I am powerless over cookbooks.
When, in 2013, Simon and I faced the challenge of reducing all our worldly goods to a volume that would fit in a 20-foot shipping container, the hardest chore for me was triaging my massive cookbook collection. The kitchen gadgets were easy: anything with a plug wouldn’t work in New Zealand. So, out went the waffle iron I never used (meh), the raclette grill (fun, but not essential), the Cuisinart (sniff), and the Kitchen Aide Mixer (gasp).
The cookbooks were hard. Which of my children would I re-home? Which would make the long journey to the Southern Hemisphere? Could I part with my copies of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volumes One and Two even though they are decidedly not vegetarian friendly? (No) Could I leave behind my complete set of Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipes series? (yes) How could I cull the flock without leaving something essential behind? (I couldn’t) My amazing cousin, Barb, who had come to Virginia with her equally amazing sister, Linda, to flog me out of moving-denial, made the job much easier. She took most of the cast-offs to sell in her antique shop, which specialises in kitchen things and cookbooks (even though she doesn’t cook; all the better to avoid attachments). At least I knew the orphans would find loving homes.
I passed some of the favourites to friends. Susan got most of the non-vegetarian and entertaining books, including my copy of Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook. Anita, our loyal dog auntie, took a few. In the end, I probably left for New Zealand with 10% of my original cookbook library.
Regrets? I have a few. Somehow, my beaten-up old copy of the original The Joy of Cooking was left behind in favour of my copy of the vastly inferior The All New Joy of Cooking. Because I culled my copy of The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, I’ve lost her astonishingly delicious, best cookie ever recipe for pine nut shortbread. I meant to bring the ancient copies of The Betty Crocker Cookbook and The Good Housekeeping Cookbook that I inherited from my mother. I never cooked from them, but they were precious mementos. I’m still hoping I’ll dig to the bottom of one of the few unpacked boxes that remain, and find that they wandered in amongst the CDs and DVDs. I was also sad to lose the copy of Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook that Shakespeare (my dog, not the Bard) chewed the cover off when he was a wee puppy (which almost found him being re-homed). I suspect someone decided it was trash. It was pretty sad looking.
For the most part, however, I started my culinary life in New Zealand with a lean and mean set of vegetarian cooking essentials. I have also learned the beauty of downloadable cookbooks which, while they lack the tactile magic of actual printed books, enable me to continue my cookbook addiction without having to purchase numerous additional book cases.
Over the course of my vegetarian life, various people have asked me to recommend the best vegetarian cookbooks. So, seeing as Christmas is coming, it seems like an ideal time to present my list of the twelve most essential cookbooks for vegetarians. If you, or someone you love, is launching off on the vegetarian path, perhaps you will find an appropriate gift idea here. If you are building your own cookbook library, maybe you’ll find a gift for yourself. You can do that, you know!
We are two weeks away from Christmas. Twelve cookbooks. Fourteen days. Here goes. . . . !