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a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation

09.17.2001

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why i
collect cookbooks
by Alice Dick | 1 2 3

I blame Peg Bracken. My obsession with cookbooks goes back to finding my motherís old paperback copy of her I Hate to Cook Book at the tender age of six. Even earlier, I remember being given cookbooks as birthday presents by my grandmother, most notably the Winnie the Pooh Cook Book. Something about this one was different; I fished it out of my motherís kitchen book rack to read time and time again. I loved everything about it: the illustrations by Hilary Knight; the flip tone ("Chapter 2: The Leftover, or Every Family Needs a Dog"); and most of all the writing. Even the recipes were fun to read Ė and as an added bonus, they worked. At least, some of them did; probably the most famous recipe in her book is "Stayabed Stew," made with meat, vegetables, bay leaf, and cream of tomato soup. Iíve served this at office potlucks, at first with trepidation even though I loved it. It met with remarkable success, and most surprising of all, when I broke down and confessed to the ingredients it emerged as a childhood icon for a lot of my fellow office workers. Looking back, meeting up with Peg in my motherís kitchen set me on the path to the person I am today, the proud possessor of an entire kitchen cabinet stuffed with cookbooks (many of which Iíve never used to produce a single recipe).

Cookbooks are my great relaxation. Theyíre an insomnia cure; theyíre a research source; theyíre an escape. When, after years of reading cookbooks like paperback fiction, I came across Laurie Colwinís "Why I Love Cookbooks," the essay that opens her book More Home Cooking, it served as a beacon for me: I wasnít alone! Here was another person who found it more fun to read a cookbook than the latest work of literature! Perhaps, then, there were others, whoíd even share my bad habit of gravitating to my hostís cookbook shelves at parties.

In college and medical school, I launched out on my own as a cook, but like many other neophytes I stuck to basics like grilled cheese or stir-fried veg that didnít really need a recipe. By then, however, I had managed to glom on to a few of my motherís castoff cookbooks, including her battered copy of The Joy of Cooking from the 1970ís. Occasionally I would delve into it to learn how to prepare some specific dish, only to find that I couldnít put it down. The Joyís chatty prose style and carefully researched introductions to foreign and historical dishes made it just plain fun to read, even when I wasnít planning to cook anything.

mosey on this way please!

 

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