The Five Cookbook Meme

This is one that I can’t pass up, even though it is apparently so last summer (check out Pumpkin Pie Bungalow for an exhaustive (exhausting! she’s barely posted since) list of everyone who participated.

Total Cookbooks I Own:
There are (gasp!) 115 on my kitchen bookshelf now. A major element in our kitchen renovation was establishing a home for my cookbook collection, but several boxes still wait to be unpacked. Once Eli has outgrown his pulling-books-off-the-shelf-and-eating-them stage, I’ll fill the bottom shelf, too! Now obviously, some of these are more for reading, or even decoration, than for cooking. I have my mom’s Time-Life Foods of the World up there, for instance, because the covers are gorgeous, and they hold a strong nostalgic appeal for me; I’m certain I’ve never cooked from them. I also have my late mother-in-law’s copy of The Brown Derby Cookbook, because she grew up in Hollywood and the cookbook makes me think of her.

Last cookbook I bought:
I bought Nigella Lawson’s Feast to give a friend. This is a great cookbook to give, of course, as it’s an invitation to share a feast, which this friend and I–and our families– have done many times. I haven’t bought myself a cookbook in quite some time, but I did just buy Kathryn Hughes’ The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton: The First Domestic Goddess, which is next in line after Mansfield Park.

The last food book I read:
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Everyone should just read this book. It won’t make you feel guilty about eating meat, it won’t make you throw your hands up in despair, there’s nothing to be done, might as well keep eating those Cheetos. No, but it will make you think about your food choices, and you may well grocery shop a little differently. I learned a lot from this book, but I think the main lesson I took away was that every bite matters. It really does.

Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:
Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow
This was my first cookbook. It lived in my maternal grandparents’ house, and whenever we visited them, I’d page through it and plan elaborate outdoor tea parties where I’d serve Pine Needle Upside Down Cake with Chalk Shakes and Rainspout Tea. It was out of print when Ben was born, but Libby hunted down a copy for me so that his education wouldn’t be neglected. So this is really his, the first of his collection of four cookbooks.

The Peanuts Cookbook, recipes by June Dutton. This is the first cookbook with which I cooked edible food. I made (and spilled a lot of batter on the recipe for) Lucy’s Lemon Squares, Charlie Brown’s Brownies, and Security Cinnamon Toast — 3 solid recipes in a book that only has 40. Plus cartoons!

The Mistress Cook, by Peter Gray. I don’t own this cookbook, and I’ve never made a recipe from it. It was on my mom’s shelf when I was growing up, and I think maybe my sister has it now; I’m not sure either of them has ever cooked from it. But my mom would pull it off the shelf and read from it to me — I remember particularly a recipe that involved a peach and some champagne. This is the first cookbook that made me realize that writing about cooking can be fine writing.

The Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen. I don’t really use this one much anymore, but it was a mainstay in college, when I was figuring out how to be a vegetarian. I can practically smell a pot of chili simmering on the stove when I take my tattered and food-stained copy down off the shelf; it transports me instantly back to those days. I have most of the subsequent Moosewoods, too, and cook from all of them (especially New Recipes from Moosewood, source of several amazing cake recipes), but there’s nothing like the sweet line drawings of the original.

Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. The enduring, endearing classic. I have three editions, and I cook from all of them. I aspire to a complete set. I had an idea once of writing a cultural history of the U.S. based on the revisions of The Joy of Cooking, but other projects have interceded. Maybe someday… In the meantime, I highly recommend Anne Mendelson’s biography of Marion and Irma, Stand Facing the Stove.


  1. Susan says:

    oh oh oh – I LOVE Mud Pies and Other Recipes. In fact, I was obsessed with it when I was little, and renewed it from the town library about 20 times. For years I dreamed about it (ages 8-36), thinking I had perhaps made it up, those pencil shaving pies and other delicacies. The language in that book is SO beautiful. So when I saw it in the Chinaberry catalog when my first daughter was 6, I almost jumped out of my skin. I ordered it, praying it was the same book. It was . Reading it again brought tears to my eyes. That book is such a treasure!

  2. Libby says:

    Yes, Caroline, I do have The Mistress Cook! I think it was Grandma’s, and every now and then Mom will tell me that something I want to make is in there, but I think it never really is.

    (Somehow I missed this post until today…)

  3. Mom says:

    I bought both my copy and the one I gave to my mother (the one Libby has) at a ‘damaged book sale’ at the Oxford University Press – my second employer after college. And I have cooked from it, although it’s not easy. In fact, last Tuesday I made Gooseberry Fool according to Peter Gray’s suggestion. Alright, I never (well, hardly ever!) follow the directions closely. And I’ve done a Christmas pudding, as well as Summer Pudding from it. Try it, you’ll like it!


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  5. christina says:

    Very funny that you have a Peanuts cookbook. So do I. Unfortunately, I think I tried one of the other 40 recipes that didn’t work out. Can’t remember which one it was…but the cartoons sure are funny.