MY FAVORITE TOP TEN COOKBOOKS

Some years ago, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times called me on the telephone and asked what my favorite cookbook was. I was totally nonplussed. How do you choose just one? I wondered. I don’t think I gave her a very suitable response and to this day still ask myself how she ever came up with my name and phone number. The ARTICLE she was writing was actually about a vintage cookbook store in Burbank that has since relocated to Pasadena.

Even so, the idea of “a favorite cookbook” has lingered on all these years later. I might have said that Ida Bailey Allen’s Service cookbook was my favorite – it was the cookbook from which I learned how to cook and bake even though, at the age of ten, my recipes were limited to cookies and brownies and muffins. Quite possibly I might have rattled out the names of some of the cookbooks I was reading AT THAT TIME. Like so many of us with favorite novelists – our favorite is the one we are reading RIGHT NOW.

Now, granted – my favorite ten wouldn’t necessarily be YOUR favorite ten. For one thing, my #1 and #2 favorites are “Grandma’s Favorite” which is a collection of Schmidt family favorite recipes, collected over a period of twenty years, and #2 is The Office Cookbook, compiled and published by my employer of twenty seven years. I was greatly involved in the compiling and publishing of both these cookbooks—so I know for a fact that a lot of my favorite recipes are in them. So, that leaves eight more and I will name the cookbook and try to give you a brief explanation why this book is in my top ten.

#3 is “500 TREASURED COUNTRY RECIPES” from Martha Storey and Friends –from Storey Books in Vermont. Why do I like it so much? Whenever I am searching for a recipe (and it’s not in Grandma’s Favorite or The Office cookbook) – “500 Treasure Country Recipes” is probably the next book I will pluck off my shelves. Occasionally, I’ll be searching for something to include in an article on my blog – or I might be searching for something unusual, like Vinegar Candy – because someone wrote and asked me about it. I love the format of “500 Treasured Country Recipes” and I like that it includes many preserving recipes, whether it’s a canning recipe or drying or freezing the harvest. Published in 2000, it’s still very up-to-date eleven years later. It really is a TREASURE.

#4 THE CAKE DOCTOR, by Anne Byrn, published in 1999, was the first (correct me if I’m mistake) of a series; Ms. Byrn recognized a good thing when she found it. Possibly, this is also one of the first of a genre of “doctored cake mixes” and didn’t we all flock to our bookstores to buy a copy?

#5, then, IS THE DINNER DOCTOR also by Anne Byrn, in which she doctors canned, frozen, boxed, bagged and ready-made deli food to make over 230 fast fresh-tasting dishes. Published in 2003 by Workman Publishing Company, this companion cookbook has the same easy-to-read, well formatted style. (*”Chocolate from The Cake Doctor” was published by Workman in 2001 and “Cupcakes from The Cake Doctor” in 2005. It’s not that all four aren’t favorites – but I selected two of the MOST favorites. (Anne Byrn is also the author of “What can I bring Cookbook” published in 2007).

#6 needs to be “ELENA’S FAMOUS MEXICAN AND SPANISH RECIPES” along with “ELENA’S FAVORITE FOODS CALIFORNIA STYLE”. “ELENA’S FAMOUS MEXICAN AND SPANISH RECIPES” was first published in 1944. Written by Elena Zelayeta and edited by a group of San Francisco Home Economists, this is one of those little books—first selling for $1.50—that has remained popular decades later. As a transplanted Californian (from Ohio) I didn’t even know what a taco or an avocado – much less enchiladas or tortillas – were when we arrived in California in 1961. (and NO, there were NO taco bells in Ohio in 1961). Actually, when I first tasted a ripe avocado, I thought it rather bland and tasteless. Then it wasn’t enough to be able to order some of these dishes in a Mexican restaurant, I wanted to know how to make them too.

#7, then is “CINCINNATI RECIPE TREASURY” by Mary Anna Du Sablon. All of my favorite hometown recipes (and more) are in Cincinnati Recipe Treasury. I happened to find this cookbook at a bookstore in Oakland, California, while traveling with my brother Jim one year. He read it from cover to cover during our trip. I then bought half a dozen copies to give to family members for Christmas that year. Cincinnati Recipe Treasury was published In 1984 by Ohio University Press – and is still an all-time favorite to this day. I can sit down and read it (yes, like other people read novels) just to bring back favorite memories of favorite Ohio dishes.

