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Pruning the overgrown cookbook collection


Alex
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Our cookbooks are having a Mr. Creosote moment -- just one more, and the bookcase might explode, or at least collapse. I had a thought that perhaps we should do something similar to what's recommended for clothing: if we haven't opened a book for two (three, five, whatever) years, get rid of it. Then, of course, I start thinking that SOMEDAY I might need it.

Have you ever pruned your collection? How did you decide which ones to part with? Were there any regrets later on? Did you give them away, sell them (and if so, how), or donate them to a library or charitable cause?

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Have you ever pruned your collection?

Oh yes, Alex, I am a firm believer of pruning. I pull out the books that I haven't opened in two years or more and go through them. If I see things that excite me, or that I want to cook, the book goes back on the shelf. If nothing of the sort happens, the book goes into a pile. I recheck this pile a week later. I then invite friends to serve themselves. The remaining books are put in a Rubbermaid container and brought to whichever local church takes books for their book fair. I have never had a church refuse cookbooks; they seem to be bestsellers.

Have I ever regretted parting with a book? No. This system seems to work for me. :smile:

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Twice I've pared down my cookbooks drastically--I try to limit them to 300--and both times I've let some books slip away that I wish I had back. There were books by Ada Boni and Richard Olney and Dione Lucas whose value I didn't realize at the time. Two of my favorite books got sold by accident and had to be replaced.

Many books I miss were those which had only one or two recipes I used and loved, and meant to copy before I got rid of the book. Either I forgot which books the recipes were in, forgot to copy the recipes, or lost the copies. There went my recipe for paprika-onion sauce served with Chicken Pojarski. My first recipe for tzimmes, with the direction: "add enough liquid to make a not too thick batter." And many other treasures I've forgotten.

Still, I'm planning to clean house once more. I've purchased many more cookbooks since joining eGullet and many weren't worth the price. Better qualify that! eGullet is only responsible for re-kindling my interest in cooking after the divorce wars...er, years. The internet is responsible for the bad books by enabling me to buy books online, sight unseen.

My DIL of four years is becoming very interested in cooking, so this time I'm going to give the books to her. She can keep what she likes, and sell the rest on eBay for mad money. :rolleyes:

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

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

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Mine were forcibly pruned in 1999 by a tornado. By the time we got the roof dismantled, and dug down to the cookbooks, they were soggy and mildewed, and I had no choice but to toss them into the dumpster.

I made a list of them as I discarded them, in case the insurance company ever questioned me about them. I felt like I was discarding my life. Each cookbook was purchased as I was expanding my cooking skills, and represented a particular milestone --acquiring a food processor, for instance. I'm not a particularly sentimental person --in fact, I often hide my lack of sentimentality lest others think less of me. But boy, was it difficult to see those cookbooks go.

I just now looked over the list, and if I still had them, there are quite a few I'd probably get rid of today without a second thought. I recommend you prune out the ones you think you can live without, and if possible, put them away in a box for 6 months or so. Go through them again, and see if they look any different to you.

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as the prepetrator of the FREE cookbook thread thanks for the vote of confidence, chris.

alex i have no problem limiting myself to under 100 cookbooks as well as, at present, two shoeboxes 3/4 filled with recipe cards. i don't HAVE to own everything but do make use of the library where i work and the interlibrary loan department. if it is something special i want to make again and again it goes on a recipe card rather than hanging onto a book that has one or maybe two recipes i use on a regular basis. if i do find a book that has more than say, a half dozen recipe, like pam reiss' soup cookbook , i buy it.

it may be hard for you to do at first but, believe me, the books don't feel a thing...

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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Oh, yes. I've pruned my cookbook collection each time we've moved, and I'm still pruning, periodically pulling out cookbooks I don't use to make room for new ones.

The ones that go are books I've outgrown, ones from which I've never used a recipe (unless they have other redeeming value as references or for terrific photos or prose), gifts that never were to my taste, duplicate copies, and some that I've bought and later decided weren't that interesting.

I mostly donate books to the library, a few I've given to friends, and some I've sold on eBay or Amazon Marketplace.

I don't regret pruning them: I feel they get good homes with someone who wants them.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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I can't . . . repeat . . . can't get rid of books of any sort. I even have a ridiculous collection of tattered Rex Stout and Agatha Christie paperbacks that I still reread. As to cookbooks. I can't imagine getting rid of any of them. With one exception . . . The Barbara Kafka book Roasting is going to the first friend or relative for which I develop a strong animus.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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You bet - I prune somewhat regularly. I've gotten a lot better about being honest with myself about whether or not I'm ever going to really use a book or not.

In fact, one of my new year's resolutions for next year (that I'm getting an early start on) is to cook at least one new recipe a month from a cookbook I own that I've never cooked from. I figure this will help me with the next round of pruning. Not that I HAVE to cook from all cookbooks which are keepers - some are around for sentimental value, and some are around for reference. But there are many which aren't any of the above, and I need to decide about them.

I also prune my library of all books regularly. If I KNOW I'm never going to read a book again, I don't keep it. I have a large enough collection of books that I'm sure I'm going to look at again that I don't need filler!

Marcia.

who has some books which are falling apart because they are so well read.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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The very thought that was in my mind recently!

