It was 1985 and my tastes ran to pegged jeans, oversized sweaters and firm-hold hairspray (seriously big í80s hair). I had never owned a cookbook, didnít really see the point. But there it was, wrapped up prettily and presented to me by my motherís business partner: The Silver Palate Cookbook, Sheila Lukins and Julee Rossoís blockbuster, only 3 years old at that point, its chicken Marbella not yet cemented as a dinner-party titan. The country was still hazy on what pancetta was and not quite sure how to pronounce "arugula."
There was an inscription: "Laura, to help you continue in the fine culinary traditions your mom has introduced you to at home!" The Vestals meant it in a nice way, and certainly they were right, my mother was a notable home cook. I schlepped the book to college, not cracking the spine until the first semester of sophomore year when I started to feed myself.
Pasta puttanesca, orange carrot soup ó I worked my way through that book, pages gumming together over time. It was the only one I had. There was no Internet, no Googling "what do I do with leeks?" I had a stack of recipe cards in my motherís careful, round handwriting and the good words of Mses. Lukins and Rosso.
But then I wanted to know about Chinese food. And I started making bread when I should have been writing term papers. And I needed one solid book on just soups. I pored over Morning Food by Margaret Fox, then worked my way through the more obscure Essential Root Vegetable Cookbook by Martin Stone. I read Diana Kennedy and John Ash and Bradley Ogden recipes like they were keys to who these people were, their headnotes yielding little biographical clues.
Start a collection of anything (roosters, Hummel figurines, tea cozies) and your loved ones have an easy out for holidays and birthdays. It can build quickly. Cookbooks beget more cookbooks, meaning every transcontinental move for me came with some tough self-love and a winnowing ó those Junior League cookbooks had to go, and wasnít I about done with Jeff Smithís Frugal Gourmet nonsense?
How and why we collect cookbooks is idiosyncratic and personal. A way to memorialize travels, to capture a particular moment in your life, to provide inspiration when the farmers market overflows. All book collections are reflections of their owners, but a cookbook collection is a window into folksí literary tastes as well as a whole bunch of other tastes. I tracked down Tampa Bay cookbook collectors to talk to them about their beloved books.
63, Tampa chef-caterer
Bailey is the host of "Foodtalk With Kim Bailey" on AM 820 News.
I have been a cookbook reader (some may say fanatic) since I got out of college and started cooking. I actually read them like novels and can probably tell you at least one recipe Iíve cooked out of each book. My love of cookbooks began as a little boy watching my mom make pumpkin pies, cream filling for eclairs and sugar cookies from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which her mom used. Those were the only three recipes she used from that book. I still have the now-tattered book, and use the same three recipes to this day.
On a rainy day Iíll sit in a comfy chair with the window open. I read other things, but cookbooks kind of take over. I have over 2,000 cookbooks under the bed and I just put a couple hundred at our new kitchen and training facility. Ö My favorite cookbooks change from time to time as new ones arrive, but I still love the tried and true ones that Iíve used forever. I have all of Julia Childís books as I do Alice Waters and Thomas Keller. When Jacques Pťpin was on my radio show he was surprised to hear that I had every single one of his 25 or so books. For the past eight years, I have been lucky because public relations people send me cookbooks in advance of guests appearing. Iíve added a couple hundred books to my collection just from the show. I enjoy Paula Deenís folksy approach, and she introduced me to Back in the Day Bakery cookbook, from a bakery in Savannah.
Have you ever had to replace a cookbook? Gourmet Cookbook, Volume 2
Best gift cookbook for a newbie? The New York Times Cookbook is pretty good, but that Gourmet is a classic. And Cookís Illustrated gives you the science behind cooking a recipe.
65, Land OíLakes home cook and winner of dozens of baking and cooking competitions
Her recipes have appeared in numerous national magazines.
I often go the library and find old cookbooks for sale for $2 or $3. What is better than the cookbook itself is that very often the previous owners leave their handwritten recipes between the pages. I have recipes from people written over 50 years ago. And from all over the country.
Amazing these cookbooks wind up in a little out-of-the-way library in Land OíLakes. I wonder what kind of cook they were and if they enjoyed cooking like me. I find this very personal, to be a part of that personís past and my future.
My mother was a Duncan Hines cook, a Campbell soup cook. I got married and moved to Astoria and my husband bought me a $99 set of Farberware pots. I blew through foods ó Italian food, fried chicken. I learned on the fly from PBS and the Food Network. I started writing recipes 15 years ago because there were no good bakeries around. Writing recipes is like doing a thesis: You need to do research.
I entered my lemon amaretto pound cake in a contest in The Flyer in 1991 and I won. I love numbers, and baking is a science. I use the MasterCook program and now my recipes are stored in the cloud. It can print, store, double or triple a recipe and tell you the nutritional count. I use old cookbooks to find out what was in style then and think about what I could do to make it stylish now. I sticky-note things that look interesting.
First favorite cookbook? It was Moosewood Cookbook, but Iíve kind of retired it now.
Favorite cookbook author? Ina Garten. She is awesome and cooks just like I do. Sheís a home cook, makes roast chicken.
Any cookbooks youíve been disappointed by? The latest one I bought is Thomas Kellerís Bouchon Bakery book. Everything is in grams and liters, which is annoying. And the book is so big but the type is so small.
69, Seminole resident who retired two years ago from Merrill Lynch in St. Petersburg
At the behest of the Times photographer, she counted her cookbooks: 346.
For a long time I bought cookbooks on every trip as my souvenir. I really love the Junior League books from all over the country as they have great local recipes. I have three shelves of them. Holiday markets will often have a table of Junior League cookbooks from around the U.S. I read them like regular books for inspirations for future parties. I donít like cookbooks from Europe as they use different measurements and ingredients than one can get here. I am starting to weed out some books that Iíve gotten as gifts because I have so many.
Iím from New Jersey, and Bruce and I married in 1969 when he graduated from Virginia Tech. He was recruited by Florida Power and weíve been in Florida 48 years. My first cookbook was Betty Crockerís Dinner for Two; I bought it for myself. But I also had the Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Cook Book; Iíd bake brownies and send them to Bruce at college. And Iím on my second copy of Joy of Cooking. I originally had the cloth hardcover ó thatís the book where you know how to do something but itís nice to have a reminder.
My mother had six daughters, but it was more trouble to have us in her kitchen than it was worth. I started cooking on my own. I used to cook more elaborately because I thought thatís what youíre supposed to do. Iím not afraid to try something new but I donít use a lot of exotic ingredients.
Any cookbooks you dislike? I donít like diet cookbooks. And Iíve been disappointed by this one, Crescent City Cooking by Susan Spicer in New Orleans. Itís too exotic, but I should probably give it another chance.
Favorite book? Charleston Receipts. I bought it about 26 years ago. Itís got a scalloped pineapple recipe that goes great with ham, and "company carrots" that I still make for holidays.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.