What Cookbooks Are Essential To Your Kitchen?

What Cookbooks Are Essential To Your Kitchen?
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Hello, and welcome back to What’s Cooking?, the open thread where you get to share your brilliant thoughts, advice, recipes and opinions on all things food-related. This week I want to talk about all of your favourite cookbooks.

Photo by Ritchie.

You can find a lot of recipes online these days, but nothing will replace cookbooks for me. It isn’t just the recipes; there’s something soothing about holding a hefty book dedicated to food (my favourite subject) and leisurely flipping through the pages. I’ve always felt that cookbooks are more than purely instructional. Though recipes are a big part, a cookbook can serve as a historical text, a shiny art book or pure entertainment. Naturally, I want to hear all about your faves, and I have some questions to get you started:

  • What was your very first cookbook? My grandmother gave me the Fannie Farmer Junior cookbook when I was around seven, but I don’t think I ever cooked anything from it. I do remember that there was a recipe for mayonnaise, and I thought that was weird.
  • What cookbook that first got you excited about cooking? Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess was the first text to ever get me excited about baking and cooking in general. It was just so warm and inviting and fun, and making chocolate lava cakes did make me feel goddess-like.
  • Purchase any good ones recently? The newest addition to my family is BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, and I’m currently trying to decide whether to make homemade Oreos or homemade Wonder Bread.
  • What’s the weirdest cookbook you own? My sister gave me this little number a few Christmases ago, but I have yet to make any stud muffins.
  • Have you ever purchased a novelty cookbook, only to find out that it was actually super helpful? Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter strikes the perfect balance between entertaining, dorky and informative.
  • What’s your favourite baking book? I can’t currently pick a favourite.
  • What’s your favourite food book that isn’t technically a cookbook? This is mine.

As always, feel free to leave comments that aren’t direct responses to any of the above. I just want to hear about cookbooks. I really enjoy cookbooks.


  • Deb Perelman’s “Smitten Kitchen”. I’ve followed her blog of the same name for years, and the books she’s produced (a new one imminent) provide all sorts of inspiration. I’m sure that at least half the recipes I’ve bookmarked over the years come from her kitchen. She’s also generous enough to acknowledge her sources, and – unlike many other recipe writers – I’ve never found myself wondering how they got from step a to step b.

  • I’m a bit old school. My first cookbook was The Commonsense Cookbook, a really old one from the 1940s or something, which belonged to my nan and was falling apart and had recipes for weird stuff like fried sheep brains and aspic jelly. I mostly used it for the pancake and biscuit recipes.

    The one that got me going when I was young was the Australian Womens Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake book from the 80s. All those cool cakes! I loved reading it and seeing how the cakes were cut and put back together to make the shape of things like trains and numbers and how you could use stuff to decorate like upside down ice cream cones for castle tops and blue jelly for water.

    I don’t cook much anymore for various reasons. But the last two I bought were “Cooking Comically” by Tyler Capps and “Thug Kitchen The Official Cookbook” both of which I bought for my son, and both of which have some good simple and easy to make recipes in them.

  • Too many cookbooks are just a litany of the author’s favourite recipes. And most just invite reproduction rather than teaching people how to cook.

    The real skill is understanding ingredients and getting the best out of them. Then cooking really becomes an enjoyable, original art and not just mimicry.

    So here goes:
    On Food and Cooking – Harold McGee – the (deep) science behind the scenes
    The Flavour Thesaurus – Niki Segit – a must-have for your own creations
    Spice and Herb Bible – Ian Hemphill – similar to the above
    The Science of Good Cooking – Cook’s – lots of tips and tricks on the basic hows
    200 Skills Every Cook Must Have – Clara Paul – does what it says on the tin
    Oxford Companion to Food – Alan Davidson – a glossary of everything edible

  • I grew up in New Zealand so the first major one I owned was the Edmonds Cookbook. Still pull it out if I want to throw together some scones or similar.

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