Our Reading Lives

On Discarding Old Cookbooks

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Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

There comes a day for every cookbook reader when that once-trendy Curry/Appetizer/Barbeque-Beer/Cookie-Pie/Holiday/TV Celebrity cookbook suddenly doesn’t apply to your daily cooking habits like it used to. I came across this a few years ago when I decided No, Mac and cheese does not require Velveeta. Not anymore. There is so much cheese in the world.

I have morphed–I am now a cooking X-Man. Deglazing a pan is really not that complex. And I can now discuss brining a turkey in buttermilk versus salt water, which gives me a nerdy-but-proud glow. I owe this almost entirely to the Food Network, YouTube, and my cookbook collection. It is fantastic to be able to mark your own growth. Accepting that cookbooks shouldn’t take up shelf room unless they are immediately useful means that you are accepting that growth, and noting your widening understanding of the nonfiction of cookery.

This week, I got rid of an excessively simplistic healthy eating cookbook that explained skewering vegetables as if it were a complex concept. It was also important to get rid of the book that always made way more batter for a batch of muffins than it promised, and had strangely-designated measurements. It was also necessary to note that, most of the time, dropping chicken in ketchup is not a great way to marinate it. So that oddball book had to go, too.

But some cookbooks will never need to feel so threatened. These are the cookbooks that will never disappear– the ones that receive so much use their bindings hurt and their explanations are splashed with oil. I can never give up my Cook’s Illustrated, because it is my go-to reference to depend on.

Cookbooks are awesome evidence of your own personal evolution, just like other means of reading. For the same reason that you may no longer require your Boxcar Children set, and your surviving college self-help text, cookbooks lose their usefulness as you go, but reveal a relationship with your past. It’s pretty fascinating to think that our book collections show much of our identity through our interests.

So, while I’m willing to get rid of the cookbooks that are no longer useful, I’m still aware of that concept of identity. I can’t get rid of ALL of the cookbooks that I don’t use. I can’t get rid of my first curry recipe book, which ultimately taught me to use raw spices and infuse oil. And it features my darling handwritten notes from when I was overwhelmed by the cook time (rice noodles were complex). For the same reason, I have a really hard time getting rid of my favorite books from third grade, or my art history textbook from college. Something about these texts have a irreplaceable value. As long as I have the space, I guess I’ll just hold on to them and wonder over what they mean about me. So, keep your beer chicken book if you love it so. And keep your Boxcar Children if seeing the books on your shelf gives you that warm childhood feeling.

Just don’t hoard too many. Keep your collecting habits healthy. And check these out, because I am SO excited about them:

heritageFrom 2014: Sean Brock’s Heritage— This is filled with southern comfort recipes based around Brock’s Charleston, SC restaurant, Husk. He’s also gotten attention via PBS’s In the Mind of a Chef.


61DzEqxS-TL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Upcoming in April: Mindy Segal and Kate Leahy’s Cookie Love: 60 Recipes and Techniques for Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary— I’m excited about this because the cookie has been simple for me for far too long, and I’m always excited to buy a cookie book. Plus, how beautiful is Kate Leahy’s blog?



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