COOKBOOKS 101: Tips on Building A Collection

When I was setting up my first home and establishing roots, one of the very first tasks on my ‘To Do’ List was to build my very own cookbook collection. Though I inherited a pretty decent culinary gene from my mother and my grandmothers, I knew I’d need additional guidance. Whenever I’d shop for magazines and novels in book stores, I could not help but peruse the legions of resources for cheffing up my own meals at home.  From The Joy of Cooking to The Black Family Reunion Cookbook, the shelves never seemed to disappoint.

I have realized that shopping for cookbooks could be overwhelming so I felt compelled develop an acquisition strategy. With so many hardcopy books being traded for electronic versions and smartphone/tablet-based applications, actual cookbooks still tickle my fancy and I still like to touch their pages.

Over the years, I’ve added to, purged, donated and gifted more cookbooks than I care to admit.  My current library consists of approximately 8 or 10 titles that actually rest on my kitchen shelf; believe it or not, I DO actually use them. Because I love to cook and entertain, I’m always on the prowl for the next best addition.

Here are a few tips for building your very own collection!

1. Keep mama’s/grandmama’s/auntie’s phone numbers handy. I do not think my mom has EVER written down her recipe for her famous banana pudding but I know that if I decide to make it, she is only a call away. Invest in recipe (or index cards) and a storage box to go “old-school” and collect those family recipes.

2. The Joy of Cooking, originally published in 1931, should be a kitchen staple. It offers  basic practices such as boiling water and poaching eggs. It is ideal for the novice cook.

3. Pick up a specialty cookbook. Do you like to barbecue? Bake cupcakes? Add a publication that you will actually use as a hobbyist.

4. Add an entertaining-centric cookbook if you enjoy hosting and cooking for others. My favorite is called Real Life Entertaining: Easy Recipes and Conventional Wisdom by Jennifer Rubell. The recipes are organized by party types and they really are easy.

5. Don’t we all crave the occasional guilty pleasure of comfort food? Casseroles, soups and stews are to be studied, sure enough. You’ll want a cold-weather resource, for sure.

6. Be daring! Always keep a few wish-list cookbooks in your arsenal. Right now, I’m jonesing for Chef Bryant Terry’s The Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes and Mouthwatering Menus. When was the last time you found a cookbook that recommended music playlists? I can not wait to give it a try.

7. Cookbooks can be expensive. Be open to searching for them at thrift stores, discount marts and yard sales. You’ll be surprised what a few dollars will yield. One entertaining maven’s trash can be an addition to another’s cookbook collection.

8. Buy a three-ring binder, clear storage sleeves and dividers (for separating cuisine). Magazines and the internet are not to be forgotten. You can build your own cookbook by tearing/printing and preserving recipes that pique your interest and just happen to found in other media.

Do you have a cookbook collection? What are your favorite titles?

Shameeka Ayers is an Atlanta-based lifestyle blogger and author who dispenses entertaining, shelter and food & wine anecdotes and advice via her alter ego, The Broke Socialite. She also produces a national tour of curated dessert-tasting experiences, Sugar Coma Events™.  Her first novella, Instantly: How Quickly I Realized I Hate My Job will be released in Summer 2012.