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Thursday, June 9, 2011

How Do You Know Which Cookbooks are Good?

No surprise that I think learning to cook is the key (or at least A key) to frugality. But if you didn't learn in your youth (I did not, but my children did), you need to learn through cookbooks. And the sad thing is that many cookbooks are bad,with untested recipes. Even famous ones. There is nothing more dispiriting than spending time and money on mediocre-or worse-food.

I still remember trying to make macaroni and cheese from the recipe in an older Joy of Cooking. YUK! Nowhere near as good as Stouffers.

I know exactly how I began my cookbook collection. I was reading--purely by happenstance--an article on good cookbooks. It was written by Anne Mendelson, who has written books on food history and lore. Surprisingly, the article was in New York Magazine, which I was reading in the public library in Bloomington, Indiana. (I probably should have been in the big academic library.)

What a thrill the article was. Even though I haven't seen it in more than 30 years, I remember well some of the cookbooks I bought, one by one, based on the recommendatons. In those days, the huge cookbook industry was just gearing up and I had to buy the books at full price. The used bookstores in town had pathetic cookbook sections. And I have to say, Anne Mendelson knew whereof she spoke: these are keepers.

Here are a few I bought and still use. Everything comes out well. You can trust the directions.

The Roden is in a new edition, much altered, but I love my old one and even upgraded to hardcover. The Kuo is heavy on the Cantonese of my childhood and enabled me to evoke the flavors I craved.

And let's put in a plug for Anne Mendelson!

I would love to read that article again.


Duchesse said...

I have the old Ronen and love it still. Reading Mark Bittman's features in the NYT introduced me to him and his style, which has been a joy. I don't know how I found Patricia Wells (probably the Times again) but her French Bistro cookbook is perhaps my most-used.

I find the internet has led me to simply search, so we read less, download more. How about you?

Artful Lawyer said...

I agree - I've donated away my stinkers, or didn't buy them at all when I looked through them and saw nothing that I wanted.

I did donate my Kuo, though. It is a terrific book but I sadly found last year that my tastes had changed, and the Chinese I loved in grad school I didn't enjoy. Oh well, on to something new.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Duchesse--Hmmm. I have a Wells that I never use. Perhaps I need to give it another look.

@Artful--Giving away my Kuo would be traumatic. What have you replaced it/her with?

Duchesse said...

I don't know if it's you, Frugal. I suspect we cook more meatfully than you, though I definitely like the recipes you post. PW has a flourless chocolate cake recipe that people beg us to serve.