I still remember my first, a special-issue centennial Gold Medal Flour cookbook available only by mail-order. This is the book that taught me how to bake bread and includes recipes for all of the great American classic cookies and cakes – essentially anything with flour.
For those too young to remember the days before Amazon Prime 2-day delivery, in the olden days we used to send off an order by mail and then wait 4 – 6 weeks for delivery. My first cookbook arrived in this fashion, delivered to my Mosher-Jordan dormitory mail cubby hole my freshman year at the University of Michigan in December 1979. I remember everything about its arrival, how it had to be rolled into a cylinder to fit into the cubby hole, and so had to be unrolled and held flat to regain its shape, how excited I was, and how I read it cover-to-cover like a novel – the way I still read every cookbook.
But this is not about one cookbook – if all I had was this one book the story would end here. I kept going.
Over the decades I amassed well over 100 cookbooks. During my early years of cooking in Ann Arbor Michigan, my growing cookbook collection was heavy on crunchy, granola-vegetarian books like the Moosewood Cookbook, Vegetarian Epicure, and Tasajara Cooking, reflecting the life of an U-M grad student living in group houses and shopping at Co-ops and the Farmers Market. My collection expanded to include Chinese, Indian, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese and other international cookbooks, and over the years I also received wonderful cookbooks as gifts from friends and family. Eventually I published my own vegetarian cookbook to reflect my family’s overseas experiences: Dining in the Garden of Eden (available for download on a set-your-own-price basis).
My cookbooks accompanied me on all my foreign service assignments – London, Tel Aviv, Manila and back again. I love my cookbooks and have an awe and respect for the authors of these amazing creations. Cookbooks can be aspirational as well as inspiration for creation of nourishing, delicious food. They shed light on foreign cultures and traditions. The best cookbooks also tell the story of the author, and I have a number of books from the same author, reflecting different perspectives at various stages of life. Over time my collection outgrew the kitchen and had to be relocated to a vintage wrought iron bakers rack, where they remain to date.
Moving overseas in October 2018 – selling our house and most of its contents – led me to reevaluate my collection. Cookbooks, like anything else, reflect fashions and fads. Like designer kitchens that appear untouched by human hands, I had cookbooks that I really wanted at the time but rarely opened. And the way that I cook now is so different than in those days – chalk that up to the requirements of Second Middle Age and the Microbiome Diet.
At the same time we now have the convenience of online cooking blogs and recipes, an amazing asset for any cook. Although I have an excellent memory for what recipe is in which book, for random queries it is so often easier to just look online. I have started to upload my own favorite recipes to this blog for that reason, and also am working to expand and update my own Microbiome Diet recipes.
So now that we have moved to our 5th (!) apartment in the last 2.5 years – having moved my cookbook collection from DC to Jerusalem and now carried it again to Zichron Yaakov – I am appreciating all of my cookbooks, reflecting on which ones are still important to me today, and parting with those I don’t need. I treasure my remaining collection and still like nothing more than to sit with a cup of coffee or tea and a cookbook for company.
In case anyone wants them, I have a few soft-cover classic vegetarian cookbooks that are not in quite good enough condition to donate. Any takers?