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.