The shelves in the kitchen groan under their collective weight. There are way too many, a legacy of my years of bookselling and a chronic inability to say no when it comes to books. They are a hindrance, I know, to a better way of cooking, one where I learn to trust my own instinct. But they are also the most gentle and forgiving of teachers, friends in the kitchen if you will. I think I cook well. I most certainly enjoy it. But am I ready to cook completely without the books? Will it make me a better cook?
Increasingly the books are becoming redundant in a way, mere lists of ingredients to be played with, things subtracted and added according to my taste; the instructions are glanced at quickly to get a general idea and are adapted along the way. This makes me happy – very happy – but I’m not sure that I can justify buying still more books (and I say this knowing full well that a second-hand copy of Paula Wolfert’s Eastern Mediterranean book is making it’s way to my letter box as I write and the re-issue, blissfully written in metric, of Deborah Madison’s Greens Cookbook is due at the shop next month).
Can you ever have too many cookbooks? I’m inclined to think that the answer may indeed be a resounding yes. I say that with my head, but in my heart, I love them all.
If I could only choose five to keep, what would they be? Why?
The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander
Possibly the only book you’ll ever need, so encyclopedic is its scope. Simply written, elegant, successful meals from a life devoted to cooking.
Leith's Vegetarian Bible by Polly Tyrer
I agonised over whether or not to buy this rather expensive book for some time. If only I had known what its pages held. Every single thing in here is wonderful, works every time and is unexpectedly good.
Enjoy by Nadine Abensur
With a French-Moroccan-Jewish background, this is Abensur’s take on Australian food. Favourite food writer above all others for her ability to create exquisite meals from vegetables and elevate vegetarian food to new heights. And she hardly ever uses the word ‘vegetarian’, much to my delight.
The Thirty Minute Cook by Nigel Slater
Bloody great. That’s all you need to know.
That’s my top five and although it’s bound to change, probably by this afternoon knowing me, these are the ones that make me hungry now.
So, which ones would you keep? Which ones were a waste of time?