Recycled love

Secondhand cookbooks

One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon is browsing a dusty secondhand shop, church bazaar, or (weather permitting) an outdoor tag sale. It never ceases to amaze me the perfectly useful things people throw away. Many times cookbooks are among the artifacts gracing overstuffed, disheveled bins. I take my time looking at each title, leafing through the volumes with reverence, and am thrilled when I find penciled notations that give me a glimpse into the previous owner's sensibility. I often wonder why a particular cookbook has ended up beside the well-used baby toys, faded clothing, and out-of-fashion home decor.

I'm not talking about the books that started out on the discount rack, the cheap single-ingredient tomes that panicked people buy when they realize they are due at the birthday party in half an hour. "Well, she likes to cook…holy cow, they want HOW MUCH for Modernist Cuisine at Home?! What do they  have under $15? Ah, here we are, I'm sure she will appreciate 550 Ways to Use Canned Lutefisk." No, I'm talking about the award-winning tomes, sometimes well-used, sometimes with a pristine cover and stiff binding, indicating the book was put on a shelf and forgotten until it was pulled down to make room for other items.

I try to imagine the story behind each book. Perhaps the Robicelli's was a gift from a well-meaning friend attempting to encourage a cupcake lover who had no interest in baking. Maybe The Breakfast Book belonged to an enthusiastic cook who has passed on to that great kitchen in the sky. Or perhaps retirement meant downsizing and shedding the Larousse Gastronomique, although I would hope that the owner would bequeath it to a eager novice cook rather than dump it into the discard pile.

Even though I quite enjoy cracking open a brand-spanking-new cookbook, I also take delight in giving a used book the loving home it deserves. Today's great find was the bargain-priced, ostensibly used Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes (I doubt it was opened more than once). I can't decide on which recipe I should try first. I also cherish my splattered and yellowed Larousse, and imagine all of the wondrous food that was made from that classic volume before the book was recycled to me.

Do you have any pre-owned cookbooks? Where did you find them, and what is your favorite?

13 Comments

  • okcook  on  3/8/2014 at 4:14 PM

    I have tons of pre-owned books. My favourite because I love dogs is Peterson's French Food big classic that I picked up at Powell's for $15. Back at the hotel room, I wondered why it was so cheap...slipped off the dust cover to have a better look and smiled when I saw the imprints of doggie teeth all along the edge of the front cover. Priceless

  • DKennedy  on  3/8/2014 at 4:16 PM

    I would have to say about half my preowned books

  • Jane  on  3/8/2014 at 4:32 PM

    I love looking for cookbooks at flea markets or in second hand bookstores. In fact I would say it's my favorite kind of shopping. Recent finds have been Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible and Patricia Wells' Trattoria.

  • hillsboroks  on  3/8/2014 at 4:41 PM

    If it wasn't for the used cookbooks at the various Powell's bookstores in my area and the treasures at the local used bookstore, I wouldn't have half the books I have. I too love the notes inside some of them and have found some really great tips hand-written next the recipes. Last week I poked through all the one-ingredient, no-name author and school fundraiser cookbooks in the back corner of my local used bookstore and found an almost unused copy of "Moosewood Restaurant's New Classics." Of course I had to take it home. I often think that many of these books were gifts to someone who really wasn't that interested in cooking or maybe belonged to someone who got all excited and thought they would get into cooking but it never quite happened? I actually cooked my first Betty Crocker and Silver Palate New Basics cookbooks to shreds, where the pages were coming out and the covers were off. Thankfully 20 years after I got my first copies of these books someone else didn't want the exact same books and I picked up gently used copies of them at Powell's. Once I had transferred my important notes to the pristine new pages, I was all set to keep enjoying them. Funny thing though, my grown kids both begged for the beat up copies so I gave the old ones to them. So see, old cookbooks never die they just find new owners who cherish them no matter what they look like.

