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Are Your Cookbooks Dirty or Clean?

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Cracked open one of my new cookbooks this week, James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor, and before the evening was up I had a stain on his great Javanese fried rice recipe. Virtually every book in my library has grease spatter on one page or dough between two others.

When a guest was over a few days ago, she spied my utterly destroyed, held together with tape copy of Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook and expressed shock that I could take such poor care of my books. Honestly, I find the schmutz a tribute to their success.

What about you? Do you keep your cookbooks neat and clean? Or like me do you paint 'em with whatever's for dinner?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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My cookbooks tend to be a tribute to whatever I've been cooking. I used to go to all sorts of lengths to keep them pristine, but I've actually come to like the way an oft-used recipe looks in a well-loved and well used book.

I also make notes in the margins, at the foot of the pages, wherever necessary; those remain valuable and useful memory aids.

I try to be reasonably careful not to damage my books, but they're part of the cooking experience, too. I should add that I tend to look a little less than pristine myself while cooking. I often have more than one book open on the counter at the same time and flipping pages back and forth means fingerprints and foodstains.

My copy of Patricia Wells At Home in Provence has pages falling out and is held together with a large elastic band. My best used books fall open at my favourite recipes, filled with notations and "paint".

I can tell at a glance which books don't get used very often. They're very neat and clean.

I think I'll just go and wash my hands....


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My cookbooks are mostly pristine. I almost never even bring them into the kitchen.

I rarely cook from recipes -- I use cookbooks more for ideas than for exact recipes. When I do cook from recipes, I most often work from modified versions of recipes, so I type them with the modifications and work from a sheet of paper that I can reprint anytime. For the few recipes I use verbatim (almost all of which are baking recipes, e.g., cornbread from the New Professional Chef), I just photocopy them -- I have one of those printer/copier/scanner multifunction machines so it's a simple matter to do this. I have too many cookbooks to go looking for a specific recipe when I need it -- the frequently used recipes are all in one place this way.

None of that is to take away anything from people whose cookbooks are a mess. I respect that lifestyle very much. It's just not how I cook or use cookbooks.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have a couple that are filthy, that I've used as recipe books in the kitchen when I'm lazy.

But most are clean, not counting my notes and post-its. I use them for reference.

Usually if i need help I consult a lot of sources (including books, and the fine people here) and develop my own recipe which I keep as a text file on the computer. This lets me take a printout into the kitchen, which I'll scribble all over with notes, then updated the file on the computer, and sometimes work through many revisions until I get it right.

This works great because I end up with a library of my own recipes on the computer, which can easily be printed or emailed to someone else, and are a snap to revise or convert to different quantities, etc.

Notes from the underbelly

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The ones I don't use are clean. :smile: The others are mostly in good shape, except for The Joy of Cooking, which has partly destroyed it's binding by falling on the floor a few too many times.

Lately, I've been using printouts a lot when I need a roadmap when cooking - either a page off the web, or a scanned and printed page from a book - I have way too many of these printouts folded or otherwise placed inside the regular cookbooks.

Unfortunately, I'm really bad at making annotations ('more of this,' less of that') so many times when I go back to something unfamiliar, it's a new adventure again. :smile:

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Like several other posters, I mainly use my cookbooks for reference or ideas. Most of my cookbooks are in great condition.

The exceptions: any cookbook my mother owned previously (and I love every stain)

and any cookbook with a cookie, cake or pie recipe I have used. I am not much of a baker and try to follow those recipes exactly. So, they tend to get a little butter and flour on them. I don't mind. Stains=memories.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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I love that certain pages of certain cookbooks just fall open to particular recipes because of the splatters and stains. When I'm long gone, my kids and their kids will have no trouble finding what were their favorites when they were kids...we call them badges of honor.

I use recipes far less now than I did back when I was a new cook, but there is something comforting about pulling out an old book, opening it up, even if I don't need to look at it!

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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My oldest cookbooks, pre-1960 versions of Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens, are held together with duct tape. Joy of Cooking has lost half its index pages.

My cookbooks prior to 1985 have a lot more spatters and handwriting in them, simply because those years were the ones in which I did a lot more cooking. I was teaching myself to cook, having lots of company and being involved with restaurants and catering.

Now, I mostly jot down notes and bring them to the kitchen, where there's hardly room to cook, let alone find a place to set down a book. After I've made something new and it makes the cut, I enter it in my computer and from there on out, make a print out each time I make it. These I can tape to the wall or cabinet door for easy referral.

I don't really like to mess up books, but how else would I recognize a forgotten favorite if the book was pristine?

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

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

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I almost always use a cookbook stand so that my books stay clean, otherwise, pages are liable to get sealed together because I'd close them before the spatters dried.



Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Most of my cookbooks I read for pleasure, or ideas, or reference -- I don't follow directions well. But a few of them have pages gritty with flour or sugar, and my Mom's hand-me-down copy of the Betty Crocker Cooky Book has molasses and chocolate smudges on some our favorite recipes when we were kids.

I ordered a copy of the 1961 Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook from eBay for my daughters, and was glad to see that although the cover was clean and the binding was still tight, there were little smudges on some of the pages to give it that "lived-in" look.


