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Pruning the overgrown cookbook collection


Alex
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I'll admit it .... I hoard cookbooks, and am utterly unable to prune. 250+ at last count.

However, my sister passed away this year, and I have inherited her and my mother's collections.... 400+ more!

Of course there was some overlap... Who needs multiple copies of any book? But my collection is still at 550+. Egads.

Btw, over 200 are regional/church/association cookbooks... such fun!

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I tried it, about two years ago. I weeded out a bunch (maybe 40?) and hauled them down to the local used bookstore. About six months ago I went to same said bookstore to use up some store credit. I bought some cookbooks (about 10). After perusing them more closely at home, I remembered why they looked familiar-- they were the cookbooks I had sold the store previously. :raz:

Only 39 and already exhibiting signs of senility. Having children will do that to you.

"An' I expect you don't even know that we happen to produce some partic'ly fine wines, our Chardonnays bein' 'specially worthy of attention and compet'tively priced, not to mention the rich, firmly structur'd Rusted Dunny Valley Semillons, which are a tangily refreshin' discovery for the connesewer ...yew bastard?"

"Jolly good, I'll have a pint of Chardonnay, please."

Rincewind and Bartender, The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

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I tried it, about two years ago. I weeded out a bunch (maybe 40?) and hauled them down to the local used bookstore. About six months ago I went to same said bookstore to use up some store credit. I bought some cookbooks (about 10). After perusing them more closely at home, I remembered why they looked familiar-- they were the cookbooks I had sold the store previously.  :raz:

Only 39 and already exhibiting signs of senility. Having children will do that to you.

I am always amazed when going through my books(all) how many dupes I have. The funniest thing was when moving out of my parents house (they were moving at the same time) my father and I discovered we had 4 copies of "Pencil" by Petroski between us. Now how two people in the same house ended up forgeting we had each bought a copy and then each bought another on of all things the pencil, is a mystery for the ages. :wacko:

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Since this thread came up, I have been thinking about organizing my cookbooks a little better and bringing the catalog of my collection up to date (last done in 1999) as I have acquired quite a few books since then. I did have some new bookshelves built a few months back but they were filled almost as soon as they went up with the books that had been living in stacks around the house.

My housekeeper suggested that I should just buy a bookstore and be done with it. Wholesale instead of retail, so to speak.

Funny thing, that. Years ago I thought that when I "retired" I would like to own a used book store and spend my days dealing with books.

"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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Funny thing, that.  Years ago I thought that when I "retired" I would like to own a used book store and spend my days dealing with books.

A friend of mine did just that. He then realized he was working more than before he retired. He ended up closing up shop and moving to Fiji. When closing his store he offered me my pick of books and what do I find gem of all gems a first edition Julia :wub:

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Recipe books I can give away without a problem -- I'm giving most of mine to my ex this Christmas, now that she's cooking more. With the exception of the baking recipes and other things that depend on specific proportion, I've found that once I make something a few times, I get it well enough -- and if I don't make it a few times, I'm not likely to need the recipe anyway.

But the Steingarten books, on the other hand, are staying. The Larousse Gastronomique isn't going anywhere. The McGee won't budge until I get the second edition. Anything with lengthy or helpful discussions of ingredients or techniques stays.

Now, if I had a decent sized kitchen and/or a convenient place to put these, it might be another matter -- and if you'd asked me ten years ago, I'd have a different answer -- but really, these days I'm much more likely to be spurred to try something new by an eGullet post or blog entry than I am by flipping through cookbooks I've already read half a dozen times.

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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.

What they said. :wink:

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I am always amazed when going through my books(all) how many dupes I have.

That is one odd thing I have noticed about cookbooks and me. I have well over 1000 cookbooks, and for some reason, I know exactly which ones I have. I have never ever bought a duplicate. How I can remember this, is beyond me.

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Early this year I sorted my collection and got rid of a goodly number of cook books. All those micro wave books that accumulate each time a new oven is purchased, some odds and ends of things that I call Happy Homemaker books that tell one how to make 300 Jell-o salads or how to cook Mexican with a can of Toamto soup. They went along with many other books to a friend of a daughter with instruction to do what she would with them.

The one cook book that I regret losing was a small one from the Peoples Republic that disappeared along with a couple of others during a move. I know I didn't give it away but think someone picked it up.

I have become very selective when adding to my collection. I usually wait a couple of weeks before actually buying anything new until I'm sure I actually want. French Laundry will probably be one I will add.

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  • 1 year later...

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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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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