Sunday Morning Coffee Musings 2/4/18

To some people, the only thing better than MORE is ALL.

I collect cookbooks. It started simply at first, an innocent wish to have more than a Betty Crocker cookbook and also to stop borrowing cookbooks from the library and paying fines for returning them late.

I don’t remember which one I actually bought first, but it had to be when I was first married, as I don’t remember having much in the way of books to pack. Although looking at my collection, the one that looks the most battered is the Joy of Cooking. I certainly used it often enough when I was first married, although I did have a subscription to Gourmet magazine as well.

Magazines were more my problem at the time. I would buy the two Women’s magazines at the grocery store, especially if there was a picture of a yummy chocolate cake on the cover. I could not bear to bring myself to throw them out, and I did not have the heart to cut them up just for the recipes, so I got a computer to enter the recipes I loved and get rid of the magazines.

Yeah, that didn’t work. The computer (this was 1990) was a small Tandy with a 40 MB (yes, you read that right) hard drive it wasn’t supposed to have. It’s a funny story. The guy at the store sold me the floor model at full price, and when I complained it was the floor model, said, it was sold as is. A few days later he called back, saying they had accidentally left a hard drive on the computer (they didn’t come with them at the time) and they needed me to bring it back. I said, “Gee, my receipt says this item is sold as-is. Since I paid full price for your floor model, I guess that hard drive is mine.” Never heard back from him again.

Anyway, there were very limited options for cookbook programs at the time, and I would spend part of each night diligently typing in recipes and saving them off on floppy disks. Until I got bored with that and just started playing games and reading Usenet posts.

The magazines moved with us twice, but by then I had started amassing a cookbook collection. The little booklets at the counter for the Bake-off winners, things to make with Bisquick, Brand Name recipes, you name it, I bought it. Bread Baking, cookies, and pastries. All of the Frugal Gourmet books. A few vegetarian books.

I think by 1996 I had gotten up to almost 400 cookbooks. Books on canning, brewing beer, baking, appetizers, my cookbook collection reflected my wish to cater endless parties. By 1996 my first marriage had ended, and I started buying things about stretching my food money. I also started buying cookbooks about Kosher cooking, as I was dating a Jewish man and studying to convert.

Kosher cooking led me to a small understanding of the issues with cross contamination. Also how to cook for Passover, and why certain things would be considered not Kosher for Passover (such as things containing Corn Syrup, which is why there exists Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola) I learned to unlock my brain on how to make a cake or a dessert – not everything needs to be made with flour, it can be made with almond meal, or matzo meal. While that relationship did not last, the lessons I learned about Jewish cooking and the process of becoming a Jew have not left me. (Oh, I ultimately did not convert)

When I met my husband Eric, the cookbooks were still contained. Over the course of the first five years, he gently suggested I stop buying every cookbook I saw. I eventually was able to let go of the magazines, and even stopped buying them, or at least started buying magazines that were only about food.

I started looking at WHY I buy the cookbooks I buy. What am I looking for when I buy, say, a book about cookies? (I’m looking for the Orange Cookie recipe, of course!) or the Gourmet collections (I’m looking for that honey baked beans recipe, which I am now convinced I just altered a maple syrup baked beans recipe) and now it’s everything America’s Test Kitchen puts out. Those are really satisfying for me not so much for the recipes, which we have only once had one we didn’t like, but for the explanations that go with the recipes of why it works and what they tried that didn’t work.

The collection evolves. For a while, there was a rule that for everyone 1 cookbook I brought in, I had to get rid of 2. I thought this was cruel. Now I see that if I am unchecked, I will just continue to add, and I will have books that just gather dust, that I don’t even open or read, or use.

With the advent of the digital book, I own more cookbooks that only take up space on my Kindle. Not a lot of them, though, because I don’t like using that when I’m trying to cook something.

No, for cooking, I still prefer the paper page, the cookbook weighted down on one side with a page weight to keep it open.  That is how I prefer them – live, in my hands, the weight and physicality of them a testament to someone else who loved to cook, sitting down and writing about their love, for me to hold in my hands and to love it as well.