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Culling Cookbooks: Do you ever regret it?

Advice and encouragement needed here folks!

My shelves are overflowing, and if I'm honest I have some books that I'm not in love with, and rarely use. But for some reason I'm reluctant to part with them because I think that I might explore them again one day. Meanwhile, I order more books!

So, should I just go for it. There are only three after all at the moment! For info:

GLORIOUS FOODS OF GREECE by Diane Kochilas (not the best book on Greek cooking)
THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD by Alice Waters (dull but thanks again to LLM for sending it to me!)
GOOSEBERRIES, WILD GARLIC AND ME by Dennis Cotter (this one is beautiful, but I'm never going to use it and I want his latest one instead, which is much more accessible).


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  1. Short answer: yes, to the point of re-buying some of them years later.

      1. The only cookbook I can remember throwing away was something my mother got as a wedding present - 'The Art of Chinese Cooking' or something to that effect. She was married in 1977 in New Zealand, so that book could have put anyone off ever trying what was passed off as 'Chinese'. I do regret throwing it away, if only that it would have made a cute gift for my friend with a 70's retro kitchen.

        1. I agree that it is very difficult to get rid of cooking books and even magazines. One thing that helps me decide whether to donate a cookbook to the local library is how easy it is to find the recipes online. If I'm not a huge fan of the book, I tell myself that if ever I decide to make a recipe from it, I would just look for it online. Bloggers make everything look amazing:)

          1. I did a huge cull some 7 years ago, and I know that I threw out some books I wish I had now. I have even repurchased a couple of them. The good part was that I had a used bookstore dealer come and look at the collection, and I was actually able to sell quite a few of them. Since then, we have acquired many more bookshelves, and they are beginning to groan, so it may be time to do it all over again, even though I will have regrets!

            1. No--I did a big (for me) cull this summer. The books I got rid of were good and in great condition (I take care of my cookbooks!) and may even have been "working" for me. But I'm decluttering and I'm looking to open up space in the bookcase. What made the cull feel good was that I donated these books to a friend to take to her library organizations' book sale. I had about 110-120 cookbooks, of which I got rid of 20. I still have the ones I cook from and the ones that inspire me, even if I DON'T cook from them and hopefully now someone else can use the ones I've given away.

              I only had one small twinger of momentary regret--Nick Malgeri's How to Bake. Lovely photography, great recipes, gift from my mother, yada yada yada, but I always despised his writing style and never did get into the book. Also, I'm doing much less baking now.

              1. I cull regularly ... I'm ruthless. Covered in dust? Gone. Not something you use regularly? Gone. Bad design/style? Gone. Awful writing/recipes? Gone.

                The only book I regretted losing wasn't even mine — it was my mother's. I used to call for a recipe and she'd scan the page, but she didn't use it often, so it was culled when she moved.

                This isn't to say I only have 2-3 books :-) More like 30 to 40. It's a do-able number, but there are at leas 10 that ought to be culled.

                1. Yes, but the regret is outweighed at the relief I feel from lightening my load. Force yourself to cook a couple of recipes from each book before getting rid of it (come see us in the "New or Neglected Cookbooks" thread). Then you'll feel confident that it's a clunker and you'll feel less regret looking back. Or you'll realize it's a book you can't part with and you'll feel confident you need to make space for it on your shelves.

                  I do have a hard time parting with vintage books, partly because I know they will be impossible to replace, but also, they probably have some personal or family history to them if they've been hanging around this long...

                  I dumped Kochilas almost immediately. I kept AoSF because I enjoyed reading the prose, and because there were a couple of recipes a couple of chowhounds swore by. I think I need to cook from this book more before getting rid of it. The last of your books I've not heard of.

                  I went through a period where I acquired a bunch of fancy (expensive) restaurant and celebrity chef cookbooks thinking I might not ever go to the restaurant, but that I could cook from these books and duplicate part of the experience, and the books would practically pay for themselves. Now I realize that I'm probably never going to cook from these books. I should get rid of them, but I paid a lot for them and I feel like a bit of a chump. And if I change my mind, I might have to pay a lot for them again. So, I'm debating.

                  I think I'm also going to dump Barefoot Contessa "Back to Basics"--it's not the way I cook every day, and nearly all of her recipes are online. I just don't feel I need this book. I'm not crazy about Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I've not found a single "wow" recipe in that book, but it is a very comprehensive resource. But, the truth is, I have a ton of "vegetable" cookbooks. I'm wondering if I really need to hang onto that giant clunker. I think the reason to hang onto a cookbook in this internet era is because you trust the particular author to assemble a collection of winning recipes. Maybe you can't expect 100% of the recipes to be winners (though some come close, Dunlop, Goin, Nguyen/Pham, Ottolenghi, Hopkinson), but you should be able to expect a high percentage of them to be winners. If you feel like you're just rolling the dice every time you pick up the book, as I do with VCFE, then what's the point? I understand VCFE was a trailblazer, the first of its kind, but I think it's been surpassed. Still, I'm having a hard time parting with it...

                  I have several books I've acquired as souvenirs, either from a visit to a particular restaurant or from overseas travels. I realize I may never cook from those books (though, many I have cooked from), but I keep those for different reasons.