  • Christine  on  3/8/2014 at 6:29 PM

    At least half my collection is used, but I must admit most of them were purchased online from Half.com rather than in person. I have a fiction collection that could put my cookbook collection to shame, and it's mostly because used bookstores are my very favorite shops to browse. My most frequented shops are a local one, one in my grandmother's town I've been going to since I was a kid with some allowance money in my pocket, and even a shop in the vacation town I visit with my family a few times a year. I've gotten a few cookbooks from those shops, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) cookbooks are not usually their strongest section. There is always something interesting to find though for a true-blue bookworm like me :)

  • lorloff  on  3/8/2014 at 11:43 PM

    Every where I travel for work or pleasure i am always hunting for used bookstores where I get lost in the used book section. my hands down favorites are Moes in Berkeley, Strand in San Francisco, Nicholas Potter in Santa Fe sadly just closed. Powells in Portland . i have been known to fly in early or take a later flight for the pleasure o perusing their shelves. My first choice in buying cookbooks is used they make up about 70% of my collection over the years . When I am in certain cities I will bring a larger suit to carry back the treasures I find. I have learned to carry my iPad with me to check which books are indexed or likely to be indexed and since joining EYB if the book is indexed or likely to be i am more likely to choose that one, it has led to wonderful conversations with book store owners and with other cookbook lovers about how fantastic EYB is

  • FuzzyChef  on  3/9/2014 at 1:23 AM

    I think the majority of my cookbook collection is secondhand. The favorites, I guess, are the ones which are now hard to obtain: the previously-mentioned Breakfast Book, the original Bette's Diner Handbook (which has different recipes from the current edition), various editions of the Sunset Bread Book. I also have the full Time-Life World Cuisine Collection, which took two generations to collect in full -- that's a favorite; the recipes as written are seldom good, but it's a great source of ideas for rounding out a particular ethnic meal.

  • FunkyViriditas  on  3/9/2014 at 7:36 AM

    I can count the number of cookbooks that I purchased new on one hand. And most of those were purchased at a discount or were on sale. I have about 200 cookbooks and most of them were under $6. I do often see new cookbooks that I would love to have, but then I'm like, "just wait a few years." The most fascinating part of buying used cookbooks are the heartfelt inscriptions. They really give insight into the giver and receiver. Sometimes it's a little sad to see that the gift has been passed along.

  • sir_ken_g  on  3/9/2014 at 1:25 PM

    The internet has really opened up the used book market. I have gotten some amazing classics that in past times would be just "out of print sorry."| One recent one was a copy of The Burmese Kitchen published in 1987. It was a library cut out and appeared to have been never checked out even once.

  • manycookbooks  on  3/9/2014 at 4:39 PM

    I probably haven't paid full price for a cookbook in 20 years....almost all in my collection I purchased from thrift stores, remainder bookstores, estate sales, or from people contacting me wanting to unload unwanted cookbooks (how could anyone NOT want a cookbook!?) A long, long, long time ago, I purchased about 500 books from a lady in Oregon, sight unseen and not all of the titles listed. It was a risk, but I about half of them were hard to find, out of print titles, English out of print cookbooks, etc. and I came away with a wonderful treasure, most of which I still have on my shelf today. Among them remains my still favourite cookbook to date: "Feed the Brute" by Marjorie Swift, published in London in 1925. It is a piece of cooking history!

  • Queezle_Sister  on  3/9/2014 at 10:22 PM

    I pay full price for plenty of books (because I love my locally-owned book store), but I'm certainly not immune to the pleasure of a good deal. One weekend, I purchased Penelope Casas' Paella cookbook in mint condition, and at the very next sale, a pristine set of paella pans.

  • wester  on  3/10/2014 at 8:13 AM

    A quick look at LibraryThing shows me that I got about two thirds of my cookbooks from BookMooch (a book swap site), and I would guess the majority of the rest were acquired secondhand as well. I got some excellent books through BookMooch, such as the Zuni Café Cookbook and Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, as well as the smaller but also excellent Madhur Jaffrey's Spice Kitchen. I love the sense of surprise you get from BookMooch or secondhand stalls - you never know what is going to turn up.

  • Leo  on  3/10/2014 at 1:37 PM

    My favourite find is a Patricia Wells 'Simply French' which contains an inscription to an unknown gentleman, clearly a much loved friend/colleague. It contains many signatures and messages. I like to think that I am looking after it for him. I found it in Booth's Bookshop in Hay on Wye (Wales, UK) a small town devoted to second hand books. Still can't beat the smell and feel of a brand new book though...

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