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Dec 26, 2012 11:06 AM

Cookbook purge!

I'm considering doing a very deep cookbook purge. I simply no longer have the space I used to have for cookbooks or the time to cook the way I used to. I've done purges in the past, but my COTM's have always been untouchable. I think now might be the time for me to pare down that collection.

For reference, here's a link to the COTM archive.

1. Which books will I regret getting rid of and/or which are your most indispensible/favorite COTM cookbooks? I think these are the same question. Maybe not.

2. Which books are purge-worthy simply because so many of the recipes are available online? For instance, do I really need Plenty or Melissa Clark or Ina Garten or Homesick Texan? Are any of these books more than the sum of their recipes?

Thank you for your thoughts. And happy (almost) 2013!


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  1. I'm running out of room too but there's no way I'm getting rid of any cook book again. I did that a few years ago and have always regretted the decision. I got rid of an Essciofia. Yeah the large one. A month later I was sick about it. I bought another good used one on-line.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Puffin3

      I don't own that book, so there's no opportunity to purge it. I sincerely hope I don't end up with a list of books I have to acquire from this thread! HA!


      1. re: Puffin3

        I, too, am out of room, but everytime I purge there are regrets. I have decided, instead, to put some of the books I don't use much "away" and see if they are missed. I figure I will have to have them "away" for at least a year. I know this sounds crazy but I have had to repurchase more than one or two books.

        1. re: ptrefler

          I actually think what we need to do is be more careful when we are moving. We should scope out our new neighbourhoods for cookbook lovers and then create a shared library!! ; - )

          I often read a thread where someone is looking for a recipe in a book or coveting another book and feel it's a shame because that book is just sitting, idling on my shelf. I might not want to part w it forever but I'd be happy to loan it out.

          Unfortunately few of my friends/neighbours like cooking, never mind share my cookbook (addiction) passion.

        2. re: Puffin3

          Essciofia? Do you mean Escoffier or is this another book of which I am unaware?

        3. I keep 3-4 cookbooks on my kitchen counter and the rest on a bookshelf in my basement. Every once in a while, I'll choose a cookbook to read, like you'd read a novel. It's just not the same to me as googling for a recipe.

          The books on my count rotate. Right now I've got Jerusalem, smitten kitchen, aromas of Aleppo, and how to cook everything vegetarian.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cheesecake17

            You don't worry about storing books in your basement? How do you keep them from getting musty?


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              We've got a finished basement. My husbands office is down there and I've rescued a shelf on his bookcase for cookbooks.

              Heck, before we moved I stored cookbooks with my shoes. I'd never get rid of any!

          2. I'd be leery of getting rid of any book (like Plenty) where the recipes are available online but could disappear behind a paywall. Seems like more and more newspapers are adopting the NYT model of making less content available to non-subscribers.

            I have purged in the past & always regretted it. I still miss Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" which I got rid of about ten years ago. If I ever see it in a thrift shop or used bookstore I will pick up another copy.

            10 Replies
            1. re: geekmom

              I just ordered Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for 5.00 on AbeBoooks. They seem to have it every few weeks fairly cheaply. I wanted to give it for a gift so I am hoping it is in good shape. I love that book.

              1. re: mscoffee1

                like the idea of that one.
                I have a Vegetarian cookbook that my sister got me a hundred years ago. She had it and I used to babysit my niece a ton and would read it
                page after page and take notes. Finally she bought it as a gift for me so I'd leave hers alone.

                1. re: iL Divo

                  In deference to this thread, look at/try some of the online recipes to see if you like them. It is a big book.

                  1. re: mscoffee1

                    Good idea! Also, VCFE was a COTM awhile back. You can get a sense of the book by reading through those threads:


                    1. re: mscoffee1

                      oh mscoffee, I'll not be buying it. was thinking that going online to find any cookbook and getting it at a bargain was a good idea. I do not need another Vegetarian cookbook, but appreciate suggestion.

                2. re: geekmom

                  Deborah Madison's cookbook is well written. I'm having a lot of beginner's luck thanks to her (e.g. homemade pasta). I've been collecting cookbooks from yard sales and thrift stores for a long time now and just getting around to using them more seriously.

                  I'm trying to wrap my head around what might have been going through your mind to get rid of your cookbooks, particularly this one? Maybe you are a more advanced cook and outgrew some of them?

                  Like what many others have said here, I use my cookbooks mainly for inspiration and understanding the foundation of cooking. For an amateur like me, they are invaluable introductions to cooking. I feel very honored to be a student and beneficiary of their extensive research.

