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Pruning out your cookbook collection

25 posts in this topic

What are useful rules to bear in mind for a weeding out session? How can the number of books be controlled on an ongoing basis? Does anyone enforce a "one in one out" policy - if so how do you decide which one goes out? Have you ever regretted getting rid of a cookbook?

Catherine

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I move unused cookbooks to the garage. I have once or twice gone out to rescue one - but the rest I will send to ebay, "some day".


*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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I definitely don't have a "one in, one out" policy. The only time I ever get rid of a cookbook is if it has no value to me whatsoever - aesthetic, practical or sentimental. (I do have one or two cookbooks that are next to useless to cook out of, but are so beautifully designed that I can't part with them.) I think I've gotten rid of a grand total of one cookbook in my life!

Fortunately, compared to the other sections of our home library, the cookbook collection is pretty small, so that's not where we're feeling the pressure to prune. I consider this an unalloyed blessing.


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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as the queen of the FREE cookbook thread here's what i do:

1. i check out the books at the library and copy recipes out for my file collection if i like them. i will ONLY buy/add a cookbook to the collection if i feel i will use a majority of the recipes. case in point: Pam Reiss' soup book was the last i bought.

2. books are inanimate objects. they have a definite life span as print objects - unless you do not use them.

3. i keep no more books than one three shelf bookcase can hold.

4. i pass them on.

it helps that i really am not a pack rat like my husband


Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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I'm with suzi on the checking books out of the library. My benchmark for buying a book is "have I checked it out of the library and renewed it as many times as possible twice?"

But, there are books that wax and wane. That's one thing friends are for. Gotta book I don't think I want? Loan it to a very close friend (she does the same thing). If a year goes by and neither of us think of it, much less pull it off the shelf, bingo, gone.

There are, of course exceptions. One I can think of is the copy of the "Ladies Home Cookbook" from my Aunt Laura, circa 1902. On the odd chance every decade I want to know how to prevent cholera, voila!


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Every time I look at the overflow on the cookbooks/food-related bookshelves, I think about pruning. Then I think about getting more shelves. I've given several away to people who could use them. I admit none of those were favorites, either for sentimental, entertainment or practical reasons.

I should check and see if I've reported into the counting thread :unsure:


Edited by hsm (log)

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Last time I pruned any cookbooks - 1989 - gave a few I figured I'd never use again to one of my med school classmates who was vegan. One of those books still haunts me on occasion when I start to thinking I might develop a taste for tofu.

Instead I buy extras of the ones I really like when I see them, then give them away to people who will appreciate them. So even worse than not pruning.


Edited by Kerry Beal (log)

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People know I love cookbooks, and once in a while my stepdaughter will give me some collection or other (you know the kind, 365 cassaroles, or easy italian.) I keep them for a month or two, then give them to my oldest son who's on his own and on a budget. He actually uses them. Why would anyone who thought about it give a true foodie 100 recipes for hamburger in less than 30 minutes??? So I go for recycling them if you know your not interested. That said, I have to admit to holding on to far too many junior league cookbooks. I can't get rid of them, they're priceless! They give a great headstart on regional cooking, often recipes that were handed down for generations. Besides..who could resist a recipe that ends with "Men love this!"???

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By pruning, you mean "find a place to put more shelves", right?

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Get rid of cookbooks? Nope. In general I'm not a pack rat, I hate clutter, but cookbooks are an exception. I rarely use them beyond browsing through them to be inspired (pronounced: steal ideas) but I frequently buy them which has resulted in a pretty large collection. On top of that, I inherited my mom's even larger collection when she passed away a few years ago. I've slowed down a little but I have a long-time battle going on between my cookbook collector side and my cheap side over whether or not I'm going to buy the El Bulli books. I really want them but don't need them and they aren't cheap.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Every time I get somewhere between 300 and 400, I prune.

Here's what I usually sell or give away:

1. Cookbooks that were gifts. Usually these are from travellers who bring back regional or local books. Sometimes they are just plain awful, and sometimes they are worth one reading but not valuable for the recipes.

2. Cookbooks which have very few recipes which look interesting to me, or which I use. I copy those few recipes on the computer and get rid of the books.

