First-love cookbooks

I don't know about you, but when I first learned to cook I had no idea what to look for in a cookbook.  I had my old roommate Conrad's 365 Ways to Cook Chicken on permanent loan, and I'd been given The Essentials of Italian Cooking.  But from that point on, it was pure speculation.

I bought Salad, by Amy Nathan, when I was around 21.  It was a lovely summer afternoon, and I was walking by myself through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--one of my favorite places to go on a weekend afternoon.  I had viewed the spectacular roses, and I had walked through the glass greenhouse with its elegant filigree of cast-iron. In the gift shop, I found Salad, and I thought its photographs of perfect, cross-sectioned heirloom fruits and exotic salad greens on light-box backdrops were about the most sophisticated thing I'd ever seen.  I bought it on the spot.  But where could a girl find yellow pear tomatoes? or purple basil?  I never made the recipes, but I still own and cherish the book.

I'm not sure, but I think I bought The Pyromaniac's Cookbook at a sidewalk sale.  It was the title that sold me.  I wasn't a pyromaniac, but I wanted to be one.  I'd always basically been a good girl, so drugs and/or actual crime were basically out of the question.  Pyromania, however, seemed just about my speed.  A couple of years later, I bought my first propane torch.  I torched bananas in the morning and crème brûlée at night.  But I didn't use the Pyromaniac's Cookbook, which scared me off with its flambéd pheasants and frogs' legs.  To this day it sits unmolested on the shelf among my single-subject cookbooks.  It's under "F," as in "Fire."

Around the same time I bought the Silver Palate Cookbook, an old classic among us EYB'ers, and I was so relieved to find a book I could actually use that it was soon split-spined and stained with affection.  I still have that one, too.

What cookbooks first led you down the primrose path?  And do you have them still?

7 Comments

  • Susie Middleton  on  4/23/2012 at 7:55 PM

    So funny -- that Salad book caught my eye because I STILL have it! Maybe I bought it in Brooklyn, too--would have been about the right time. I know I bought the Silver Palate while living on Pacific St (in maybe 1985 or 6?) and it was surely my most used and loved cookbook--chicken marbella etc.! lately I've been harking back to Bert Greene's books, Grains, and Greens. Workman did a lot of good stuff. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Gregory Mowery  on  4/23/2012 at 8:57 PM

    Susan--I know THE SILVER PALATE COOKBOOOK is old, but ouch, until the 25th anniversary edition came out, I had the original first edition, which I could out of excessively. My first three cookbooks were THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOKBOOK by Craig Claiborne and MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING (both volumes), which i got in Literary Guild book club editions. Good start for an ambitious young cook.

  • CynNims  on  4/24/2012 at 10:33 AM

    This is timely, since I just had occasion to be at a lunch with Paula Wolfert this week and her "Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco" was among my first "serious" cookbooks back in college. Silver Palate will always take me back to that era of cookbook discovery as well. Such nostalgia in those pages!

  • BethNH  on  4/26/2012 at 1:52 PM

    My first cookbooks that I bought for myself as an "adult" were Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest and The Moosewood Cookbook. Oh, how I loved those books. I lost all my cookbooks in a flood about 15 years ago, but those were two that I replaced immediately although I never cook from them anymore.

  • CplusE  on  4/27/2012 at 9:17 AM

    What a great question! My first cookbook was an oldie from 1942 called "Granddaughter's Inglenook Cookbook" that I "inherited" from my mother, i.e., she never used it so I took it to college with me and it has been mine ever since! Although I rarely used the recipes, I still enjoy leafing through it (I never get rid of cookbooks). My first cookbook purchase was as a freshman in college, and the book was "Betty Crocker's Cookbook" (1974). It became my go-to source for recipes, especially when I cooked for others. The recipes are easy to follow and I love the retro-look photos (which were the height of fashion at the time). After my freshman year I moved into a studio apartment, and since I was on my own I decided to buy a cookbook called "The Singles' First Menu Cookbook" (1975). The recipes made single servings and sounded pretty tasty as well. Apparently my dog at the time thought so too, as she chewed the corners of the book one day when I was on campus. Those dog-eared corners now remind me of youthful times, and my beloved first dog. I have purchased an embarrassing number of cookbooks since then, and have kept almost all of them, but these first three will always be special for the memories they evoke.

  • chris08226  on  4/27/2012 at 6:06 PM

    My "firsts" are definitely newer titles. The first cookbook I bought for myself was "The Roasted Vegetable" by Andrea Chesman and the first I got as a gift was "Luscious Chocolate Desserts" by Lori Longbotham. Since sweets & veggies are still my favorite things to make and eat, these two retain prime real estate on my shelves. They definitely qualify as my "gateway" books!

  • adrienneyoung  on  4/28/2012 at 7:52 PM

    Julia Child's "French Chef" cookbook. The one that went with the tv series. Great pictures... not intimidating for a young person. I am surprised I didn't split the spine! And (a present from mom, I think), Fannie Farmer's junior cookbook. Full of recipes for pancakes. And salads of canned pears decorated with slivered almond ears so they looked like bunnies... what young girl could be anything but enchanted by bunnies and pancakes?

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