                  Many casual recipe sites that you see online are very cut and dry without much explanations because they are not from experts. I consider them hit or miss. Cookbooks can be more reliable in that sense, because most are written by seasoned professionals. Also your prediction of the free recipe sites becoming a thing of the past is as inevitable as the bygone days of the 5 cent soda pops and Napster file sharing (I actually used the original site to sample so many great indie music, but now it got squashed by big corporations).

                  1. re: amateurcook2

                    "I'm trying to wrap my head around what might have been going through your mind to get rid of your cookbooks, particularly this one? Maybe you are a more advanced cook and outgrew some of them?"

                    Not at all - I'm like you, I am very much an amateur home cook who still has lots to learn & my cookbooks are a great source of learning and inspiration. At the time I got rid of that and other books I did a massive purge during an international move and inevitably got rid of some things that I later came to regret! I guess VCFE was a target because it's so big.

                    I totally agree about the free recipe sites online being hit-and-miss. Even when something is highly rated by other users that can be meaningless because their frame of reference could be completely different from mine. If Ottolenghi's archive at the Guardian goes behind a paywall I may have to find a way to pay for it because his column is a highlight of my weekend.

                    1. re: geekmom

                      This board is really unhealthy for cookbook aficionados like me reaching their saturation point. While I was looking up Ottolenghi after reading your post, I ran across this New York Times article which listed a sushi cookbook “Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking” by Michael Booth. I ended up ordering a used copy of it from online because I haven't been able to run across a good sushi cookbook at yard sales, etc.

                      Also thanks to you, I ran across the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall blogs on the Guardian who is more my low speed. If you are reading and preparing foods from Ottolenghi, you are at a much higher level than me and beyond Deborah Madison's book. In other words, you have graduated to a higher level and shouldn't look back.

                      Oh, and that NYT article had a link to some good indie music as well, my first is second.

                      1. re: amateurcook2

                        Please start an indie music/cooking lovers website and let us know. I'll be there.

                3. What Geekmom said. I've regretted giving away Alice Water's first Chez Panise book from the following day on. OTOH, I have purged books from which I've never cooked and those that have no value in my estimation. Namely, books by those authors I consider to be making an impact on the culinary world. It really is subjective in the long run.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: Gio

                    OK, this isn't really helping! HAHAHA! I mean, it IS helpful, of course, to have your honest feedback, but it's not the kind of feedback I wanted.

                    Should I re-acquire VCFE which I dumped in the last purge? Oh no! Suddenly gripped by anxiety.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      LOL, I guess in hindsight, this may have been the wrong forum to get support for this (crazy!) notion. You need to head over to an organization site where anti-clutter types run the show.

                      I would never release a Deborah Madison book into the wild as I'm a huge fan. Sorry, that was not helpful at all.

                      1. re: tcamp

                        I was thinking the same thing: wrong audience for this question. But, truthfully, it is the right audience. I don't want to regret purging. But the problem is, sometimes I acquire cookbooks on impulse --maybe without really looking at them closely or sometimes simply because I can't get my hands on them any way other than buying them--- (Ie., my library doesn't have them, etc.) on the pretense that I can get rid of them if I don't like them. Surely I don't have to keep impulse buys??? Do you?

                        I have only regretted releasing VCFE once, when another 'hound recommended a recipe from that book. I had a momentary panic, then with the help of EYB was able to find the exact name of the recipe, after which I was able to find a copy of the recipe by Googling.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Oh gosh, just email me. I've got the book and can paraphrase for you. That is a darned thick book to keep around if you're not going to use it. Same with Bittman. I use both just often enough that I wouldn't get rid of them, but not everyone will. I'm going to *try* to be the voice of reason here and say if you have only made one or two recipes that you like, why not just keep those and get rid of the book. I'm in the same sort of bind (running out of room) and really don't know what to do. I try (and do not succeed) to stay off the "what new cookbook do you lust for" threads, and I've been pretty good at not buying new books. I kind of regret buying both USC books in November. I wasn't even around for a lot of that month, and doubt I'll use them much.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            I didnt cook much on the USC month, but I was impressed by how tasty, thoughtful and well worked out the recipes -were.For example helpful tips if the recipe was prepared ahead - like a suggestion to store the solids and liquids for a soup separately, so the starch did not soak up all the liquid and get flabby while in storage. Dont own the books, but if I did they would definitely get some further attention in my kitchen, .

