Indexing a masterpiece - The Escoffier Cookbook

The average cookbook contains about 175 recipes. Indexing a book with that many recipes takes some time, as Members who have volunteered to index a book well know. Some books fall well below this average and a few books exceed it by a significant number of recipes. Even the most prolific cookbook authors, however, generally do not exceed a few hundred recipes. Only a few books clock in at over 2,000 recipes, and fewer still exceed 3,000, including Larousse Gastronomique (3,880), and Joy of Cooking, 6th edition (3,181).

Indexing books like these is a significant accomplishment, which is why we are excited to announce that we've just finished indexing another such masterpiece, The Escoffier Cookbook: A Guide to the Fine Art of French Cuisine. This is the American edition of Auguste Escoffier's chef d'oeuvre, Le Guide Culinaire. The Escoffier Cookbook contains a whopping 2,703 indexed recipes. Although the book title notes that it contains 2,973 recipes, the indexer explained that often titles of food types or descriptions of foods were numbered, and these do not count as recipes in our index.  Even more impressive, this edition (based on the abridged 1907 English language edition) is only a subset of the more than 5,000 recipes in the original 1903 French version, which was meant to be a used as a guide for culinary apprentices.

The Escoffier Cookbook

My copy of The Escoffier Cookbook is the thirtieth printing of the book, and dates to 1973. Inside the book jacket, the book is described as "The Bible of Culinary Art" and "not for the beginning amateur in cookery." As you start reading the book, you realize the truth of that statement. The recipes are written with the understanding that you are familiar with many cooking terms and know what phrases like a "hot oven" mean. The instructions are not always detailed and are written in narrative format. Take recipe No. 431, Victoria Poached Eggs, for example:

Garnish some tartlet-crusts with a salpicon made from three oz. of spiny or Rock lobster meat and one-half oz. of truffles, mixed with three tablespoons of Diplomate sauce (82). Place an egg, coated with the Diplomate sauce, on each tartlet. Arrange, and set to glaze in a hot oven. 

There are no Instagram-worthy photos or illustrations of any kind in the book, only succinct recipes and forthright instructions. Fundamental techniques are explained in eloquent detail, such as recipe 249 - Poachings. Taking up nearly two pages, the description does a better job of explaining the technique than many modern books I've read:

However nonsensical it may sound, the best possible definition of a poaching is a boiling that does not boil. The term poach is extended to all slow processes of cooking which involve the use of a liquor, however small. Thus the term poach applies to the cooking in court-bouillon of large pieces of turbot and salmon, as well as to fillets of sole cooked with a little fish fumet, to hot mousselines and mousses, cooked in moulds, to quenelles which are cooked in salted water, to eggs announced as "poached," to creams, various royales, etc. It will readily be seen that among so many different products, the time allowed for the cooking in each case must differ sometimes widely from the rest. The treatment of them all, however, is subject to this unalterable principle, namely, that the poaching liquid must not boil, though it should reach a degree of heat as approximate as possible to the boiling-point. 

In addition to defining cooking techniques of the time, the book contains many ingredients that, while they may have been commonplace in 1903, are unfamiliar to modern day cooks. We had to add around 100 ingredients to the EYB Library to finish indexing The Escoffier Cookbook. A few of the more unusual ingredients include:

  • snipe intestines
  • gosling blood
  • tropical swallow nests
  • plover eggs
  • pimpernel (an aromatic herb)
  • lark pâté

In addition, there were about 20 different flavored '' ingredients, including blood orange ice, violet ice, filbert ice, and brandy ice, all used in making one of the 88 recipes for frozen "bombe" desserts that seemed to be popular at the turn of the 20th century. 

Please join me in extending a well-deserved 'thank you' to the indexer who tackled this challenging project, and to everyone who helped cross-check the index. To the other 220 people in the Library who also own the book, let's get to work on one of the 2,703 recipes. I have my eye on recipe 2425 - Hot Viennese Fritters (aka beignets)!

