well as for recipes

Lately I've been exploring the treasures of Project Gutenberg, a website chock full of out-of-copyright publications that can be downloaded for free. In fact I'm so enraptured that after running through a ream of paper and three ink jet printer cartridges I finally broke down and ordered a Kindle.

It occurred to me yesterday to look around for books about cooking and household management. Lawdy me, if you've ever wondered how to make calf's foot jelly, not to mention how to raise and later slaughter said calf, needed to know the correct way to cook eels including pies ("The Eel is also good in Pyes, fry'd and boil'd, which every one knows how to prepare"), or looked for a good recipe for brown rabbit soup, your search is over.

The delights of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management are worth a visit all by themselves.

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  1. I probably have around 150 non-recipe culinary books and therefore am delighted with the website you posted! Mrs. Beeton's BoHM is one of my all-time favourites.

    Thank you!

    1 Reply
    1. re: chefathome

      Jeremiah Tower's book, "American Dish..." is a very good read. His narrative style eclipses new-age poseurs like Bourdain and rips the skirt off Alice Waters.
      Good stuff.

    2. I often read cookbooks cover-to-cover. There's nothing like sitting down with Giuliano Bugialli or Julia Child on a cold evening with a hot cup of cocoa, or reading a book of recipes you know you'll never make just for the fun of reading them.

      4 Replies
      1. re: iluvcookies

        At one point in my book owning adventures I had a copy of a Charleston, South Carolina Junior League cookbook. I never made a single recipe from it but thoroughly enjoyed it as a sort of social history documentary. All the recipes were annotated not only with the contributor's married name (generally something along the lines of "Mrs. Henry Duplessis IV") but her maiden name as well ("Miss Alphonsine Gautier-Lagere.") My favorite recipe was for a Groom's Cake whose ingredients I seem to remember included 15 "wineglasses of brandy."

        1. re: mandycat

          I picked that up as well on a visit to Charleston. I've read it cover to cover as well!

          1. re: Firegoat

            I pick up this sort of thing for cheap at antique stores regularly. Very good and interesting reading.

            1. re: Naco

              I especially like the ones that call for "knobs of butter". I know that's how my great-Grandma used to measure.

      2. I've read Elizabeth David, Mary Taylor Simeti, Patience Grey, and Elizabeth Romer over and over again, just for the pleasure of their writing and personality. Liem reading Hugh Johnson about a wine and not caring about its "points".

        1. Nigel Slater's "Kitchen Diaries" fits nicely into this niche, a year in his life and his cooking.

          7 Replies
          1. re: buttertart

            I'm a cookbook collector - everythng from old first editions to the new stuff. I read cookbooks the way most folks read novels. And probably enjoy them more - lol!!

            1. re: Breezychow

              Join the club, I've been doing that since my teens. My mother thought it was very peculiar.

              1. re: buttertart

                Yes, I think that's a big club here on CH. And buttertart, I know my mother loves me, but I ofetn suspect she finds my obsession with cookbooks and my love of cooking and baking a little peculiar as well.

                1. re: flourgirl

                  With my mom, it was the cookbooks (although she bought me all of my first ones and did nothing to discourage it). The cooking and baking were completely understandable because she loved to bake - but I never saw her use a recipe to prepare a main dish, unless it was something "unusual" she had gotten the recipe for from the newspaper or a friend.

                  1. re: buttertart

                    My mom's a really good cook, but it was something she mostly did because she "had to", not because she particularly enjoyed it. And she never bought me cookbooks. I was more interested in baking than cooking as a teenager, but it was a family friend who bought me my first baking book (a book by Maida Heatter) not my mom. I don't think it would ever have occurred to her to do so.

                    And it's only after years of serious cooking and baking on my part that my mom has really accepted that this is a serious interest of mine. Now we talk all the time about what we're cooking, where we want to go out to eat next etc. I think I've been a good influence on her.

                    And yes, I think my massive collection of cookbooks baffles her, but I come from a long line of booklovers (I have tons and tons of non-cooking-related books in my home as well) and my parents' home was always crammed with books as well, so she at least gets the book part of it.

                    1. re: flourgirl

                      My Mom (well, many people) laugh at the stacks of one-subject books on my shelves such as "Butter", "Meat", "Olive Oil", "Chili Peppers", "Truffles", ""Salt and Pepper" and so on. But I am so passionate about them and have a need to know the hows and whys of things food related. The history of food and culture is also important to me.

                      But then my Mom's typical lunch can be boiled potatoes, a chunk of bologna, unadorned canned spinach and maybe a pomello for dessert. Whenever I spend time at her place I must bring along half my pantry and spices! And some books, of course.

            2. re: buttertart

              Haven't read KD, but I really enjoyed his memoir of growing up, "Toast," based on food memories.

            3. One of my favorite writers is M.F.K. Fisher, who wrote many books about food, some with recipes. She was a wonderful writer. "How to Cook a Wolf," published at the end of the Depression, might have something to teach us now.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Emma47

                She is one of my favourites, too.

                1. re: chefathome

                  Don't read a biography of MFKF, it'll burst her bubble.