3. Cookbooks which are for cuisines I really don't like. This would include any which are known for spicy hot foods. Although I do keep a couple of Mexican and Indian cookbooks to round out my collection, I rarely cook from them.

4. Cookbooks that are sold at giveaway prices; I'm a sucker to buy these. I'm really bad about this, but with the cheap prices on the web can't stand to give up a bargain.

5. Cookbooks that I've ordered sight unseen. Many are disappointing when you actually have them in hand.

The books I almost always keep are Regional Americana, series from authors I like, and books from French or other European cuisines. The books I almost always get rid of are books from restaurants or from famous chefs, like those from the food channel or from pretentious restaurants--although I've vowed not to buy that kind again.


Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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The books I almost always get rid of are books from restaurants or from famous chefs, like those from the food channel or from pretentious restaurants--although I've vowed not to buy that kind again.

Just out of curiosity, not trying to start an argument, what's your personal criteria for that? What determines if a chef is just doing what they want to do or being pretentious? I just wonder how others draw their personal line on things like that. I don't have a line in that area but maybe I should. Is serving 25 appetizer sized courses using expensive ingredients and leading edge techniques being pretentious or is serving meatloaf and mashed potatoes so that I won't be considered pretentious being pretentious? Would some of the "famous" chefs that get a lot of criticism be considered good or great chefs if it weren't for the fact that they happened to get a tv show? Just stuff I wonder about sometimes.


Edited by Tri2Cook (log)

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I found a simple solution to my extra cookbooks in good condition. Of course it works better living in a small town and having a library with a limited budget. I just donated a few cookbooks I have not used in a few years. I figure if I need them all of a sudden, I will just drop by and get sign it out.

So I still can use them, I just don't have to get another bookshelf. Perhaps they will inspire someone else to try some new cooking.

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beth, I think you're brilliant.

well done. and welcome.

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When I moved from a four-bedroom house to a one-bedroom apartment, the cookbooks were the only part of my 1,200+ book collection that didn't get put into storage. That was 18 months ago.

The cookbooks sit in a single, large IKEA shelf that holds about 300 (give or take) and in the past 18 months, I have kept myself to that single unit. That means that when something new is bought, something has to go -- and, honestly, I have a pile of about 15 books sitting behind me that are ready to go.

They are books that haven't been opened at all in at least five years or, in the case of A Meal Observed, didn't interest me at all despite multiple attempts.

I have a similar strategy for my closet: If I haven't worn the garment in three to four years, it goes to the Goodwill.

In the case of books, I either utilize Book Crossing to give away the books or I bring them to a used bookstore for credit. Usually it is the former.

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Carolyn,

Since I work for a mental health agency, let me tell you what I heard you say. You have 15 books behind you that you haven't gotten rid of yet :wink: Remember, the first sign is admitting you have a problem.

And when you're pruning, consider donating them to your local high school's culinary program if they have one. Go here to find a local program.


Chef, Curious Kumquat, Silver City, NM

A recent write-up in Dorado magazine

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If anyone has any books they want to donate. The Eg Heartland Gathering this July in Cleveland is having a cookbook sale organized by moi. I will gladly accept your book donation at my PO Box in Michigan and I'll take them with me to the event. The money raised will go towards the society.


Edited by CaliPoutine (log)

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and don't forget that books go (postage) for a lower rate..just tell them to post at book rate,.

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If anyone has any books they want to donate.  The Eg Heartland Gathering this July in Cleveland is having a cookbook sale organized by moi.  I will gladly accept your book donation at my PO Box in Michigan and I'll take them with me to the event.  The money raised will go towards the society.

Gee, how did this get past me? What a terrific way to raise some money for the Society. You'll be receiving a box from me!


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Since I work for a mental health agency, let me tell you what I heard you say.  You have 15 books behind you that you haven't gotten rid of yet  :wink:  Remember, the first sign is admitting you have a problem.

And when you're pruning, consider donating them to your local high school's culinary program if they have one.  Go here to find a local program.

Nah, I'm not that bad.... it is only that they are stacked under a small, corner table and I don't see them often enough to remember they are there. Because I live in small quarters, I am rather anal about getting rid of stuff (never buy a new outfit without making sure there is a hangar to put it on sort-of-thing!).