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    How ruthless can you be? Take every cookbook off your shelves and pack in boxes or crates so you can read the spines. Put them in a closet or even better a garage or attic. For the next year, the only one's you use are put back on the shelf and retained. All the rest are gone.

                    I'm lucky, my daughter is very appreciative of the hand-me-downs. I have a notebook for the one or two recipes from those spiral bound church/town cook books you get at the yard sales for 50 cents or so.

                    Now if you are reading it for insights of a culture or the beautiful pictures, it is now a travel log or literature and belongs on your library shelf.

                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      Oh no, there's no way I could do that. That's what you do with clothes, not cookbooks.

                      I revisit old cookbooks all the time, even if I don't cook from them every year, I might cook from them every five years. That is certainly often enough to hang onto a book in my mind...


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Let's not even mention my clothes collection!

                  2. About a year ago, I asked "What five cookbooks you would keep?" when I was going through a "get rid of stuff" phase.

                    In fact, I now only have 8 cookbooks on my shelf.

                    However, I just helped someone move last weekend where I kept the cookbooks they were throwing out. Giving the once over, I don't see anything I'm interested in so the Goodwill is my next stop.

                    1. Yes, but for the loss of specific recipes.
                      Now before I pass on a cookbook I read it cover to cover and copy any keepable recipes into a big hardbacked notebook.

                      1. Thanks all. I bit the bullet and took the Greek book and the Cotter to the charity shop. Decided to keep the Waters. And of course when I was there (it's a specialist Book Oxfam), I found a (signed) copy of Barbara Tropp's China Moon Café for a fiver. I am beyond help....

                        4 Replies
                          1. re: greedygirl

                            You won't regret the China Moon Cafe, especially if you cook from it. I think someone just posted about this one recently somewhere here on the home cooking board...


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              I haven't had time to really go through it, but the recipes look interesting - if a lot of work. I am interested in some of the pantry ingredients, like home-made pickled ginger and hot chilli oil..

                          2. Get a flatbed scanner and convert them to PDF's

                            1. I do regret it at times. Still, it's only when I think of what a lovely book it was, or the collector in me just wants to have it. Security blanket? I actually only cook out of a small percentage of the books here but enjoy having them.
                              Here's what I do: cull when I have the guts because I know the feeling will pass. Then, if I am really sorry later, I'll get it again. That very seldom happens. I'm better off with the opened up space and enjoy knowing that someone who really wants it probably has it now.

                              Go for it.

                              1. Freaking out over my latest cookbook shopping spree and tagged 19 books on EYB as "sell". I'll reconsider my list in the morning. EDIT: and my latest spree doesn't even include a few yet to be released books I'll KNOW I'll need, the new Dunlop, the new Stevens, the new John Besh.

                                GG--have you developed any new criteria for culling I can borrow?


                                1. I just culled 10 books from my collection. These are books that were gifts or bought on a whim, but somehow didn't speak to me. My daughter's friend is working as a cook at a local pastry shop and in a Korean food truck. Though she can't afford culinary school, there is no question that she wants to be a chef. She took each book with enthusiasm. Her theory is every book can teach her at least one thing.

                                  Somehow it is easier to cull when I know the recipient. I still have five books more than my shelves can hold, but there is nothing left that I am willing to part with.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: smtucker


                                    Five books without a proper home on the shelf isn't bad...it's the five more I know I'll buy in the next 6 months or so that scare me. And so on. It's gotten to the point where I can't use my books because I'm storing them in weird places and I can't find them when I want them. Paletas, for instance.


                                  2. Yes I have rebought, and at least one of the rebuys is a real joy - Paula Peck's Art of Fine Baking, a book that was way over my head when I got it and is really the source of much of the writing on baking since (I've come across trucs in it touted as inventions of contemporary authors).
                                    I'm also in process of recompleting my Time-Life Foods of the World set, some of which I foolishly left behind ages ago and have always regretted it.
                                    My most recent cull was when we moved last year, and it was not difficult at all to decide what to ditch - that wretched, infuriating Lo "Mastering" (ha ha) Chinese cookery book and the James Peterson "Cooking", which I got at the same time as Martha's "Cooking School" and Martha's was so much better, prime amopng them. Put them in the hallway of our apartment building and BOOM gone in ten seconds.
                                    When I was packing to move I endeavored to pack the most important ones together and the also-rans together. The super-important ones have migrated to bookshelves in my front hall, the slightly less-important upstairs. The also-rans are consigned to the dungeon (basement) and none of them have joined their betters in the past year. The SENSIBLE thing would be to boot all of those now (a year and some months later) but...

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: buttertart

                                      I gifted Peterson's Cooking right away.


                                        1. re: buttertart

                                          Nope. I really liked his book on Fish, though. And his book on vegetables, although I never use it.


                                    2. I've only regretted getting rid of a few titles.

                                      The ease and availability of finding things on-line has really made it easier for me to cull my belongings. Very little can't be replaced later IME. That knowledge has been liberating for me!

                                      1. So far did not regret getting rid of cookbooks except low-fat, no sugar or Cooking Light cookbooks.