An earthquake a few months ago made it obvious that some of my books have to go.

I've regretted some books I've got rid of in the past...particularly because I often read and apply ideas rather than making whole recipes. I'm also afraid of how much I've forgotten when I look into a book I haven't used in a while. :sad:

I'm not looking forward to the task at all.

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I can't . . . repeat . . . can't get rid of books of any sort. I even have a ridiculous collection of tattered Rex Stout and Agatha Christie paperbacks that I still reread. As to cookbooks. I can't imagine getting rid of any of them. With one exception . . . The Barbara Kafka book Roasting is going to the first friend or relative for which I develop a strong animus.

What she said :wink:

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NEver! well, only if good friends/sisters ask for the books, otherwise, my cookbooks and I are pretty much "til death do us part"

Me too!

It would be like losing a limb, or giving up a beloved pet. Occasionally I will donate one to the library if I find I have a duplicate. However, with some special ones that are signed or otherwise are collectible, or were gifts from dear friends and family, I keep a duplicate to use.

I love books, always have, always will. Some are old friends, all are precious.

This may be a genetic thing. My grandfather loved books and so does my daughter.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Let's be honest - they're not all "winners".

That being said, I just moved and I winnowed three, maybe four, cookbooks out of my collection.We were going to try and get a used bookstore to buy them, but time and effort led my lovely wife to donate them. Had I known that, I probably would have kept them all.

Yeah, it's tough to part with cookbooks. Even ones that suck. I really don't know why that is. Books in other categories that I don't want I can part with no problem.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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Yeah, it's tough to part with cookbooks. Even ones that suck. I really don't know why that is. Books in other categories that I don't want I can part with no problem.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

That's exactly my dilemma, and why I started this thread. I know that it's an emotional attachment. Other than cookbooks and other food-related books, there are relatively few non-professional, non-reference books that I either want or feel compelled to keep forever. Ms. Alex, on the other hand, has hung on to virtually every bit of written material that has come into her possession over the past 30 or so years.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Marcia.

who has some books which are falling apart because they are so well read.

I often thin down the stacks removing (mostly Christmas gifts) with titles like" Flower Cookery and "Entertaining Without Alcohol for Business and Pleasure" But, I have to laugh because I also can't part with classics like,"Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol.1", "The Wind In The Willows" and "The I Ching", that have no bindings left and have to be read like the dead sea scrolls.

I thought about several cookbooks I wish I still had: The Alice B Toklas cookbook, Myra Breckenridge Cookbook and some Elizabeth David classics that have somehow disappeared.

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It might help if you think of the pleasure that someone else could possibly find in the books that you do not *really* love or use, as they go to their new home(s).

I often go through the bookshelves and take loads of books either to the library or to the thrift store as donation.

Books are meant to be loved. If they are simply sitting on the shelf, not being opened for years, truly they deserve better. Someone out there *will* love them.

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It might help if you think of the pleasure that someone else could possibly find in the books that you do not *really* love or use, as they go to their new home(s).

I often go through the bookshelves and take loads of books either to the library or to the thrift store as donation.

Books are meant to be loved. If they are simply sitting on the shelf, not being opened for years, truly they deserve better. Someone out there *will* love them.

(clapping) That's exactly it. This is how I am able to keep my cookbook collection in just one IKEA bookshelf, because every one I have is used and loved. The ones that sat, forlorn and dust covered, went to better homes.

Edited by tejon (log)

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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As someone who still has their 30-year old college textbooks in a box in my garage, I'm not sure I'm qualified to comment on this thread :-)

My style of pruning means moving the books I don't use from the house to the garage - but not as far as the barn, so they are fairly close in case I want to read them again. I do not regret moving all the low-fat cookbooks out, boy was that a waste of time! "Indian Vegetarian" is also out of the house. I keep thinking I'll sell them on e-bay or give them away, but haven't gotten around to it.

I think of most of my cookbooks as an investment. I may not use them this year but I will in the future as my cooking skills improve. I hope to use nearly all of them when and if I retire and have more free time. Some are just nice to read or refer to, like Escoffier.

Oh, and my husband calls me a "pack rat"!

I think I'll make an exception to my habits and give Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist Cooks Dinner" to my sister-in-law. Never did like that book.

*****

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

*****

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I too still have textbooks from college somewhere so I am in the keep it forever category when it comes to books. I must say though that I’m very selective when it comes to buying a cookbook. I have to know that it is going to add something to my collection not just be added to the shelf.

Dave

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Because I consider myself a food historian as well as a cook, I find it extremely difficult to get rid of cookbooks--even the truly awful ones--because each one is representative of what cooking was like during a given time period. I think of them all as research material, which helps me justify the collection.

That said, I'm pretty careful these days about which cookbooks I buy, and I buy almost everything used. I only pick up books that will enhance the collection in some way. For example, I recently purchased a cookbook printed in 1893--I will certainly never cook from it, but it is quite interesting to read!

In the rare cases when I've gotten rid of a cookbook, I've typed any recipes that interested me into an excel database that I've created. That way, I don't feel as great a sense of loss!

Owner of Salt in Montpelier, VT

www.saltcafevt.com

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