Thousands of cookbooks - and a controversial past

cookbooks on shelfDalia Carmel's New York City apartment might be a cookbook lover's dream: you can find cookbooks from floor to ceiling in nearly every room of the home. What's even more impressive is that the thousands of books in the apartment are only a fraction of her collection - she has already donated over 11,000 volumes to New York University.

One does not amass this many books overnight: Carmel has been collecting cookbooks for over 50 years. After becoming embroiled in two scandals in her homeland of Israel, in what has become known as "the rotten business" and the subsequent cover-up called the Lavon Affair, Carmel moved to New York in 1960. There she began to cook and take a serious interest in cookbooks. She explains, "I moved to a new apartment, bought a set of stainless-steel pots, and realized I had to learn how to cook. I couldn't even boil water. In my first attempts to make soup, I didn't understand why the bones didn't melt. One day a catalog arrived in the mail from a cookbook club. They offered housewives four books for a dollar, including postage and delivery. To justify the dollar, I chose the four fattest books, and undertook to buy more. That was the start."

As most EYB members can relate, the notion that she was a collector was slow to dawn on Carmel. "I was just buying cookbooks in order to cook from them," she explains. One thing missing from her collection? Celebrity cookbooks. "I always collected cookbooks, not theoretical books on gastronomy, and I have hardly any works by famous chefs," says Carmel. "What interested me were books by home cooks and the foods of ethnic, religious and national groups."

The article linked above (free registration required) goes into detail about the cookbook collection as well Carmel's involvement in scandal as a young government secretary. While she obeyed orders at the time to forge documents, she now speaks with contempt about the affair.

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