#8 is one of numerous California cookbooks in my collection. I’ve selected two all time favorites and “FARMERS MARKET COOKBOOK” by Neill and Fred Beck, published in 1951 by Henry Holt and Company is, then, my choice for #8. Farmers’ market cookbooks began to enjoy enormous popularity in the past twenty years or so, but the Beck’s Farmer’s Market cookbook is all about the famous farmer’s market in Hollywood, still in operation today. This is what I really consider to be a “regional” cookbook.

#9 is kind of a companion volume, “THE BROWN DERBY COOKBOOK” published in 1949 – with a foreword by Robert Cobb, then president of the Brown Derby Corporation (you may know him better as the creator of the Cobb salad). Included in the cookbook are many of the recipes that made The Brown Derby so famous. It was also “the” place to dine and regular customers were often famous movie stars. I visited the Brown Derby in Los Angeles around 1962 when my mother in law was visiting; she and a girlfriend of mine named Peggy, and I went to the Brown Derby for lunch. We also visited the entrance to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre to take a look at all the hand and foot prints immortalized in cement.Someone once said going to Hollywood and not going to see Grauman’s theatre would be like going to China and not seeing the Great Wall. (We didn’t see anybody famous at either place).

Choosing #10 was a tough call but I finally chose “AMERICA COOKS” by the Browns, – Cora, Rose and Bob Brown. Published in 1940 by Halcyon House, “America Cooks” presents favorite recipes from 48 states (Hawaii and Alaska were not yet states in 1940). I’ve read “America Cooks” many times—and it was “the” book that led to my quest to find other cookbooks like it; cookbooks with America in the title, regional cookbooks that were still regional before the USA became so homogenized. Now I have an entire bookcase with cookbooks bearing the name “America” in their titles but I still love “America Cooks” the best. Thanks to my penpal Betsy, who introduced me to The Browns’ cookbooks, I began collecting all of their titles. All of their books are truly the kind of cookbook you can sit down and … read like a novel.

So, what are YOUR favorite cookbooks? And why?
I’d love to hear about them. And be glad I only selected ten, not a hundred, of my favorites. (Actually…the more I browse through my cookbook shelves, the more I find ‘favorite’ cookbooks).

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!

–Sandra Lee Smith

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12 responses to “MY FAVORITE TOP TEN COOKBOOKS

  1. Pingback: Is gazpacho good and would you consider it a healthy lunch option? | Cool Cooking Recipes

  2. And I’m limited to ONE? Sniff. If that is the case, it would be Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook (first ed, not the revised ed., which I personally have no experience with). This book opened the door to so many cuisines that were, at the time the book came out, virtually unknown in the United States. Even though I now have an enormous collection of Asian cookbooks, this is the one I’d most likely turn to first–and the only one that I’d willingly be limited to. In my opinion, the recipes have withstood the test of time (and the additional knowledge that time has brought).

    • Had to laugh, Jean – feel free to share 9 more of your favorites. BTW, I googled ten favorite cookbooks and found all sorts of things that various magazines wrote about, listing their favorites for 2010.

      • I have decided the correct number is the number you don’t have to “stretch” for–those that come readily to mind. I started a list and was going to try to think of more, but it shouldn’t be that way. Here is how it stands. Note that after nos. 1 and 2, I haven’t given a lot of thought to the order.

        1. Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Asian Cookbook (1st ed). This was my gateway to many Asian cuisines way before there were other books on the subject—or even restaurants, for that matter. It’s true that Rosemary Brissenden’s Joys and Subtleties came out before this book, and I cherished that book, but it is more limited and offers far fewer recipes than Solomon’s tome.

        2. James Beard’s American Cookery. This is my go-to book when it comes to US cookery and has been since it came out.

        3. The Silver Palate Cookbook; and

        4. The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, both by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. These books are an anomaly. They do not reflect the way I usually cook, but the recipes I have tried from these books have been spectacularly successful.

        5. The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. What can I say? I love tofu.

        6. The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson. Her recipes are the basis for many of my own.

        7. The Fannie Farmer Baking Book by Marian Cunningham. Many interesting recipes.

        I suspect that this list will change substantially after I move and get organized. I want to start cooking from my old and antique books and booklets. Maybe I’ll start with the one by The Browns, which you have on your list. That is such a wonderful book to peruse. I wanted to put it on my list, but that will have to wait.
        ****

        By the way, Sandy, I am so impressed with how very prolific you are and with the content of your posts. I don’t know whether this will inspire me to do something similar or just convince me that I could never be as good as you are. We shall see.

