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Are Your Cookbooks Dirty or Clean?

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

Out of curiosity I checked some of my oldest cookbooks. Dianne Kennedy and Rick Bayless sport faded yet festive stains from the chile spectrum. Julie Sahni proudly wears splotches of turmeric yellow. Most of the cookbooks fall open to favorite recipes, and all have been smudged and madly annotated. The paperback Joy of Cooking is the only one that has completely fallen apart, probably from poor binding rather than overuse.

Boiling my cookbooks would yield a meager yet spicy stock.

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I have the cookbook holder that doesn't get used enough for lack of counterspace. So my cookbooks look well-loved. I treasure the spots, stains and creased pages with my own notes and adjustments to recipes. I hope to pass them on to my kids one day. However, now with a computer in my kitchen I do more cooking off of recipes on it. Guess I'll have to pass on my hard drive to my kids one day!

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I'm neurotic enough that I like mine clean. Any recipe I really like, I put into my computer and just print off a copy when I use it (and then I don't care what happens to those printed copies).

Also, having them online makes them easy to share and to search to find something you're looking for.



"If you don't want to use butter, add cream."

Julia Child

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Most of my cookbooks have some type of stain on them. One thing that happens quite often is when I'm bored I'll take a book off my shelf, and if it happens to be a baking or pastry book, flour will sort of dust my clothes LOL. I also have a spiralpbound notebook where I keep ideas and original recipes, that has to be my messiest book.

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  • 7 months later...
I'm neurotic enough that I like mine clean.  Any recipe I really like, I put into my computer and just print off a copy when I use it (and then I don't care what happens to those printed copies).

Also, having them online makes them easy to share and to search to find something you're looking for.



I'm totally with you. I always type up my recipes as my method of going over them before I start. It keeps me focused so I don't miss a step or ingredient, which can happen when I just read it.

Additionally, it gives me a place to keep records of my experiences so I can learn from my mistakes. The next time I come back to prepare the dish, it helps to go over previous results so that the next iteration will be better.

"In a perfect world, cooks who abuse fine cutlery would be locked in a pillory and pelted with McNuggets."

- Anthony Bourdain

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Those cookbooks that I use.... I use the copier and bring copies into the kitchen. Those I use often, I convert into my home page format... and keep on the computer along with my notes and comments. Those that I read for fun... have an occasional spot from salsa or wine or bourbon or similar snacking schmutz. The kitchen is for cooking... and recipes live under magnets on anything I can hook 'em on. Besides... when you hit a point in life where CRS kicks in... it helps to be able to check off what ingredients and steps you're already done. (WHAT? Cream the butter? What butter?)

hvr :rolleyes:

"Cogito Ergo Dim Sum; Therefore I think these are Pork Buns"


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I'm in the clean-cookbook camp. If I open a cookbook for use, I place it on the dining-room table just outside the kitchen doorway, away from splatters. I walk back and forth between kitchen and dining room. Do I ever touch a cookbook without wiping my hands utterly dry first? No. Neurotic? Yes.

Sometimes, I'll copy the basic list of ingredients and amounts and take that into the kitchen with me.

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My thinking on this has evolved over the years. When I was raising my kids and cooked a lot, all of the cookbooks were messy. I wasn't the only one cooking, though. I remember getting a new copy of a bread book, and my daughter using it to make challah, and getting a huge stain on that page, after I'd tried so hard to keep it clean. She just graduated from culinary school, so I guess the dirty cookbooks and broken bowls were just part of her education.

Now that I'm collecting and selling cookbooks, I tend to look at them more as actual books, and take care to keep them in good condition. Of course, I'm doing more reading than baking these days.

Our family cookbook is in a binder with clear plastic sheets over the pages--a very practical method. I can still find the best brownie recipe by the cocoa powder on the pages, but I really could wipe it off if I ever felt a need.

Edited to mention that when I buy cookbooks, I like to find pristine ones to sell, but I also appreciate the old cookbooks that were obviously loved by a few generations.

