A cookbook 'starter library'


Cookbook lovers not only read, collect, and cook from cookbooks, they also love to share their passion with others by giving cookbook gifts. Whether the gift is for a holiday, wedding, graduation, or other important life event, a cookbook is not only useful and thoughtful, it can become a cherished reminder of someone's love. Over at indexed blog The Kitchn, Tami Weiser writes about starting a cookbook library for her children to take with him as they become more independent.

Weiser provides a list of ten cookbooks that she gave each of her children. She found it difficult to whittle down a list of favorites to a mere ten volumes, so she applied criteria such as only professional-style or encyclopedic books (Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything), books with clear directions - important for beginning cooks (Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia), and books that were well-edited.

If I were to come up with a "cookbook starter library," it would look vastly different than Ms. Weiser's list, although I would include The Food Lab. I would add a bread book (The Bread Baker's Apprentice), and would also choose one unique volume that might be more aspirational than practical. For that, I'd consider a Thomas Keller book. I'd also think about adding Michael Ruhlman's The Elements of Cooking, because if one didn't have a kitchen mentor to learn from, that book would be helpful in understanding basic cooking concepts, and it isn't quite as lengthy as other technique/principle works. (Cal Peternell's Twelve Recipes might fit the bill here too.)

What would your "starter library" look like?


  • KarinaFrancis  on  12/1/2016 at 10:45 PM

    For an answer to just about any "what on earth do I do with [insert ingredient]?" questions, I would have to include Stephanie Alexander's Cooks Companion. My nephew got married recently and I gave his new bride some Bill Grainger and Donna Hay books, they are good, basic and non-intimidating for a novice cook.

  • ellabee  on  12/2/2016 at 2:39 AM

    My list would be similar but much shorter. Ten books seems overwhelming as a starter cooking library; it was decades before I had that many cookbooks (but Jacques Pepin's La Technique was one of them). If I were to give just one book, it might be The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. For reference tomes, Pepin's Complete Techniques and Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. [The cooking wisdom and feel for food in VCFE make it a much more valuable guide than anything by Bittman, whose "minimalist" schtick leads him to skimp on flavor and skip essential techniques.] None of these have the gorgeous food pictures now deemed essential to a modern cookbook, so for a representative addition, I'd go with the crowd appeal of Ottolenghi's Plenty. An older book worth considering is the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash, better than any other of its kind.

  • Jane  on  12/2/2016 at 4:48 AM

    I have started something similar with my own children though not in such a structured way. My 23 yo son, who does cook for himself and is a vegetarian, has so far been gifted with Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell, Eat Your Vegetables by Joe Yonan and Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. My 21 yo daughter, who doesn't have cooking facilities at college, has so far received How to Eat by Nigella Lawson and Pasta Fresca by Viana la Place and Evan Kleiman. Of course they stand to inherit my own huge cookbook collection when I die.

  • Jenny  on  12/2/2016 at 8:57 AM

    I'm taking mine with me when I die, Jane. I will probably make a special box for Andrew with my favorites. All he cares about right now is that I leave him my brownie recipe.

  • dianev  on  12/2/2016 at 9:02 AM

    My pick would be HOW TO COOK WITHOUT A BOOK by Pam Anderson. So many good basic techniques, easy examples and a wide range of useful everyday menu choices.

  • Smokeydoke  on  12/2/2016 at 11:38 AM

    Food Lab, definitely. Also the Good Eats book, America's Test Kitchen *Everything* (all of them, they've all been great), Alton Brown's new book, Everyday Cook, and although I haven't read anything by her, anything by Ina Garten, because she seems to make simple, foolproof recipes that are elegant. Books that I've had ever since I started cooking: my Martin Yan collection and my Ms Field's collection. I still cook from them to this day, that's over a decade of use (almost two)!

  • rrossely  on  12/4/2016 at 12:27 AM

    I left home (some decades ago!) with Margaret Fulton's Cookbook which in combination with the old Cooking Class Cookbook (Australian Women's Weekly) were wonderful starters with the occasional surprise eg bagels in 1970s Australia. However one of the great Australian "everything" books either Stephanie Alexander (as already mentioned), Margaret Fulton's Encyclopedia of Cookery or Maggie Beer's Maggie's Harvest. Then fill out with the type of cuisine/cooking they might like.

  • anniette  on  1/26/2017 at 4:13 PM

    I have been giving Food 52's Genius Recipes, The Food Lab, The Southerner's Cookbook by Garden and Gun, and The Kitchn Cookbook as a group for wedding gifts. For my own college daughter, Cal Peternell's Twelve Recipes. I have a cookbook room and verge on being a cookbook hoarder, so none of these are my own favorites, they're just my favorites to give right now. I tend to rely on Canal House, Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, Ina Garten, Maida Heatter, James Beard, James Villas.

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