My life with cookbooks

Everyone who loves to cook celebrated what would have been Julia Child‘s 100th birthday last August 15.  Her weekly show, The French Chef  was broadcast on WGBH Boston when I was a kid and it was a weekly viewing event at my house. My whole family would gather around the television to watch Julia create entire meals in one hour.   It was 1967, and it was my introduction to French cooking.

We loved to watch her fearlessly melt butter, add full fat cream to main courses and desserts alike; truss chickens, stuff beef and make things “en croute”.  My whole family was influenced by her show and it wasn’t long before a copy of  The Joy of Cooking showed up at our house so we could learn the basics.

We baked, we sautéed, we braised.  To this day it’s probably the most read book at my parents’. It was the first cookbook I bought when I moved out.  I still have it and as you can see it’s inspired me countless times.

My whole family loves books, especially cookbooks and between all of us we have an extensive assortment from the unusual to the professional. The condition of the books from our collection will tell you how much we’ve enjoyed them.

The Chef Paul Prud’homme book was a gift to my brother on his sixteenth birthday.  He knew he wanted to be a chef from the time he  could speak. It was a first edition that we covered in plastic to protect, but it seems that it was injured in the heat and height of cooking.  The Dirty Rice recipe is a rich meal in itself and the most comprehensive recipe you’ll ever find anywhere.  The recipe has twenty spices and ingredients, and yes, you can buy Chef Paul’s pre-made seasonings now, but it so much more fulfilling mixing the many spices together from scratch.

As you may know Charlie Trotter is closing his famous restaurant in Chicago on August 31.  The ten time winner of the prestigious James Beard award is taking leave to do graduate studies in philosophy and political theory as well as travel with his wife.  Credited with popularizing the tasting menu and inspiring great change to the fine dining experience, he is one the most innovative chefs in the past 25 years.  The book pictured was his first book released in 1994 and one of the books that very much influenced my brother’s cooking style.

The Pastry Chef is one of my brother’s texts from culinary school. Comprehensive as a text-book should be, all the fundamental baking and pastry making  theory you will ever need.  If you aspire to bake the classics like a Gateau St.Honore, charlottes or a baked Alaska this book will give you the education you need.

I bought Sinkin’ Spells, Hot Flashes, Fits and Cravins in 1988 and have cherished it for over twenty years.  The second book to The White Trash Cookbook released in 1986, it has since been repackaged as the White Trash Cookbook II. More than a cookbook it is a cultural document that reflects the traditions, values and economic condition of the people in the book whose stories are told at the beginning of each section of the book.  The recipes are grouped by specific life events that bring together the community for baptisms, funerals and family reunions.  While some of the recipes like, Verna May’s Pigtail Perlow seem provincial, there is a wonderful sense of warmth, honesty and homey-ness to all the dishes.

Cookbooks are so much more than compendiums of themed recipes, technique or style they show the different phases of my life, where I began, where I’ve been and what I have learned and appreciate.  I continue to collect, always looking for the unusual, the interesting and the classics.

What are your favourite cookbooks, which ones do you cherish most?  I’d like to hear from you.


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