Edited by Terrasanct (log)
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I'm pretty meticulous about regular books, but the idea of trying to keep cookbooks clean has honestly never occurred to me. I'm sure I must have had clean-cookbook people in my kitchen at some point but I guess none of them has ever had the nerve to comment on my spattered cookbooks. So this thread has been an education for me!

I like the idea of photocopying recipes, though--not for the sake of cleanliness (I'm too far gone for that) but because it would be so much more convenient than finding a place for the cookbook on a crowded counter. But then my cookbooks would stay clean and that might make me sad!

Also, the pages are falling out of many of my paperback cookbooks and some of the hardcovers, too. I blame the crappy quality of books today. It's the exception when the color plates don't fall out within the first year. And I don't think I'm hard on books, other than smudges and spatters.

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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.

It's funny that this thread started. I just spent an entire day last week cutting some of my cookbooks from the herd. I have over 200 and I need to stop the madness! My most stained cook books are from when I was much younger - in my early 20's. Even though I have been cooking since I was a little kid, I never bought my own cookbooks till I left home. I never really was an 'exact measuer" even then, but they must have provided some comfort. My Joy of Cooking circa 1975 should be condemed by the health dept. My second copy of Better Homes and Gardens paperback cookbook would probably suffer the same fate. Less messy is Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

I seldom use cookbooks as anything other than a reference, except when baking. I still tweak those too, but leave the obvoius yeast/butter/milk etc. amounts the same.

The recipes in cookbooks inspire ideas for creating great things in the kitchen, but it is rare that I bring one with me and spatter ingredients all over it.

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Many of mine are dog eared and stained with chocolate. Not because I bring them in the kitchen, it's because I bring them into bed with me for good reading. Like many here, I don't actually cook from them, I just read them to get good ideas. And then I get hungry, very hungry and the chocolate comes out. So that's how I mess up my cookbooks. If anyone ever gets one from me that is actually clean, well, it's a good indication that I didn't like it enough to waste my nighttime chocolate.


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  • 3 weeks later...

Some of mine are pristine but other books have a bit of the dishes I've made out of them, Some have signs of use from my mama, and my grandmothers. Transparent pages with oil spatters. Chocolate swipes on that wonderful often used cake recipe. A dried tomato seed in the corner of an Italian bread salad recipe. A flour dusted page in my favorite bread baking book.

Some cookbooks I've written in. Changes I've made to the recipe. Problems and successes I had. My version of a particular recipe. What goes well with that dish. Ratings "This is really Good!", "YUCK!"

Pssst.... When I'm at a used book store, finding those spattered cookbooks is sometimes a good way of telling which ones might be a treasure.

Edited by Susie Q (log)
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I'm kind of a book freak.

If I know I am cooking a recipe I'll merely photocopy it and only take the copies to the kitchen. When I cook from the book, it stays in the dining room covered with a layer of Saran.

I would never write in a book under any circumstances although I do have post it notes in some books. My cookbook collection is here:



Edited by Terila (log)
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My personal opinion is that if the cookbook looks used, I have really made it a worthwhile cookbook. While most of my books are pristine, some are as Mayhew says "worthy of making a really nice stock".

It was funny a few years ago, my friend gave me the paperback version of Joy of Cooking, which does not have all the recipes that the older version has. Specifically, the potato dauphanois recipe. She makes this all time, and I had to house sit for her one time. Well, I wanted to make it and went and found her J of C and was able to find the recipe quickly because of the crease/grease in the book. To me, that is a cookbook of love. I think that its like someone else says, a history of what you've done in your life.

I wonder what Julie Powell's Mastering the Art of French cooking looks like after her mother had for for years and after her cooking project.

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I used to be like Terila in that I never wrote in a book, never bent the pages, never highlighted my textbooks, etc. But now I've changed that outlook when it comes to cookbooks. I like to write the month/year I tried a recipe & how it came out & what I'd do differently. Sometimes I write the occasion - Super Bowl, New AllClad Pan, First Dinner in Apt, Sopranos finale. Sometimes it's a rating like Susie Qs - Yum!, or not worth the work, or needs more spices. It's a neat little record of what I tried, and what I liked. It also motivates me to try more recipes & add more notations, and I enjoy seeing the notes when I'm flipping through my books for inspiration.