If you don't already own the book, you can purchase The Escoffier Cookbook through the usual sources, and you can likely find it it at a used bookstore or thrift store at a bargain price. I paid less than $5 for my copy at a secondhand store. It's a great read, not only for the recipes but also for the insights on how people ate at fine dining establishments in the early 1900s. Now that it is indexed, there is no reason not to have a copy in your collection. 

Omnivore Books celebrates ten years

In the last couple of years, we have brought you plenty of bad news about cookbook stores closing down or facing a precarious financial situation. That's why we are excited to share some good news: San Francisco's Omnivore Books is celebrating its tenth anniversary! Eater interviewed owner Celia Sack on how her store has not only survived, but has thrived in the past decade

Omnivore Books

Although she started her store in the depths of the Great Recession, Celia had one advantage in that she had a great deal of experience as a rare books specialist at an auction house in San Francisco. Having such a depth of knowledge about antiquarian books gave her a leg up on the rare cookbook market. 

One comment that Celia made in the article really struck a chord with me, when she compared cookbooks to albums: "My partner gave me a really good talking point: She said, when you get recipes online, it's like putting together a bunch of songs on Pandora that you like. But buying a cookbook, it's like buying an album." Much like an album reveals a lot more about an artist than a single can do, so too does a cookbook provide insights on the author. "It's nice to get to know the author you're working with and their style," says Celia.

Congratulations to Celia and Omnivore Books. Here's to many more successful years! 

Mark Hix adores this classic cookbook

Mark Hix is a celebrated food writer and renowned restaurateur. He has five acclaimed restaurants, pens a weekly column in the Independent on Saturday magazine, and has written several award-winning cookbooks. Hix has an impressive 2,500+ volume cookbook collection, but he admits he really only reads a few of these with any regularity. One of those is Anna del Conte's seminal work Gastronomy of Italy. Hix explains his love for this particular cookbook

Gastronomy of Italy

He admires Gastronomy of Italy so much that he purchased a second copy as a backup. In addition to the accurate and authentic recipes found in its pages, what Hix appreciates about the book is Anna's writing style. It "really encapsulates the Italian approach," he says. He also draws parallels between Italian dishes and those found in his homeland. "Take the classic bifsteak Fiorentina, the simple approach to fish, and to vegetables and salads - all these Italian stalwarts find an echo in what we make in the UK," Hix notes. 

One of his favorite recipes from the book, Caponata, is included in the article. Hix likes the addition of chocolate to the ingredient list, finding that it contributes to the perfect balance of sour and sweet. The dish is easy to make and doesn't require hunting down exotic ingredients, making it even better. 

For the love of cookbooks

In July 2017, Debbie Vanni lost almost every one of her cookbooks from fifty years of collecting due to a flood. Vanni, who runs the website, was devastated. Many of the books held special meaning to her, like her grandmother's 1914 Fannie Farmer cookbook. Says Vanni, "Inside she had written her name and address of where she lived while in college.  Whenever I would look at her handwriting, it's like I could feel her with me, and I miss that treasured book more than anything else that was on my shelves."

books on shelves

Following the flood, one of the Culinary Cellar's blog readers, Elaine Wallace, read about the devastation that Vanni had experienced and decided to do something to help. Wallace too had a large cookbook collection - 850 books - and had been contemplating what would happen to her collection once she was no longer around. She hated the thought of the collection being split up, sold piecemeal at a garage sale. So she made the difficult decision to give her entire collection to Vanni. 

There was one wrinkle: Vanni lived in northern Illinois, and Wallace lived in Wichita, Kansas, about 700 miles away. Shipping costs were going to be prohibitive, and the two wondered how to accomplish the transfer. A family friend and all around good guy Del Boyle stepped in to assist. He rented a truck and made the roundtrip from Illinois to Kansas and back, hauling the precious load. 

The books are now loaded onto Vanni's shelves, and she took particular delight in one volume, The Dessert Lover's Cookbook by Marlene Sorosky. It was the last book to be brought up following the flood, and Vanni is tickled that she has a replacement for such a hard-to-find cookbook. 