“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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Mine are clean from spatters, etc; but I do write notes in the margins and tips for the next time I make it. Recipes from childhood are copied from my mother's onto index cards and are in a steno book. I've had to tape the index cards down a few times because of aging....

My recipe book at work has each recipe typed (some have notes handwritten in) and each one is in a plastic sleeve kept in a binder. If there's ever an emergency, first grab The Book, then exit quickly :biggrin: I do have a second Book at home, but sometimes I have been teased about keeping a third one in a safety deposit box in a bank!

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Both my volumes of the Doubleday Encyclopedia of Cookery are getting kind of fragile, full of hand written recipes as page markers for other recipes, and generally a mess.

My others, less so. My coffee table type cookbooks are pristine, as I don't care to lug them around.

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I feel so validated here :) and am so glad I found this board!!!

seriously I have friends with pristine cookbooks and wonder how they do it!!!...when they come over and I am cooking their eyes roll...pages are stuck (I think making it easier to find my favorites mind you!) they just look at me in disgust sometimes ..or tease me relentlessly ..In my "curry drawer" (I have one huge drawer of curry spices and blends) ... I have a curry cookbook I love and a folder of pages of recipes I have gathered from interpreters at my work covered with" history" ...in my "baking cabinet".... I do the same thing keep pages of recipes and my favorite reference book ...I keep my recipes and books handy with the spices and stuff I use for making my favorite dishes...of course I have shelves of books in the hallway where I took over a closet to keep my books handy (and so I would not drag my mess all the way to another room looking for a recipe) ...I wash my hands constantly but during the use of my books food gets all over them ...my kids laugh and say when they inherit my cookbooks they will have the food right there to make sure they are doing the recipes correctly ..

so to answer your question ...my favorite books are trashed!!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?


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Mine used to be pristine and most of them still are but lately I've had the attitude they should show their use. Do I buy them to look pretty on the shelf? NO! I love old cookbooks from yard sales that have somebody's gramdma's notes penciled in and old clippings in them. I have a couple that I've started journaling in, leaving notes of what changes I've made and what occasion I made them for and how the evening went. I figure it might be interesting reading to someone someday after I'm gone. The beef bourguignon in my Les Halles cookbook, I find the page my flipping through and finding the stains. The one that's taken on the most color lately has been Making Artisan Chocolates by Andrew Shotts. Books look good and smell better in chocolate. :wink:

Edited by duckduck (log)

Pamela Wilkinson


Life is a rush into the unknown. You can duck down and hope nothing hits you, or you can stand tall, show it your teeth and say "Dish it up, Baby, and don't skimp on the jalapeños."

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I could probably boil most of my favorite cookbooks and make some pretty decent stock.

"Tonight's special will be veal shanks with a Joy of Cooking reduction glase."

I'm more of a copy/print kind of guy, but I do have a couple fhat might make a decent fond.

I have a lot of respect for books as books; I would almost rather see a church bombed than a book underlined. However comma space, my favorite poetry and essay collections are heavily annotated by me (I drink) and so are my favorite recipes.

This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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I feel so validated here :) and am so glad I found this board!!!

Incredible! Only last night was I scolded for tarnishing my cookbooks by my boyfriend, and asked why I didn't take better care of them. My favourite cookbooks are like my favourite jeans - sure they're a little worn, maybe they're a little stained, but each spot, and every tear means something to me!

Or maybe I'm just a bit messy....Great thread!

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I have messy cookbooks but it has taken me years to get here. When I finally realized that the nuns would not chop the back of my hands with a ruler for sucha sin, ETalanian will know exactly what I'm talking about, I started making my notes and comments in the margins. Multiplications for larger/smaller quantities.

Plus I now add a little piece of folded scotch tape hanging off the favorite pages to mark the spot. Not that I couldn't follow the path of bread crumbs I left behind...

For the record, they never got me with the ruler thing but I had an older brother that rued the day when the ruler people started putting that metal edge on the wooden rulers!! Made a believer out of me!


As well as recording favorite other recipes on the blank pages. Geez they'd probably use a compass on me for all that.

I could probably boil most of my favorite cookbooks and make some pretty decent stock.

:laugh: Good one!

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Dirty. Verrrrry dirty.

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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Try as I might, I get them dirty even though I put them in a cookbook holder. Once, at a flea market, I saw a cookbook holder that fitted over the top of a cabinet door with a plastic cover just like the ones that you use on the countertop. I've never seen it since but I think it was a great concept. Should've jumped on it.

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The condition of my cookbooks is directly connected to how often I've used them, and for what. The two volumes of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," bought when I was a newlywed, likewise Hazan's first book, are missing their covers. Sure, I could replace them, but these books, and "Joy" (replaced once) taught me how to cook. They are diaries as important as those I kept while I was using them, and trust me, much more interesting!

I do a little better now -- and I try to remember to slap the book on the printer -- but you can still judge my cookbooks by their covers. I find that baking books suffer worst: all that splattering batter is better than bookbinder's paste. Cookbook holders are all very well, but if I have to turn a page, and I'm cookin' , the corners are besmirched and besmattered. Brooks could make stock boiling a few of his books; I could whip up a mess of pancake batter.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel


A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites


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