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It's a neat little record of what I tried, and what I liked.  It also motivates me to try more recipes & add more notations, and I enjoy seeing the notes when I'm flipping through my books for inspiration.

Aye-aye. I have a very dog-eared, stained version of the New York Times Heritage Cookbook that was a gift from my mother when I was in my teens. I get great pleasure when I run across the page containing a recipe for oatmeal bread. Amongst the numerous stains and splatters are the comments that I wrote some decades ago, stating, "Very easy and delicious!" :laugh:

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I am a bit obsessive-compulsive when it comes to my cookbook collection. Like Steve, I rarely cook directly from the books-maybe just a framework for ideas, a list of ingredients to be varied, etc. I often don't even bring the cookbook into the kitchen-I often leave it on a table outside the kitchen, in a clear, acrylic bookstand to protect it. I'm fortunate to have a large number of signed-by-the-author books-shlepped to restaurants, cooking classes, demos, etc. and I'd like to keep them as pristine as possible. I know some friends would like to have their stained, battle-worn cookbooks as a sign of usage and remembrance of wonderful meals, but I treat cookbooks like any book-almost an object of reverance.

Mark A. Bauman

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  • 2 years later...

The only reason to own books, in my opinion, rather than borrowing them from the library is to write in them, so I usually have notes in my cookbooks, and I don't worry too much about the occasional splash. I try to avoid getting them dirty of course, but I'm not wrapping them in plastic or anything like that.

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You can tell which cookbooks I actually use by how spattered they are. My copy of Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours has several pages stuck together, and if I'm not careful when picking it up and opening it? Flour everywhere. The only cookbooks I have that are pristine have never actually been used (and I do have several that I've bought just because they're so pretty – Donna Hay, I'm looking at you).

I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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funny thread. Mine are all like new, the only one with a stain is my charcuterie book and the fact that I know that stain tells you enough about me I guess :laugh:

Yes, I even have some of the more expensive ones wrapped with those clear plastic protective things. Cookbooks are expensive and I treat them as I treat my knives, with care. If they come into the kitchen at all they stay far from the cooking area, otherwise they'd be a complete mess after one time cooking.

I never write in them, don't see a reason to. I hardly ever cook the same thing twice from any book, there are too many other recipes to try out first! If I do want to make notes I put them on post its and stick them in there.

Totally different with text books mind you, they are for study and I used to not only highlight them, I had a system to highlight them in different colors from somewhat important to very important to particular words that had enough meaning when I scanned the page to bring things back into memory. And once done with the test I threw them out. Of course, they don't cost a fraction of what they cost in the US in Germany.

I don't see my text books as kitchen tools, which I guess is the difference between many of us. I see them as inspiration mostly, just like my art and music books, all of which are just as pristine. I'd never dream of putting a little sketch or painting in one of those and if I have one open in my studio I make sure it's protected from the flying acrylic paints or what have you.

Had I ever used a cook book to learn from - like many used Joy of Cooking here I guess - it would most likely look like my text books used to look and I'd probably have thrown out quite some editions along the way because of destruction.

I'm a book worm, it depends a bit on the kind of book how I treat it though. Expensive artful books are treated with care, a novel in paperback is a throw away item to me.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I try to keep my cookbooks clean, but something usually gets splattered in there. I don't mind when it happens, and like others, when I've been away from one of those books for a while it reminds me of what I liked in it. I have hundreds of cookbooks and these days I rarely use one except, as others have said, for inspiration. When I do use a cookbook I tend to make notes since I almost never follow a recipe verbatim - so I make a note of what I did so that the next time, I can do something else different.

When I was learning to cook I used cookbooks all the time and made notes -- asterisks for the good stuff, crossing out the bad stuff. Some of my cookbooks I have never, ever used. I sometimes like to go back to the old ones and happen upon my notes from the early days. I find that the notes in the books are the things that help make the books really useful.

Other books I keep pristine, and I do have a few cookbooks that aren't really for cooking but for kitsch value, but treating a cookbook as a museum object just doesn't work for me.

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