Update 8/17/18: Following the wonderful response to this post, Debbie has now received more than 2,000 cookbooks from well-wishers. Cookbook lovers really are the best people!

Anthony Bourdain's recommended reading

Die-hard fans of Anthony Bourdain loved reading his books nearly as much as they loved watching his entertaining travel programs. It's sad to know that we'll never enjoy another Kitchen Confidential or Medium Raw. The next best thing might be to read books that he recommended. Now we can do just that, because the New York Public Library has compiled a list of books and authors recommended by Anthony Bourdain.

cookbook collage

The list was compiled from interviews Bourdain gave in the years following the release of Kitchen Confidential. It will come as no surprise that the themes Bourdain enjoyed "tended towards 20th-century archetypes-bohemians, adventurers, rockers, spies, existentialists, cowboys, addicts-who lived lives of creativity, appetite, and adventure." 

You'll find books on food and cooking, plus fiction and nonfiction tomes as well. In addition to specific books, the listing also includes authors. A few highlights from Bourdain's recommended food and cookery books is shown below. Get out your library card (or update your Amazon cart)!

Another cookbook store closes its door

It's always disheartening to learn of a cookbook store that has closed. This time it's Good Egg in Toronto, Canada. The store closed last month following unsuccessful lease negotiations. "We couldn't come to a mutually beneficial agreement with our landlord, so we've decided to close," owner Mika Bareket says. Bareket would like to reopen Good Egg, but can only do so if the store can find another good lease.

Good Egg Toronto

We profiled Good Egg on our blog back in 2015, not long after Toronto's The Cookbook Store went out of business. The closure of Good Egg means there are now no dedicated cookbook stores in a city with 2.8 million residents, and only two (that we know about) in all of Canada: Appetite for Books in Montreal and The Cookbook Co. Cooks in Alberta.

Cookbook stores have had a rough go in recent years. Kitchen Witch Cookbooks, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, recently started a Go Fund Me page to help with expenses. The store has struggled after moving out of the French Quarter. Kitchen Witch moved to a location that has much less foot traffic, a blow to a store that relies heavily on tourists.  

Make a bee-line for this cookbook

Asheville Bee Charmer CookbookIf you have never visited Asheville, North Carolina, you should do so at your earliest convenience. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the city is surrounded by stunning scenery and is home to the always-impressive Biltmore, the magnificent "country home" of George Vanderbilt. The celebrated mountain town is currently being recognized for "the two Bs": beer and bees. It's home to the Center for Honeybee Research; the headquarters of Bee City USA, a nonprofit dedicated to creating sustainable habitats for pollinators; and scores of beekeepers making small-batch honey. It's no wonder that Asheville Bee Charmer, opened in 2014 by beekeepers Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen, has become a destination for both local foodies and tourists. This honey purveyor offers a range of bee-related products and more than 50 different artisanal honey varietals-each with its own unique color, texture, and taste.

Kelly and Allen have teamed up with Chicago-area chef and culinary consultant Carrie Schloss to write a cookbook featuring their signature honey, called The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook. The book's 130 recipes put to good use 20 different honey varietals, in addition to a handful of special Bee Charmer blends. You can find a short review of the book and a few select recipes at The Washington Post

The cookbook includes a color, aroma, and tasting guide to honey varietals in addition to the recipes.  Schloss writes with the home cook in mind, packing complex, surprising flavors into recipes written in clear, accessible prose. If you are looking for ways to ditch processed sugar without sacrificing flavor, The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook  is an excellent resource. 

The world's largest cookbook collection


Longtime Members of EYB may recall our interview in mid-2013 of EYB Member Sue Jimenez, who was at the time attempting to claim the world record for largest cookbook collection. In July 2013 she got the record, with an official tally of 2,970 (which shot up to 3,693 by that November). Sue remains the Guinness World Record holder for largest cookbook collection, and as Serious Eats explains, her current (unofficial) total is nearly 6,400 cookbooks! She frequently blogs about her collection at The Vintage Cookbookery, where she researches cookbooks for history, cultural and social trends, fads, technological changes, and much more.