        Question: Is it legit to put the url for my librarything holdings under “website”? I am not a seller. I have not listed all of the books I have by any means, but you might like to take a peek!

        Jean B.

    • Jen, if you re-read that post you will see I edited it. No longer limiting anyone to ONE while I listed ten. :) Regards, Sandy

  3. Hi, Jean- enjoyed reading your list & comments. I have a shelf full of James Beard including American Cookery…believe I have both of the Lukin books- not sure if I have Fannie Farmer Baking Book but I am a big fan of Marion Cunningham..also have Laurel’s Kitchen Bread book – so I know these are all good choices. I don’t know how urls work or the librarything (altho I am a member, just don’t spend much time at the site – whenever I find something that interests me and you have to join or log in, I often do just because – I am of the opinion that you can’t collect too much information on cookbooks or cooking or anything about kitchens/cooking/cookbooks/recipe boxes–so I dont know how that works but I am always interested in hearing about someone else’s collection. I’m flattered by your comment but have to confess, I can write–and have a substantial collection of my own at my fingertips for research–but am totally lost when it comes to posting photographs–any that you see on my blog were put up by my editor of a newsletter called Inky Trail News who got me started with the blog. I was writing for her newsletter but tend to get too wordy(you may have noticed) and the newsletter has a word limit of 800-1000 words. SHE also set the blog up for me. I am really computer challenged with some things. Anyway, all that being said – I’m not a seller either, but often think that might be a way to go…if I ever figure out how to go about it… :) Thanks for writing!
    You brightened my day (well, now its night. but you get my drift).
    Sandy

  4. I am smiling. We are very much alike, although you are way ahead of me. I was an editor–even worked on cookbooks. I collect cookbooks and have logged (pause to check) 4505 cookbooks and recipe booklets on librarything. I don’t know what percentage of my collection that is, because I have so many that have not been logged in yet. And my photos await. (I keep promising them, but, like you, I am not the most knowledgeable person about such things.)

    I have various motives for collecting. One of the initial ones was research. But then the collecting is so much fun….

    Anyway, you can see why I am so excited to have found your blog!

  5. got a kick out of your quick response–its always such a pleasure to find a kindred spirit. We THINK I have about 10,000 cookbooks but that’s just an estimate. I began logging them onto a spreadsheet, with the help of a friend who set it up–and just got the Christmas cookbooks done (over 500) and shortly after that learned we would have to move. And then there are all the other books as well. My sig. other, Bob, built a library out of half of the garage last year. we’ll chat some more! Fun! Thanks for writing!
    Sandy

  6. received this as an email, hoping I can share all of it with you. The coupon offer is only good until Feb 20–I know just the cookbook I want to order from B&N!
    From the desk of Christopher Kimball

    Dear Home Cook,

    I am often asked about my Top Ten list of cookbooks and, until recently, I had never given this a lot of thought. Sure, I have plenty of go-to books that I use regularly, but since I have read so many cookbooks over the years, a Top Ten pick would have to be truly special. And we are not just talking recipes here. The book’s basic organizing idea, the writing style and quality, the personality of the author, the approach to food and cooking—all of these things have to be unique and enduring. So, with all of that in mind, I offer the following list. Some of my selections will be unexpected, even serendipitous, but they are the 10 works that have stood my test of time in the kitchen.

    In addition, we have worked out a special deal with Barnes & Noble to offer these volumes to you. (No, I am not making any money off of this deal!) You can download a special coupon and take it to any Barnes & Noble store to receive an extra 15% off any one of the following titles. Or, you can visit their website, enter promo code T8Y9D4T at checkout, and receive the special discount (you’ll also find that many of these cookbooks are available on BN.com at up to 33% off and that they offer free shipping on orders greater than $25. The promo code entitles you to an additional 15% off one cookbook.) Hope you enjoy these works as much as I do.

    French Cooking in Ten Minutes, Edouard de Pomaine
    Any cookbook that begins, “First of all, let me tell you that this is a beautiful book” just has to be worth a peek. Written by a Frenchman of Polish extraction in 1930, it reflects de Pomaine’s unique ability to make cooking appear simple enough that any oaf could walk into a kitchen and produce good results. His advice is as breezy and useful today as it was 80 years ago. (His directive to compose menus with three items, one of which requires no last-minute preparation, is advice I still follow today.) I even find myself turning on the oven and heating up a big pot of water the minute I walk in the front door at night—words of eternal quick-cook wisdom.

