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Editing down: Just 10 cookbooks

Infinicam_Photo_0004 I was having dinner with my friend Angela, a book agent and one of the best cooks I know, and somehow the conversation drifted to cookbooks and I guess clutter. She casually mentioned that a few years ago she’d decided to purge her cookbook collection, allowing herself just 10 books. Ten! 

How did that work out?

She’s been incredibly disciplined, actually. When a new one comes in, an old one has to leave the house. I’m impressed.

I must have hundreds of titles, and many more stashed in my office at the Times. Many I intend to read. Many I have never read. Some I have on hand just in case -- I need to know the history of 18th century bread baking in Paris or the spelling of a Lithuanian dish. Many I consult often -- Larousse Gastronomique, an Italian food encyclopedia, cheese primers, wine books. 

Still, I could use more shelf space for other books and maybe get the piles of art books and novels off the floor. But edit my library down to 10 cookbooks? I know I can’t do it.

I have given away some books in the past, and inevitably a few months later I’m searching frantically for that very cookbook.  But the idea of going through them and saving the very best, the most useful, the most learned won’t leave my head. Realistically, I should ask myself, am I ever going to crack this particular book again? I don’t know, honestly.

Can I make a list of essential reading? Or essential cooking? Author’s voices that soothe and encourage? I’m not going to do anything rash. I’m just going to think about it. How about you?

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo credit: S. Irene Virbila /Los Angeles Times 

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I find that I'm using physical cookbooks less and less. I have a few that are in the "primary" bookshelf that are referred to (a few Jamie Oliver books and Nigella Lawson from when I lived in London, Marcella Hazan and Mario Batali for Italian, Bon Appetit's "Fast Easy Fresh" for my lifestyle, Sunday Suppers at Lucques for when I have time to linger...) but mostly I download recipes from the Internet... save them in a file and print them out if I am actually using them.

I love Thomas Keller's books... and have found that the recipes work really well... same with "Sunday Suppers at Lucques"... but generally my "go to" is online these days...

That being said... my friends know that pretty much the ONLY books I buy or keep are cookbooks. Having recently acquired an ice cream maker, I've now added a couple of books to my collection...

I probably have over 500 cookbooks. Once I get interested in a method, style or country I read everything about it. I've purged a couple of times and end up buying the book again. I think maybe a favorite 50 might work.

Every year I try to get rid of the food magazines and the carefully-folded Times Food sections. Once I sit down to cull, I start seeing how great the recipes are and the culling stops. I lent a beloved cook book to someone and still regret it!

Some books inspire with their sheer beauty...Ad Hoc, for example. I don't actually follow the recipes but sort of spin off what I learn looking and reading. Other books, I follow instructions carefully. I learned so much from the Time-Life Good Cook series acquired years ago.

Interestingly, I've tried the scanning solution and it takes lots of time even with a ScanSnap. I'd rather spend the time cooking:) I do think the "one acquired; one goes away" is a good, disciplined approach. Will try. Sigh.

And I think I'm doing well when I release 600 books into the wild and have only 1,000 or so left. But I bet I only key into 10 at a time. It's just that it changes constantly.

nothing can replace the feel of a bound cookbook. theres something nostaligic about it. keep them! maybe box up some of the ones you dont use or intent to use often. your kids (if they grow up to appreciate food) will appreciate them and they will become a small part of your legacy.

Nowadays, unless the author is a friend, I purchase cookbooks only for my iPad. My tiny kitchen thanks me!

I have the perfect answer that has saved my desire to save everything paper. Fujitsu scansnap S1500. I cut off the bindings either myself with a box cutter or I bring it to Kinkos and they will cut the binding off. I then run it through the scanner, takes just a minute, and then it becomes a pdf and the book becomes recycle. I can now read it anywhere anytime with the help of a computer, ipad, laptop.. whatever. And what space does it take up? Little bit of memory.


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