Out of print but not out of mind

Cookbook collageCookbooks generally have short publication lives. Outside of big name classics like Joy of Cooking, most cookbooks generally only get a printing or two and then it's on to the "next big thing." Since it's difficult to judge which cookbooks will become go-to volumes in our libraries, we might pass on books only to find out later that they deserve a spot on our shelves. Or perhaps we discover a previous generation's grand opus that we covet for our collection.

One top online used bookseller, Abebooks, has listed its top 10 out of print cookbooks by sales volume. The list includes A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price, The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan (out of print in the US but reprinted in the UK), The Best Recipe Soups & Stews by Cook's Illustrated Magazine, and Greene on Greens by Burt Greene. 

A few years back, The NY Times asked several chefs, restaurant owners, writers, and publishers to discuss their favorite out of print cookbooks. Several chefs listed cookbooks published outside of the US, but writer and chef Anthony Bourdain's favorite was a local book, the Provincetown Seafood Cookbook. Nigella Lawson waxed poetic about Anna del Conte's 1993 work, Entertaining all'Italiana, praising del Conte's writing: "She writes as a scholar, but for the home. Every household needs this book, and there is no excuse I can think of for its being out of print."

By the time we learn about these books, it can be difficult to source them. While it's always a joy to browse small independent booksellers, finding what you need can be hit or miss. The internet has done wonders for finding lost treasures, and sometimes enough of the books remain to make adding them to our collection painless. Other volumes remain pricey. In the US, Amazon, Abebooks, and Powells are the heavyweights when it comes to out of print books. Many smaller independent bookstores (perhaps more out of necessity rather than desire) have partnered with these outlets and you are often searching many small shops at once when you search one of the big sites.

Sometimes the books are a steal. From the Abebooks list, you can find a copy of The Best Recipe Soups & Stews for under $5 USD including shipping, but A Treasury of Great Recipes is going to set you back no less than $41 USD. One of my favorite out of print cookbooks, Alice Medrich's Cocolat, goes for about $20 USD, but if you want her Chocolate and the Art of Low Fat Desserts, prepare to spend more than double that.

What is your favorite out of print cookbook? Do you have any stories about chasing down a book that is no longer in print?

9 Comments

  • ellabee  on  3/8/2015 at 6:09 PM

    AbeBooks is now part of the great Amazon octopus, just FYI for those who might be seeking alternatives (Alibris is one). My favorite out-of-print cookbook is The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash, 1982. Found one for $10. on the big auction site a few years ago, but most cost a bit more. Still worth it IMO.

  • Breadcrumbs  on  3/8/2015 at 6:56 PM

    No ellabee, say it ain't so! I've found so many deals on Abes and I'm sad to learn this. I recently ordered Loaves and Fishes which has been out of print for some time. After waiting over 2 years some poor soul didn't realize it was worth more and let it go for a song. That said, it still hasn't arrived so perhaps it was the "seller" that had the last laugh!!

  • KarinaFrancis  on  3/8/2015 at 7:54 PM

    My 2 are the original Margaret Fulton and Charmaine Solomon "encyclopedias". I picked them both up at markets for less than $5. Worth many times that.

  • Jane  on  3/8/2015 at 11:49 PM

    The out of print book I REALLY want but have not yet found at a reasonable price is The Last Course by Claudia Fleming. I feel my collection of dessert cookbooks is incomplete without it. And for the same reason, I would love to find Room for Dessert by David Lebovitz.

  • hillsboroks  on  3/9/2015 at 9:14 AM

    Jane I recently stumbled upon a copy of room Room for Dessert at my local Goodwill store for about $20. It is a wonderful book. I have been finding real treasures at the thrift shops this past year including several of the books listed by Darcie. Many of them are like new and cost me only a few dollars. I have wondered if they are coming from the collections of someone who died and the heirs just dumped them or if folks are just getting rid of all their paper books to go to digital? In any event I have been having great fun treasure hunting using EYB as my guide and my bookshelf is growing quickly.

  • latham  on  3/9/2015 at 6:37 PM

    I have found great buys on cookbooks in Goodwill stores on eBay. Here's an example http://stores.ebay.com/abvi-goodwillrochester?_rdc=1

  • bookpoet  on  3/9/2015 at 9:16 PM

    It would be nice for publishers to bring back important or highly coveted out of print books in E-book format, at the very least.

  • Pigeoncottagekitchen  on  3/11/2015 at 5:29 AM

    Re the 'out of print' books. I listened to a BBC Radio 4 programme a few years ago about people who had changed the way we eat in Britain. There was a programme about an amazing man called Major Patrick Rance (sadly passed away in 1999 aged 81) who wrote 'The Great British Cheese Book' and essentially saved the cheese industry which was in serious decline after WW2. This book isn't a recipe book as such but it is the definitive guide to all of our native cheeses and the conditions, locations and breeds of cattle essential for their authentic production. He inspired the founders of the great Neal's Yard cheese shops and revitalised artisan cheese making in Britain. My husband tracked down a second hand copy of this now out of print book through Abe books. A fascinating read for cheese lovers.

  • nicolepellegrini  on  3/13/2015 at 5:07 PM

    I don't think I can pick a favorite because probably 80% of my collection, at least, consists of out of print titles! But I'm basically a bargain bin/thrift store junkie, and rarely buy new cookbooks for myself (I put them on my wish lists for others to get me for gifts!) But if I had to pick one title I'm glad I own, and that is quite collectible, it's Ada Boni's "Italian Regional Cooking". There is so much to learn from this book, even if it seems rather bare-bones and basic by today's standards. When I've needed to find a classic, basic way to prepare a traditional Italian dish, it's almost always in this book.

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