Also, in a week or two I will be tackling a bigger task of emptying my storage unit and know there will be over 1,000 books I have to go through and discard. Because many of rare, first-editions, their disposal will take more care.

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but I have a long-time battle going on between my cookbook collector side and my cheap side over whether or not I'm going to buy the El Bulli books. I really want them but don't need them and they aren't cheap.

Birthdays


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Most of the cookbooks I prune are the ones people have given to me. They just have no clue what makes a good cookbook or one suited to my interests. If I buy a cookbook, it is in the collection to stay. I sometimes borrow cookbooks from the library, but the core of my collection are either well used or obscure titles. The obscure titles are generally more in the vein of historical or cultural references. It is certainly a collection that keeps growing. I have filled 2 48" wide 7" tall bookcases. I prune my other books to make way for the cookbooks.

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I am by nature and training acquisitive; my cookbook collection has metastisized from a single case in my undergraduate years to a 2,000-volume library that sprawls across several rooms and into storage. And that's after pruning. As a former museum curator, I understand some of the considerations that go into making a good collections: utility, the ability to delight and educate, the cost of upkeep and, let's face it, the thrill of the chase for that one book you can't do without.

Any well-maintained collection needs to grow – by which I don't mean that it necessarily gets bigger. But it gets better. First editions might be your thing. Or cookbooks signed by authors. Maybe you start with some books that have writing in them and you want to upgrade to pristine copies. Could be that the writing for you is evidence of actual use and those marginalia, rather than being an annoyance, are an historical record (check that bookplate, too, to see who might have been making the notes). You make room for better quality books by losing the filler that doesn't educate, delight, or prove useful.

In 2006 I moved from Philadelphia to San Diego. You bet I pruned. Gone were most books that didn't relate to food in some way. The same with any books I hadn't cracked open since purchasing. It was a great chance to clear house and finally dispose of mediocre books, those that were simply modern collections of recipes with little or no social, historical, or ethnographic context.

My collection veers toward hardbacks and, increasingly, antiquarian cookery books - in fact, I'll upgrade to a well-preserved hardback if I've already got a paperback edition and pass on the paperback to a friend or colleague. It also skews toward foods that are preserved in some way – fermented, pickled, cured, etc. So sections on charcuterie, cheese, pickles/preserves, beer and spirits (moonshine and distilling, naturally) tend to go into more depth than, say, Indonesian or Austrian cookery.

It helps to prune by knowing what's NOT in your general interest. Though I have a lot on whiskeys, brandy, and cocktails, I have very few books dealing with wine - there are simply too many wine books to keep up. Same with community cookbooks. I just don't have the room to start that never-ending collection, outside a select few from the American South.

The depth and expense of the collection I justify to myself by knowing that I've got one of the best culinary libraries in town and that answers to many of my food questions are on the shelves around me. But I also learned something from chef Fritz Blank in Philadelphia; open your collections to others. Serious book collectors are secretive, protective, and competitive. They rarely let outsiders use their collections (maybe more territorial than protective at times). Fritz let researchers as well as any guest to his restaurant Deux Cheminees come into his 10,000-volume cookery library. I tapped his shelves more than once for 17th and 18th century distilling receipts as I researched my recent book on home distilling.

It's a model I adopted; users of my collection can't borrow books, but I do let writers, historians, cooks, chefs, journalists, restaurateurs, and culinary students use the collection here at my house. Scheduling can be a pain sometimes, but my visitors also bring me books, especially ones they have written. They call or email with questions and they incorporate materials from me on their menus, in their articles, and in their books. It's a nice trade off and makes me feel as if the real estate and expense of maintaining a robust cookery library is worth it.

And pruning is one way to make sure that the collection really is a value to me and others who might need answers to their culinary questions. That's probably a vestigal curatorial vein. Or sheer ego. Not sure. Time to go buy some food books.

~ Matthew


Matthew B. Rowley

Rowley's Whiskey Forge, a blog of drinks, food, and the making thereof

Author of Moonshine! (ISBN: 1579906486)

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after reading a post here about how many books you own... I realize I have too many... need to clear up some space... If anyone is looking for extremely rare old French books from the early 1800'ss thru 1900's drop me an email...

Grimod


"Bacchus has drowned

more men then Neptune"

Thomas Fuller

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