A simple gift

Well-worn cookbooks

Lindsay’s eloquent farewell post reminded me of how the gift of two cookbooks greatly influenced my cooking journey.

The first gift was for my wedding. My grandmother bestowed upon me a small plastic cookbook filled with handwritten cards containing cherished family recipes. Her love was evident in the time she took to carefully transcribe each recipe and add helpful hints for the novice cook. The delicate handwriting, quaint misspellings, and detailed (although sometimes cryptic) instructions comforted me when I moved far away from home. The familiar methods and tastes provided a tangible connection to my family. My grandmother’s cookbook lasted far longer than the marriage did, and I still refer to a few special recipes on the time-worn cards.

Members of a food cooperative, where I served as a volunteer during college, gave me my second gift cookbook, the Joy of Cooking. While my grandmother’s detailed instructions provided me with a solid foundation, the repertoire was limited. The Joy of Cooking vastly expanded my culinary horizons. The breadth of that cookbook proved both intimidating and inspiring, and I spent countless hours immersed in its pages, intently studying dishes and techniques foreign to my rural upbringing. Each new recipe completed, though perhaps not perfectly executed, expanded my skill set.

As I grew more confident in my cooking ability (confidence frequently exceeding my actual talents), the amount of bookshelf space dedicated to cookbooks swelled. I became a cookbook addict, because with each new volume I wanted another. Cookwise by Shirley Corriher led to Sauces by James Peterson. The Best International Recipe steered me to Hot Sour Salty Sweet. The Pie and Pastry Bible naturally followed The Cake Bible, and was itself soon accompanied by The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Charcuterie led to Artisan Cheese Making at Home, and the progression shows no signs of abating. Alinea is more inspirational than practical (I’ve yet to make anything from it), but nonetheless Modernist Cuisine at Home now beckons.

This passion began with a simple, yet heartfelt, gift. I’m carrying on the tradition by crafting my own wedding gift cookbooks. Modern technology allows me to personalize each book with sentimental photographs (and also spares the newlyweds from deciphering my handwriting), but the intent is the same. I want to provide them with confidence-building, delicious recipes they can use as a springboard for their own culinary adventure.

If you have been inspired by the gift of a cookbook, I would love to hear your story.


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