I’m sure your cookbook shelves are just as heavily laden as mine, and if I were to ask you how often you cook from them you might look away, embarrassed, and try to change the subject. Especially if your spouse, who regularly comments on the extent of your collection, is within earshot.
It’s not that you don’t want to cook from all these books; you do. It’s just that it’s impossible to remember what’s in them, and however well built their indexes (or indices), it would be pretty cumbersome to look up “Brussels sprouts” in every single one of them when you come home from the greenmarket on a chilly but sunny Saturday morning in March.
It does seem a shame to let so much knowledge and inspiration go untapped, and here are a few ways to avoid that:
- Sticky-tab appealing recipes, and regularly leaf through your collection to refresh your memory.
- In each of your cookbooks, list all the recipes you want to try, with page number, on a piece of paper. Place that custom-made index in the front of the book for quick reference. (This also serves as a good decision tool to see whether you should really keep that book.)
- Take photos of (or scan, but that’s more time-consuming) recipes you want to try, and keep the image files, renamed with the recipe title, in a dedicated folder on your computer.
- Keep a running list of dishes you most want to try on your computer or in a notebook, referencing the cookbooks they come from.
- Pick a different cookbook every month or so, and challenge yourself to cook X number of recipes from it (make X realistic) before moving on to the next.
- Use the Eat Your Books service.
The service allows you to replicate your cookbook collection online, so you can run instant searches for recipes (by title, ingredients, occasion, food type, ethnicity, book title, author); bookmark the ones you want to try or have already cooked and enjoyed; generate shopping lists; and share reviews with other cooks.
You can give it a try with a limited-size bookshelf, and sign up for a monthly or yearly membership if you like it ($2.50/month or $25/year). But I have been in touch with Jane Kelly, one of the co-founders of Eat Your Books, for a few years now, and I asked if she would be willing to give away free memberships to C&Z readers. She said yes,
and now I have five one-year memberships for you to win.
Leave a comment below telling me how you make the most of your cookbook collection: what’s your system? Do you even have a system? If not, what’s your greatest challenge?
You have until March 13, midnight Paris time (GMT+1) to enter. I will then draw five random comments, and each of their authors will win a one-year membership to Eat Your Books. There is no geographical restriction to enter; just make sure you enter your email address correctly so I can contact you if you win.
Thank you all for participating, it’s been so interesting to hear about your different systems (or lack thereof!).
Using the Disqus-provided random comment picker, I have drawn five winners for this contest. Congratulations to all! You will receive an email shortly with instructions.
- Megan, who wrote, “I don’t have it organized at all!”
- marysueh, who wrote “I’ve adopted the ‘cook as many recipes as possible from a single cookbook’ approach, especially for food traditions far removed from my own. It helps me learn the spices, methods, and key ingredients for different cuisines. The appeal of a cookbook goes beyond the recipes themselves. Learning about the author, the history of another place and time, and understanding the foods of an unfamiliar culture is a great way to explore the world. I love the idea of Eat Your Books – so glad that you’re sponsoring this contest! :)”
- KJB, who wrote, “I am a librarian by training and wish that I was using those skills to organize my cookbooks better. A form of classificaiton is better than nothing: the cookbooks are all filed in the kitchen, alphabetically by author. Except. Except for cookbooks on specific appliances, so the slow cooker cookbook is beside the slow cooker. Best I could do. And don’t get me started on the loose-leaf recipes.”
- FoodNerd4Life, who wrote, “I’ve made it apart of my Birthday Bucket List, I am trying to cook a new recipes from 26 of my cookery books in my 26th year. Nearly there but still have quite a few to go through!”
- souliere, who wrote, “Some cook books are goto for certain seasons. For example my New Orleans cookbooks are great around Mardi Gras. The most used books are on the kitchen counter, the dirtiest stained ones are the most popular. The rest have their own (slim) book case, that I visit when I am looking for a change. Something perhaps odd I do, when I travel I like to get a cook book for the area I was at, like New Orleans, Boston, Amana Colonies.”
Transparency note: Jane converted my trial membership to a complimentary lifetime membership back when I first joined, in 2010. We arranged this giveaway at my initiative, and all opinions expressed are my own.