April 5, 2013

The Treasure of Family Cookbooks

Last month, I had a super exciting opportunity to chat in-person via a super cool Google Hang Out with Nigella Lawson, Julia Moskin from the New York Times and a home cook from New York as well as one from Scotland.  It was an amazing experience.  Before the actual "live" video began to roll, the three of us regular-old home cooks chatted it up and laughed about things like photographing everything we eat and cook, how tiny Amanda's kitchen is and what exactly Preston was sipping in his coffee mug.  Julia Moskin asked that we come up with a sort of backup question, in case there was time left after chatting with Nigella about the Italian casserole recipe we all tested out.  The question was, "What is your favorite cookbook of all time?"  Preston was the youngest in the bunch, and although he treasures his Nigella Collection, he mentioned that he had relatively few actual books, and finds most of his recipes and ideas for cooking online.  I imagine this is so with many people these days.  I mean, so many weekdays, right about 5:00, I find I find myself surfing on my work computer to figure out what to make.  I look up recipes on my smart phone and iPad and subscribe to the New York Times Dining and Food articles online.  I follow several food blogs that offer up not only fabulous recipes, but they inspire me with gorgeous photographs and I tend to enjoy the "voice" or tone of the writer, and feel like they are a friend in the kitchen advising me about what to make.  At home, I have a laptop on the kitchen counter that I often look up recipes from Epicurious, Bon Appetite and Food and Wine.  But I'll always have use for my shelf of well loved, actual paper and ink cookbooks.  When Julia asked us to be prepared for which cookbook we would take with us to a dessert island, I had a few ideas.  
But on Tuesday this week, I was given a gift that I will treasure for as long as I cook.

When I stepped through the door of my husbands parents house for dinner, his mother hugged me tightly and quickly ushered me into the dining room.  She reverently pressed into my hands a cookbook that she had owned for years and years, and was now passing on to me:

I was speechless.  I gently opened the book, and saw, there on the first page, Julia and Paul Child's autographs.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I would have been tickled to death to be the second owner of this classic cookbook even without the precious signatures because I'm a HUGE Julia Child fan.  I was given The Art of French Cooking a few years ago, and of course have read just about every book written by and about Julia Child.   But this particular book is going to be cherished more than anyone can know.

As convenient and inspiring as Food Blogs and great Culinary Websites are, I have to admit, the feel of a cookbook, the tiny sploshes of sauce or wine left on the page of a frequently referred to recipe, and the knowledge that someone you love once used it to cook those particular recipes for their family, is such a romantic notion that I will always be a loyal fan of actual books.  So many times, at almost every family gathering, holiday, celebration and meal, there is a dish that is a "family" dish.  A recipe that's been handed down.  My husband remembers his grandmother vividly as he bites into the particular one-sheet lemon cheesecake that his mother makes for him still every year on his birthday.  My grandmother made something called "Volcano Meatloaf" that I remember so clearly from childhood.  My mom used to make it, and imagining a wedge of the stuff on her Blue Danube china makes me smile.  When I am wanting to conjure up memories or comfort myself, I always think about and sometimes cook the things I remember my mother making.  My favorite cookbook from my own mother is a tattered handwritten spiral booklet baptized with chocolate sauce and molasses.  She gave it to me on the day of my wedding to my first husband when I was just 21.  Recipes from my grandmother, great aunts, mother, neighbors and even things I used to cook when I was in high school are listed there.  Just seeing her neat and rounded handwriting is reassuring.

A few months ago, my ex-mother in law, who is very dear to me and who is a woman who can make an excellent soup out of just about anything, gave me the cookbook she used as a young bride, back in the late 1950's: 

Just about every single day, I check up on the online site, The Kitchn.  Recently, there was a great article about the difference between online recipes and good old fashioned cookbooks...

What's your preference?  Do you have a favorite dog-eared, creased and spattered hand-me-down that you treasure?

At first, when the editor of the New York Times Dining and Wine guide asked me to think of my favorite cookbook, I entertained the notion of telling her something trendy or impressive.  When I really thought about it, to be perfectly honest, my favorite books are a hodge-podge of recipes that I've made for family or these books that my mother, my mother in law and my grandmother's have recommended and used. 

I can only hope that one of my kids will grow up to love cooking as much as I do.  Then I can pass my collection on to them.

1 comment:

  1. Wow!!! That's incredible. I cannot believe it. I have to admit that I was glad Preston said the question threw him for a loop. While a good cookbook can never be replaced by the internet, I too do not own a ton anymore...partly for space reasons and partly because the internet is so convenient in a pinch. Enjoy all of your wonderful cookbooks, Heidi!