My Big Fat Cookbook Purge of 2021March 23, 2021 by Jenny
I am, and will always be, a lover of cookbooks. There are several thousand (estimated) – that I will not part with and hundreds that I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for their release. That being said, this last month I’ve had to do the unthinkable (again) purge my collection. There comes a point where I must tell myself “girl get a grip”. (Update: read about June Xie and her cooking style that has me getting a firmer grip.)
The picture to the left shows my hallway bookcases – the after photo. Prior to acquiring free bookcases on Facebook marketplace, these volumes were stacked against the wall Jenga style. See the scary photo to the right.
I would panic if Andrew, my son, or anyone for that matter, would walk too heavily down the hall. The Homeowners’ Association would issue cookbook avalanche warnings when it would get windy and Lord help me if I wanted to pull a book from one of the stacks. Not going to happen.
I have to admit I was, and still am, embarrassed at the current state of my kitchen (loaded with all types of baking pans, ingredients and more). My office at least has a door (I won’t share photos of the office yet – it’s too damn scary). To get to my office closet where I have even more vintage baking tins and bakeware, I have to strap on mountain climbing equipment and pray for a safe journey.
The den/family room is still a work in progress as I struggle through the Jenga stacks behind the couch. At this moment I have roughly 500 books waiting to get loaded into the truck that already holds 200 books waiting for that long, long drive to the thrift store – five minutes away.
I am filled with relief and sadness at playing Jenny’s choice with titles but I ask myself if I have never cracked this book open in the last year, will I? I will not, so off it goes. How am I making decisions as to which books stay and which go? I’ll explain. First and foremost, I love baking books with the white-hot intensity of a hundred burning suns. So very few baking books are leaving – there are some that won’t make the cut but the majority of baking titles will be pried from my cold, stiff hands at the time of my death.
Secondly, I weigh the odds of using the book (in some cases I absolutely love the artwork or illustrations and those will stay) but like I said above – will I use it? I am a great cook and don’t have qualms stating that. I make up recipes, I improvise recipes and decided I do not need books devoted to general cooking. I love international cookbooks but I do not need every single volume on Indian, Italian, Japanese or Spanish cuisine that was ever written. So many of those types of books are out the door or on the way to hitting the shelves at the thrift store. Many of them are older books that I had long before I became a professional cookbook reviewer. (I did call the local used bookstore and offer to give them my books to help them out but never heard back and the library wasn’t taking donations due to COVID issues.)
Once I get through the books in the common areas of the house, I’ll tackle the office. Occasionally, I’ll glance around while I’m working at my desk and will see a book on one of my shelves that can go and I grab it for the piles (yes, more Jenga piles by the garage door). After the books are purged in the common areas, I’ll start to work on the kitchen. I love my collections of vintage baking pans and tools and I will not part with those but I will organize them. Holiday related items and things I use sparingly will make their new home on shelves in the basement.
I am proud that I went through a cabinet in the dining room. I gave friends certain pieces and took the rest to a consignment shop. Yes, almost the entire contents – gorgeous platters and more – gone. By doing this, I now have that cabinet to store baking items and the ability to actually remove a platter if I wanted to use one. My mind set was as long as I could put as much as possible in one of those cabinets and close the door, it was okay. It isn’t okay – it was madness. I’m not Martha Stewart or Ina Garten – I don’t need fifty platters and I don’t have a barn. (I confess to thinking “oh man if I had a barn I could keep it all”. Not today, little Ina devil! Get off my shoulder and don’t tempt me with your evil thoughts.)
I started this purge for a number of reasons – you may remember I wrote the following paragraph in a post that Darcie and I colloborated on:
I have been very ill for a while now. My house is a cookbook hoarder’s dream and I have bins of cooking ingredients and gadgets to organize from the last six months. Just this Sunday I felt well enough to start going through books and purging. My husband has been patient with this scenario but Tuesday when he tried to talk to me calmly…
Since we’ve moved to our new house, I have wanted to make the time and have the strength to tackle my beautiful mess. But as I always do – in an effort to just get things out of boxes – I unpacked and stacked and threw things into the cabinets. I did not take my time and sort and organize carefully. This also applied to when we moved, I should have donated loads before packing up but there is never enough time.
This statement brings me to the second major reason I began this giant unloading as I affectionately refer to this major life event of mine. Remember the first reason was as an effort to please my husband and myself (the stuff drives me mad), the second reason is time. I want time to enjoy the things I love and not have walls of things around me – trust me – I will never be a minimalist – so Marie K do not show up here for an intervention. I will not answer the door – just like I ignore the doorbell when someone shows up with a clipboard and a smile. But I do want to have space to work creatively, ability to find books and things I need without it taking hours and causing more stress.
I have a wealth of cookware and two weeks ago my son and his new bride came for a visit and I loaded her up with nice things to start their life, I have given neighbors and friends many items. I do share the wealth.
I write this today in an effort to distract myself from the horrific news in our world and yesterday’s senseless shooting in Boulder, an hour away from me. I write this to purge my head and my heart and to make myself more accountable and I do promise to come back and update my efforts.
Wish me well and pray that my heating pad holds out because my back is aching from the lifting.
I have add this: Shelmar made the following comment: “My first thought was I wished I lived wherever you are so I could go buy at the thrift store.” And it reminded me of the reason I do not go into that particular thrift store right now: I don’t want to see my babies, marked down and discounted, like Bette Midler in Ruthless People.
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