Cookbook culling: easier said than done


People in the Northern Hemisphere must be doing a lot of spring cleaning. That is the best explanation I have for the recent rash of articles and posts about paring down cookbook collections; the latest is from San Francisco, where Elaine Corn discusses the pros and cons of culling her 1,000+ cookbook library

Corn, a former news editor turned food editor and author, has an extensive collection. Her cookbooks occupy an entire wall of her living room, with one shelf devoted to Chinese books and another to signed copies of books from greats like Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Alice Medrich, MFK Fisher, Martin Yan, and Paul Bocuse. An interior decorator called Corn's books her "wallpaper", saying they were part of the texture of her home. 

As much as she loves her collection, however, Corn believes she has too many cookbooks. She says "cookbooks are like tools in a guy's garage. At some point, some have to go." Having too many of them can lead to "an unexpected amount of stress," she adds. So Corn turned to friends and authors who also had - and culled - large collections to see how they handled it. 

Remember when Russ Parsons said he was going to downsize his nearly 2,000 cookbooks? He did it - sort of. Parsons ended up culling about 400 books and now has a cookbook collection named in his honor at Long Beach main library. He employed a strategy similar to the oft-used KonMari method. But as you might expect after a lifetime of writing about food, he felt most of the books were treasures to be kept.

Corn hasn't yet decided which books to keep and which to give away. She admits to not using many of her cookbooks, but might keep those for cuisines where she relies heavily on assistance to make the dishes. Her examples of those include Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Basque, Spanish or Hungarian cookbooks. Other categories might get the boot, however,  like several books on pizza. "All I need for pizza is one recipe for a good crust," she notes. Or, she might employ the strategy of author Georgeanne Brennan - keep all of them and let your heirs decide what to do with the collection when you die. 


  • Lmeyers520  on  5/1/2017 at 9:17 PM

    I had written about this exact topic about 2 years ago. I was contemplating get rid of some of my cookbooks. Not sure which ones just yet. There are just so many cookbooks one should keep on how to make pasta

  • annmartina  on  5/2/2017 at 1:56 PM

    Since I started seeing these articles I think I've culled 2 and added 6 or 7 :)

  • Mrs. L  on  5/3/2017 at 1:50 PM

    My family already knows that when I pass away, they all get to come pick out 10 cookbooks each from my collection. Then my friends get to do the same. That may get rid of a couple hundred or so . After that it's a free for all with whats left. After that any remaining books would go to a local shelter/library/ whatever my family wishes (and that's even the local thrift store if that is their wish). But I have a couple of friends who I think might want to claim the entire batch of leftovers!

  • Rinshin  on  5/3/2017 at 3:02 PM

    It was time. It was time to find out how many I have. Less than I thought I had. I counted 834 English language and 645 Japanese language. I need to do something about my magazine collection before culling books though. I have all of Gourmet, Bon Apetit from around 1977, Food and wine from more than likly 80's, Saveur from at least 90?, Fine Cooking, etc. At least all the bookcases are attached to the walls so no problem falling.

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