                        2. re: tcamp

                          Argh, now I'm really feeling the pangs of missing that Deborah Madison book. ;-) But I do agree, TDQ, that you should get rid of books you don't use and won't likely use again, especially ones you've never cooked from.

                        3. re: The Dairy Queen

                          OK.... I know I didn't really answer your original question but essentially only You know which books mean the most to You. That's the essence of what I was saying.

                          Happy Almost 2013 to you...

                          1. re: Gio

                            OK thank you. Maybe instead of doing a "deep" cookbook purge, I should box up these books and store them in my basement for a year or two and see how I feel about them.

                            One note, last time I did my cookbook purge, I found good homes for them with family and friends. There were a few I sold or swapped, but mostly I gave them to people I knew would take care of them. And if I asked to borrow the book back, would gladly hand it back over.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              That's what I do. In fact I have an easy depository at hand, namely my daughter's boy friend. He loves to cook and is a very good one. Plus, he Loves books too!

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                I like this idea. I have been doing it with cookware. Once a year, everything is removed for a deep kitchen cleaning. Then I bring up what I only what I need. If stuff is still in the basement after two years, I figure I don't need it. And I _try_ to get rid of it. Cookbooks may be different----do use use them just for cooking, or as a category of literature?

                                1. re: mwhitmore

                                  It depends on the book, but a little of both. For reference, for actual cooking, and as "arm chair" travel.


                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                              If you haven't missed or regretted VCFE since you purged it, why would you reacquire it? Personally, I never got into that book, it just wasn't to my tastes. Even reading how other hounds love it, it still doesn't tempt me. Plus, I wasn't inspired during that COTM.

                              1. re: beetlebug

                                Totally agree. I have that book and can't quite bring myself to get rid of it, but I cook from it very rarely and I don't think I'd miss it if it were gone. In some ways it would be a relief as it takes up a lot of shelf space!

                                1. re: beetlebug

                                  Ditto. I've had it for years, and every now and then I take it down from the shelf determined to cook something from it, but I never have. Somehow it's still here though. After a big purge about 8 or 9 years ago where I regretted having given away a bunch of books, I plan on holding on to what I've got, but slowing down buying new ones.

                                  1. re: roxlet

                                    That's pretty much my approach, almost no additional book unless it has been "road tested", usually by borrowing from the library. This simple "rule" has slowed the new book acquisition down to a manageable 3 or 4 a year.

                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Then let me be the first to tell you I've purged our home of books, including a lot on nice looking, possibly useful cookbooks that sat unused almost entirely for many years. I can find almost anything I want online in multiple versions and I'm sure that will always be the case even if some sites go for pay.

                                  I almost never use my old, worn Joy of Cooking, but it's got sentimental value. I gave some to my ambitious cook of a daughter when she moved out, and keep several for inspiration.

                                  I hate clutter, dust catchers and I'd rather have art, family pics and sculpture on the shelves than books I don't use even for browsing, though the ones I do are prominent and close at hand.

                                  1. re: mcf

                                    In the past 5 years, we've sold or donated over 3,000 books. I'd guess 5% were my cookbooks. I recall only 2 or 3 recipes (not whole books) that I regret not keeping.

                                    So, I now copy or scan individual must-keep recipes and ditch the book.

                                    Feels so good to be "lighter" and freer from what became clutter.

                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Middle ground recommendation from someone who purged slowly and lived to enjoy another day!

                                    First box them up and set them aside. Feeling queasy? Thinking about a particular title? Do you miss the little critters?

                                    In other words, live w/out them for a while but not completely and see if you're ready to purge.

                                    Which titles should be up to you. I wouldn't have a clue how to select for you.

                                    My cook book collection is very small today but I keep files/one sheets of very select recipes. It took me 30 years to purge though.

                                    Don't be, time, decide.

                                    Oh and in my own case I donated the cookbooks to cooking schools, caterers, soup kitchens and colleges.

                                3. in same boat DQ.
                                  I suggest saving ones that have a certain sort of value: the 3 F's

                                  anything I don't read or care about I'm gonna toss to whoever likes the titles.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: iL Divo

                                    Like mcf, I did a near-total purge and have never looked back. I kept 2 cookbooks, the McCalls book Mom gifted me on my wedding day, and her old, old White House Cookbook.

                                    I was using a few of the others regularly, but have found the recipes I used most online. And wonder of wonders, while searching out this recipe or that technique, I almost always get distracted by ANOTHER recipe or technique and find myself following it, too. I wouldn't have thought that I'd learn more about cooking and food by ditching my books, but I did, and still am.