    The Breakfast Book, Marion Cunningham
    I love this woman and I love this book. Marion did for breakfast what Julia did for French cooking—she made it both interesting and approachable. Her Dewey Buns, a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, are so good that one could build a franchise around them. The Zeppelin Pancakes, the Chewy Brown Sugar Muffins, the Raised Waffles, the Buttermilk Baked Egg are all part of my morning repertoire. She walks fresh culinary ground here and does it with energy and panache. (Sandy’s cooknote: I love Marion Cunningham too!)

    Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice L. Waters
    This is a little gem of a book if you want to look at vegetable cookery in a whole new light. Yes, it does assume that you can get a wide assortment of tasty, local veggies (hey, we don’t all live in Berkeley!) and the directions are often on the sparse side (this book assumes you can cook). But it is beautifully produced and some of the taste combinations and cooking methods are more than worth the price and preparation time. I find myself going back to this volume time after time for inspiration as well as for recipes.

    The Italian Country Table, Lynne Rosetto Kasper
    Once in a great while, a cookbook author does original work using an original voice. Lynne Kasper, host of The Splendid Table public radio show, hit a home run with her second volume, The Italian Country Table. This is the real deal: Italian farmhouse cooking with big flavors and a fresh point of view. Espresso Ricotta Cream anyone? Iced Summer Peaches? And, as an added bonus, you’ll never make a boring pesto again.

    The Union Square Café Cookbook, Danny Meyer and Michael Romano
    I have loved this restaurant since I first visited it—and still do. It is consistent, the service is excellent, and the food is interesting without being silly. I am not often a fan of restaurant cookbooks, since the recipes rarely work well at home. But Danny Meyer and Michael Romano have produced recipes that do work if one is willing to put in the time and effort. Charred Tomatoes with Onions and Mint, a whole chapter on mashed potatoes, and Mocha Semifreddo are just a few of their superior offerings.

    Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duquid
    Alford and Duquid have created one of the most gorgeous travel/cookbooks ever published, with stunning photos and well-researched recipes from Southeast Asia. Although this is not, for the most part, Tuesday-night supper material, not all of these dishes lie beyond the domain of the typical American home cook. Above all, this book displays the joy of creating something both beautiful and original—it’s not just another travel tome for the gift market.

    Bistro Cooking at Home, Gordon Hamersley
    The author, Gordon Hamersley, is a celebrated Boston chef and also a friend. I love his food because he obsesses over it and does not run around the world opening new restaurants—he is a one-trick pony in the style of the great French chefs. His cooking is both solid and eye-opening, seducing diners with quality and execution rather than flights of fancy. Locals who are familiar with Hamerlsey’s Bistro will recognize many of his signature dishes in this book, including variations on duck confit, his Wild Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Sandwich, and one of my favorite desserts, Gordon’s Souffléd Lemon Custard. This guy is a pro and so is his cookbook.

    Epitaph for A Peach, David Masumoto
    Masumoto is a writer as well as a farmer. This book is one of my favorite pieces of food writing because Masumoto brings to life his passion for the family farm and the heartbreak of trying to maintain an heirloom peach in a tough market. It all comes through in a mixture of poetry and philosophy. If you want to understand the life of a farmer, this is the book to read.

    American Cookery, James Beard
    Jim Beard was a walking encyclopedia of American cooking, and this is his flagship book. Part anthropology, part history, and part cookbook, Jim allows you to read between the lines, to get a sense of what he really thinks about a recipe. If I want a good starting point for any recipe in the American repertoire, I always turn to Beard and American Cookery.
    (*sandy’s cooknote – another favorite of some of my readers)

    The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, Jack Bishop
    OK, Jack is a friend and colleague, as well as the Editorial Director of America’s Test Kitchen, but this book is a winner all on its own. I keep coming across folks who have discovered this unheralded classic because the recipes work, they are straightforward, and they use the big earthy flavors of Italy to transform what are too often lackluster vegetable preparations.

    This exclusive Barnes & Noble coupon is only available through February 20, so if you’d like to order any of these cookbooks please don’t delay.

    Cordially,

    Christopher Kimball
    Founder and Editor
    America’s Test Kitchen

  7. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an really long comment but after
    I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

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