My Cookbook Confessions
I have 127 cookbooks. I was tempted to count them today, when two new cookbooks arrived from Amazon (The Banh Mi Handbook and Asian Pickles). For those who don’t cook this might sound like a crazy number of books to have on the same topic. But, fans of cooking will probably not be surprised to […]
For those who don’t cook this might sound like a crazy number of books to have on the same topic. But, fans of cooking will probably not be surprised to see so many cookbooks on my shelf. Quite a few folk I know have a lot more than I do and even a quick visit to many bookstores today will show that cookbooks are one of the largest sectors in the modern book publishing business.
I like to say all those cookbooks, which I’ve collected over about 20 years, represent a research library of sorts. That all these books allow me to study, in depth the recipes and techniques for any of the dishes I make, or might want to make.
This is party true. It is also partly bullshit.
The far more honest I could, but seldom do give, is that all these books are a manifestation of the insecurities I have about cooking. Despite all the compliments I get, either in person, or from the relentless parade of pictures I post on social media, I’m not very sure of myself in the kitchen.
It’s not a childhood thing. My mother often jokes that she never set out to teach me to cook. Yet, I learnt so much from her. She was always patient with me in the kitchen as a kid, always answered my questions and shared stories. My childhood memories of trying to cook are all good ones.
But, once I started to cook for myself, I had many spectacular failures. I also encountered more than a few people who loved to parade their knowledge, limited as it now seems to me, in bossy and bully-ish ways. Funnily enough, none of those experiences, or the people who drove them, represent the life I have in the kitchen today.
I found solace, as I often have, in books. Carefully following recipes and studiously understanding the origins of recipes became a way to navigate what I often felt was a lack of natural ability in the kitchen.
Yet, what is natural ability anyway? These days I cook a lot of fairly difficult, or at least difficult-looking dishes from memory. I know it often looks natural, easy even, but it didn’t come easy.
And, I keep buying cookbooks, even though I don’t need them. The honest truth is I lost all my cookbooks, I would probably only need 4-5 of them to get back to cooking every dish I regularly make in a year.
Cookbooks are not bad, of course, but like so much else, they can be something we bring into our lives to make up for a limitation we feel, or to cover over a bad experience we had. There’s always an element of emotional need in the way we shop and we owe it to ourselves to honest about that – deeply and truly honest.