How do you choose a cookbook? And how many cookbooks do you really need to own? With so many cookbooks in circulation, it can be hard to choose.
While it may be fun to look through a cookbook with colorful illustrations and exotic recipes, I think what is fundamental when deciding on a cookbook for your collection is the amount of information that it contains – explaining ingredients and cooking techniques, supplying historical and cultural information.
These are the essential cookbooks that I own:
- Betty’s Crocker’s New Cookbook The subtitle says it all: “Everything you need to know to cook.”
- The American Century Cookbook History, trivia, and recipes that have been part of American cooking through the years. This cookbook is both fun and informative.
- Joy of Gardening Cookbook Everything you ever needed to know about just about any vegetable, and hundreds of ways to cook those vegetables.
- Uprisings: The Whole Grain Bakers’ Book Includes recipes for some of the tastiest breads I’ve ever made. It also has a wealth of information about the history and nutrition of grains and breads, explanation of the science and necessary ingredients in bread baking, and tips on how to mix and shape the dough. All of that – and it’s fun to look at, with handwritten instructions and pencil sketches.
- Fleischmann’s Bake-It-Easy Yeast Book This is the first cookbook that I owned, and it certainly shows its many years of use. It contains the most basic information for the beginning bread baker plus recipes for classic fundamental breads.
You may, of course, want to own some of the “fun” cookbooks also. But which ones? How do you choose? Do you want to spend $25 on a cookbook that you might make one or two recipes from? Here are a few suggestions:
Check the cookbook out of the library. In the two or three weeks that you can have it out on loan, you should be able to get a good idea of whether or not you would use it regularly enough to make the investment. Do you like the recipes? Do you like the style of the book? Are the ingredients common enough to be reasonably accessible?
Frequently at bookstores you can find a shelf of cookbooks that are on clearance for only a few dollars. Though the price may be enticing, is the purchase really practical? Look through the list of recipes – how many of them are intriguing to you? Randomly look at three or four recipes – would you cook them? If the cookbook doesn’t capture your attention, it’s probably not worth purchasing, even if it is on clearance.
Look through friends’ cookbooks and ask for their recommendations. If you like their cooking, you would probably like their cookbooks.
Make your own cookbook. There are millions of recipes available online at thousands of websites and blogs. When you find something you think you might try, print it out and place it in a three-ring binder. When you’ve tried a recipe and decided it’s a keeper, move it to a second three-ring binder.
What are your essential cookbooks? What’s your favorite “fun” cookbook?