The Cookbook Collector
As a young girl growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska (US), Gretchen learned early on about the accuracy of measurements and concise instructions thanks to her job typing recipes for her mother, the home editor of Nebraska Farmer magazine. In 2009, Gretchen, a Corporate Librarian by day, launched Culinaria Libris, at the suggestion of a colleague. Her blog has evolved into a prolific catalogue of cookbook reviews and commentary, and it happens to be one of our favourite go-to sites to learn about new and interesting books on the market.
Countlan: Would you call yourself a cookbook collector?
CulinariaLibris: I never consciously became a cookbook collector; it’s just that I’ve never been able to part with a cookbook and now my bookshelves overflow with them. I still have my original 4-H cookbook where I learned to bake cookies. (4-H is a children’s organization in the US where you learn practical skills and leadership skills).
02 What makes a good cookbook?
First and foremost, is there something to learn from it? My goal with a cookbook has always been to learn something new and expand my horizons. Cookbooks aren’t just about recipes. You can learn about history, culture, and customs which all interplay with the recipes. I also look for authority and passion. If an author has lots of experience or passion in a particular food area, you get more interesting recipes and techniques. Finally, I look for inspiration in the unusual whether it be in the ingredients or presentation.
03 How many cookbooks do you own?
Too many to count! Cookbooks for me aren’t about the numbers. They’re about interactions and memories. Whenever I glance at one of my cookbooks, I instantly think of what I learned from the book, where I got it, or what I made from the book.
04 Cookbooks with pictures or words- what is your preference?
Pictures are great if they are used as a visual aide or show the unusual, but I don’t think every recipe needs a picture. I would rather have a well-written book that boosts my confidence in baking and cooking.
05 Do you have a favourite cookbook?
My ideal cookbook would be a combination of Betty Crocker, James Beard and Ann Seranne – Betty Crocker (circa 1951) for techniques (before convenience food took hold), James Beard for real American cooking (no canned soup recipes) and Ann Seranne for her baking recipes which are simply divine.
06 What is your take on cookbook trends?
Baking books are still at the forefront with a focus on cake. It makes sense because in these recessionary times, cakes are comforting and value for money. They can be made from scratch without costing a fortune in fancy ingredients.
Gretchen’s Top 5 cookbook picks for Spring 2013
01 The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook published by Quercus, Feb 2012, £20/$26.26
Clandestine Cake Clubs are popping up all around the UK. These are recipes contributed by the founder and members of the clubs. Don’t look for cupcakes or brownies here because cake is the star of the show.
02 The Bowler’s Meatball Cookbook published by Mitchell Beazley, Feb 2013, £16.99/$19.21
The humble meatball gets a fantastic makeover at the hands of Jez Felwick in his London food truck, the Lawn Ranger. Meatballs are a welcome addition to the spring menu when you’re ready to give your stomach a rest from the heavy foods of winter.
03 Brighton Bakes published by Book Guild Publishing, March 2013, £19.99 (n/a)
Every bit as fun and funky as Brighton itself, Jessica Haggerty’s book captures the spirit of her hometown in photos and recipes. Brighton has its own personality and you will find it affectionately reflected in its food.
04 Skinny Weeks & Weekend Feasts published by Quadrille, March 2013, £19.99 (n/a)
Forget the carrot sticks and cottage cheese. Gizzi Erskine is back to show us that reducing our intake doesn’t have to be a bore or a chore. The world is her larder for her low-cal recipes for six days of the week and wicked recipes for the one-day weekend feast. It’s sensible and sensational.
05 The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Published by Square Peg, March 2013 UK (released October 2012 in North America), £20/$35.00
It’s been released in the US, but not in the UK as I write this, so I haven’t seen it but the buzz is unmistakable. Deb Perelman writes the perennially popular Smitten Kitchen blog and is now a cookbook author. Her cookbook is a highly anticipated publishing event in the UK. Deb is a home cook who can make even a bowl of vegetable soup into something special.
To add to Gretchen’s list for spring, Countlan would also add: