Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Would You Like To Take a Peek at My Cookbook Collection?

My interest in cooking started when I was a teenager and that is when I started subscribing to cooking magazines and collecting cookbooks. I've still got issues of the first cooking magazine that I subscribed to, Sphere's Cuisine magazine from the final issue going back to 1978, older issues were mined for appealing articles and recipes, and then tossed. I kind of wish I still had some of those older issues from the days when it was a Betty Crocker magazine. Anyway, I'm losing my thread here, this is to tell you how far back my cookbook collection goes. I started with some basics like The Joy of Cooking (1975) and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1978). And then I developed an interest in Chinese cuisines so I have an early copy of The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (1978). My collection expanded rapidly through the 80's and especially the 90's when it seemed like a general interest in cooking just exploded and there were fabulous new cookbooks to be found every time I went to the bookstore. I've slowed my rate of acquisitions in the last decade as shelf space become scarce and I had a lot of topics pretty well covered (just how many books on Italian cooking does one need!). So, just how many books have I collected over the last 35 or so years? Um, at last count it was at least 423 plus a few obscure ones that don't have ISBNs.

Three of the shelves of cookbooks in the kitchen.

One of the biggest problems with having a large collection of cookbooks is making good use of all of them. Over time I found myself going to a core few favorite books, most of which are on the bookshelves nearest the kitchen and the rest of the books got relegated to shelves further away - out of sight and nearly forgotten. It's not that those other books aren't any good. They just tend to be older books, many without inspiring pretty pictures, that get shouldered aside by the younger and hipper crowd. Some of them are just oversized tomes that don't fit well into the limited space near the kitchen. And if they aren't close to hand they generally get overlooked when I start pulling books from the shelves looking for some inspiration. With over 423 books I'm not going to pull down every one that might have a new and interesting recipe for roast chicken. Arrgh, I can't tell you how many times I've wished that I had one big index for my entire cookbook collection...

Three more shelves, there's seven more...

Well, guess what, I'm not the only one with such a wish and lucky for me there is someone who is doing something about it. Look over on the sidebar, there's a widget that says 423 Cookbooks - Eat Your Books. Click on it. It will take you to the Eat Your Books website and a list of the cookbooks that I own. That list shows nearly every cookbook that I own other than the ones that don't have an ISBN or that EYB doesn't have an ISBN for in their database (very few). If you click on one of the books that has been indexed you will find a list of the recipes in that book. You will also see that the list shows the ingredients for each recipe. As a member I can go to a list of every recipe from the books that are indexed on my bookshelf (59,835 recipes so far). I can do a search for "chicken" - 4,811 results. Narrow that to "roast chicken" - 542 results. Filter it for only Asian cuisine - 88 results. That's managable, especially since I can skim the ingredients to weed out the ones that require shopping. Oooh, look, not far down the list is Lemongrass roasted chicken from Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table. Oh, another version of Lemongrass chicken from Nicole Routhier's book The Foods of Vietnam. It took all of about 5 minutes for me to do the search and choose the recipe from the first book. Dinner last night was Lemongrass Roasted Chicken accompanied by Nepali Green Bean-Sesame Salad from Mangoes & Curry Leaves. I've bookmarked a few other green bean recipes that I found during my search for recipes to use up some of the pounds of green beans that I've harvested lately.

A couple of the shelves out of the way.

EYB offers more than just a search engine for your cookbook collection. You can peruse the bookshelves of other members. You can post comments on books or recipes and see the comments left by other members. You can rate books and recipes and see the average community rating for books and recipes. There's even a BUY tab next to book listings which I haven't tried yet. There's even more features that I'm not going to go on about here. And it's not just about cookbooks, EYB has started to index popular cooking magazines and blogs as well.

Fresh lemongrass from the garden.

I don't generally make recommendations for products or services beyond the seed sources and other resources listed on my Favorite Resources page, but I'm really pleased with what the EYB folks are doing so I selfishly want to get the word out to help them succeed. The more subscribers that they get the more resources they will have to grow their list of indexed cookbooks. So far they have indexed 227 out of my collection of 423 books and there are 6 more on the list of books to be indexed soon (5 yesterday, they keep plugging away). Membership requires a fee, either $2.50 a month or $25 a year, and even though only about half of my collection is indexed so far I've already found the service to be more than worth the cost for the convenience and fun of mining the indexed portion of my collection. It's almost as fun as buying a new cookbook!

By the way, both the Lemongrass Chicken and Sesame Green Beans were delicious. I need to go give those recipes a good rating on EYB.


  1. Michelle,

    Meg uses the Fannie Farmer Cookbook more than any other cookbook. I like Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking. I do think you might had a lot of cookbooks!

  2. Whew~~I have company!
    I'm afraid to count how many cookbooks I have, all I can say is that I have enough bookshelves to line a 6 car garage. The worst part is that I collect cookbooks in both English and Chinese languages. Thanks for the EYB info, I'll have to look into it.
    BTW you don't happen to to buy the same cookbook 2-3 times over do you? I did, I forgot what I bought............

  3. Something i have often wished for, thanks for the hot tip!

  4. I thought that my husband had a lot of cookbooks. You have almost twice the amount that he does!

    EYB sounds great! I'm going to have to check it out!

  5. Michelle,
    I just posted on your Capers and now went back to look at the rest of your website. EYB might be just what I need. I don't have as many books as you do but I have the same problem. Trying to find a recipe for fig tart that I remember just seeing but in this case I don't know know which cooking magazine I think it is in, or even which year as I keep them all, I just remember seeing a drawing of a fig tart pie next to recipe. I was just thinking of going through them and either just copying or cutting out the recipes I want and throwing the rest away. Except of course my Cooks Illustrated as they do have annual index book.

  6. What an inspired idea for a needed service! I do not have near as many cook books as you do - but I still have difficulty wading through more than one or two when looking for inspiration. I definitely will be checking this out and adding my collection into the service so I can zero in on recipe options more successfully. Well worth the subscription price.

  7. Very nice, isn't it great having your own reference library. We have a weakness for collecting books too.:)

  8. What an interesting idea! Like Ravelry for cookbooks.

  9. I love the idea - I too have many cookbooks and funnily enough two of them are: Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table & Mangoes & Curry Leaves. Looking forward to Lemongrass chicken with Nepalese beans later in the week....

  10. I also have been indexing my cookbook with Eat Your Books, and can now finally access what's in my collection! What I'm most curious about is how do you organize your collection -- by topic or by author? And are your cookbooks all in one room or scattered about?

  11. leduesorelle, my collection is in two locatiions, the most frequently used and/or newest ones are on the limited shelf space that I have in the kitchen and the rest are in another room. I keep them arranged by topic. One thing that I really love about EYB is that the books in the other room are getting used more often since they are no longer "out of sight out of mind" .


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