It’s a cookbook!

When I daydream, my thoughts often drift to food, travel, or food-related travel. I imagine a great glass of bordeaux wonderfully shared with friends over dinner at a local French-style bistro. Inevitably, I then start to think about a great glass of bordeaux wonderfully shared with friends at a bistro in Bordeaux. Sigh.

When my schedule or finances don’t allow me to follow through on these daydreams, I recreate them in my kitchen. I’m not a loyal-to-every-detail recipe follower, but I do look to recipes for inspiration when I’m cooking. As a result, I have to make a conscious effort to keep my cookbook and recipe collections under control.

In a recent pursuit to find order in my kitchen, I began by making a decision to get rid of 90 percent of my cookbook collection. I wanted to have only the number of cookbooks that could fit on a single shelf in my kitchen cabinet. (I strongly believe that cookbooks should be stored in the kitchen, seeing as that is where they are used. And, my kitchen is tiny, so one shelf is all that I can realistically dedicate to this purpose.)


When deciding which cookbooks to keep and which to get rid of, I made three piles: books I use at least once a week, books I use at least once a month, and books I rarely or never open.

The pile of books that I use once a week was few in number, so I pulled those five aside into a “keep” stack. Next, I put two celebration-based books from the rarely or never used pile into the keep stack, and then put the remainder in boxes to sell to a used bookstore. Finally, I tackled the pile of books I use once a month.

The once-a-month pile was much more difficult to weed through than the other two. I decided to separate the books into piles by type and occasion: baking, slow cookers, general, grilling/bbq, Thai, French, southern, desserts, etc. I immediately discarded any book that was vastly inferior to the others in its category. This process yielded me smaller piles, but there was still no way all of the books could fit on my bookshelf.

My second pass through these books related to recipe numbers. If the book had five or more recipes I fancied, it went into one stack — five or fewer, went into another stack. I made photocopies of the recipes from the five or fewer per book stack, and then put those books into the sell box. My cookbooks were now able to fit on my single shelf!

I put the photocopies I had made into my recipe notebook (which I will discuss in detail in my next post on recipe organization), and then headed to my local used bookstore. The few books the store decided not to buy I dropped off at my local public library for their annual fundraising book sale. I was paid for my books at the bookstore (close to $75), and received a receipt for tax purposes at the library. At last, my cookbooks were under control.

If you decide to clear the clutter from your cookbook collection, keep in mind these tips:

  • Store your cookbooks in your kitchen (behind a door, if possible, to avoid grease and spills)
  • Set a reasonable limit on how many cookbooks you can store (I suggest one shelf)
  • Rid your collection of any book that you haven’t opened since its purchase
  • Keep books that contain recipes you use that are full of valuable information
  • If you buy a new cookbook, get rid of an old cookbook (one in, one out)
  • Purchase new cookbooks to increase the quality of your collection, not its quantity

If you’re curious, here are the books that I kept:

All-new Complete Cooking Light Cookbook, Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, Betty Crocker’s Best of Baking, The Complete Guide to Country Cooking, Cook’s Illustrated’s Guide to Grilling and Barbecue, Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, The Essential Guide to Cake Decorating, Fix-It and Forget-It Cookbook, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s Mangoes and Curry Leaves, Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking, Linda Gassenheimer’s Low-carb Meals in Minutes, Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies magazine, Matt Lewis Thorne’s Outlaw Cook, a rural North Carolina church’s cookbook compiled for a fundraiser, Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise, Stephen Bruce’s Sweet Serendipity, Victor Sodsook’s True Thai, and Weight Watchers’ New Complete Cookbook.

9 Comments for “It’s a cookbook!”

  1. posted by Ryan on

    I have a grandma. Works for me.

    You could digitize your collection and just print out what recipes your going to cook.

  2. posted by Erin on

    Ryan — Unfortunately, books like McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” would mean more than 300 pages of scanning (and that wouldn’t even be recipe scanning, that would just be his writings on food chemistry) … Owning a book is sometimes the better solution, in my opinion.

  3. posted by Scott on

    A great selection, and I agree that McGee and Shirley Corriher’s CookWise are best kept in paper. I have two editions of the Joy of Cooking, neither of which I want to part with, but conversion to electronic form might be a good solution for one.

  4. posted by Ryan on

    Erin – See, that’s where grandma comes in.

  5. posted by A.K. on

    Thanks for this great post! I’m always paralyzed at the book store when I stare at the stacks and stacks of cookbooks. I never know what to choose first. I might just take your list with me the next time I go book shopping. Btw, I love Alton Brown, he’s hilarious.

  6. posted by Drew on

    My cookbook collection is pretty manageable but my cooking magazine collection is the real killer. I have 5+ years of a half dozen different food and cooking-related mags all stacked up in a closet and they’re far too intimidating to actually dig through to find a specific recipe. I know I could get magazine organizers, but then I’d have to find bookshelf space to store all of the organizers on.

    I’ve beeen thinking for a while about the best way to digitize the magazine recipes that I want to keep but haven’t been able to come up with a workable solution. The best workflow I’ve come up with is to sit down and rip out the 1-10 recipes from each issue that I want to keep, then scan and OCR them, and then cut and paste into some kind of recipe database (along with photos, where applicable). For an ideal workflow, that’s seriously time consuming. If you have any suggestions for workflow or software, I’d love to hear them.

  7. posted by Bonnie on

    I have a digital cookbook collection. I love to cook and have been collecting recipe books for years (at one point 1 whole bookshelf was devoted to them!) At the start of last year I decided enough was enough and that I had to digitalize my collection. I:

    1. Tagged recipes in magazines and cookbooks that I would actually use, and scanned and ocr’ed those, then sold the books. (4 months of weekends enlisting my mom to help scan also)

    2. Copied, pasted and tagged recipes into a database program – I use Personal Knowbase, which is fantastic. Personal Knowbase lets you “tag” recipes – for example I can filter recipes based on which ones came from Mom, which ones are vegetarian or use chicken, which ones are entree or deep fried or thai etc, as well as attach pics if you need them. Tagging was by far the most tedious process (This took 5 months by myself) but now it’s all done and I have an awesome recipe collection that I no longer have to lug around with me every time I move house.

    (the 3 books I couldnt bear to toss out) – What Einstein Told His Cook by Robert Wolke, The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander and Bugialli on Pasta.)

  8. posted by Heather on

    Drew,

    I have a lot of cooking magazines also. Right now I keep them slipped into clear plastic sheet protectors in binders, which stand up nicely on the shelves without the bulk of magazine boxes.

    Though I do also keep one big binder with all the “loose” recipes I’ve collected (along with simple listed references to favorite recipes and the book/magazine and page the are on.)

    We recently got a ScanSnap s500, which works very well (it will take a stack of papers and double-side scan them automatically and turn it into an OCR’ed PDF file. If my magazine collection gets out of hand I will probably just slit all my magazines down the center and scan them complete (hey then they’d be searchable!)

    In terms of typing up my own creations and grabbing stuff online, I love using BigOven recipe software. Sure in a perfect world I’d have absolutely everything in one digital system, and a computer always running in my kitchen :-) But honestly, clutter isn’t just STUFF, it’s also TIME used to do irritating things like scanning 300 page cookbooks :-)

  9. posted by I’m an Organizing Junkie » Say it with me ~ Release the cookbooks!! on

    [...] Updated:  Need more motivation?  Check out this post over at Unclutter ~  It’s a Cookbook!  [...]

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