In her interview with Serious Eats, Sue discusses how her collection began, and how it grew to be so large. When she was 18, her parents started her on this journey by giving her the entire  Time-Life Foods of the World series. She recalls making her first recipe, a cherry strudel, from the German volume. 

Sue points out that her current massive repository is actually her second cookbook collection. At one point she had about 800 books that she acquired from estate sales, thrift shops, and used-book stores. She collected these with the intention of selling them at a profit, but that didn't pan out so she donated them to a local library group. A few months later, Sue noticed that the group was selling the books, and says "My spouse had to practically tie me down to calm my panic at seeing my beloved books going to other homes, and to stop me from rushing down to re-purchase them."

She started collecting cookbooks again a few years later, and hasn't stopped since. Again, she purchased most of them from used-book stores and thrift shops, plus Edward Hamilton Bookshop, a remainder bookstore in Connecticut. Once her collection passed 1,000 books, Sue explains what happened next: "Having passed a neat, round number, I felt obligated to continue to the next neat, round number of 2,000. I promised my husband I would stop then. Well, you can figure out the rest." 

The photo above is one that Sue shared with us in 2013 - the Serious Eats article linked above provides a more recent image of one of the two rooms in her house that is filled with cookbooks. She and her husband moved to a bigger place to accommodate all of their books; her husband also has a collection (mostly science books) although it isn't as large as Sue's. She estimates that between them, they have about 9,000 books, or "enough to start up a small-town library." Of her 6,300+ cookbooks, Sue has 5,357 on her EYB Bookshelf.

Pastry chefs choose the best baking cookbooks

 Best baking books

I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for lists - especially lists about cookbooks. That's why I honed in on The Strategist's article about the best baking books as selected by pastry chefs. Nine top U.S. pastry chefs and professional bakers were asked to give their opinions on which books were the best in several categories. Some of the selections were expected, but there were a few surprises as well. 

Several of the bakers weighing in have written cookbooks, including Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin of Ovenly; Zachary Golper, chef and owner of Bien Cuit; and Alison Pray, co-owner at Standard Baking Co. in Portland, Maine. The first category, best book for non-bakers, left me scratching my head: the chefs selected Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts: The Recipes of Del Posto's James Beard Award-Winning Pastry Chef. If I hadn't done any baking, I think I would have found the recipes intimidating, although it is a great read and a wonderful resource. I just don't think that I would give it to someone who wasn't already a baker. 

Other choices made more sense. The best book for beginners was The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. All of Beranbaum's books garnered high praise from the chefs, including Miro Uskokovic, pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York. Although it is difficult for him to choose just one, he recommends The Baking Bible for a more general overview of baking and pastry. "You know she tested these recipes time and time again, and it's written in such detail that anyone will be able to execute them," he says.  

Beranbaum's The Cake Bible was chosen as the best book of cake recipes. Strangely, there was no best pie book, an unfortunate oversight, because pie deserves its own category. According to the numbers on EYB Members' Bookshelves, that honor would go to The Pie and Pastry Bible, with the more recent Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life running second.

But I digress. The volume chosen as the best baking book for intermediate bakers was Tartine: Sweet and Savory Pastries, Tarts, Pies, Cakes, Croissants, Cookies and Confections by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson. Again, this was a solid choice, although I am also fond of Bouchon Bakery.

Turning to bread, the best for beginners honor went to Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman, while the nod for best book for advanced bakers was Michel Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach. Looks like another book just went into my Amazon cart.

One category name was a bit unorthodox: best desserts cookbook with simple, seasonal recipes. However, the selection was anything but unorthodox, as Claudia Fleming's The Last Course rightly earned the praise here. As Agatha Kulaga says, "These perfect desserts will make you feel like you are the most accomplished pastry chef in the world without ever having to go to culinary school." The Last Course has been out of print for some time and increasingly difficult to find for a reasonable price, but that is about to change as the book is being reissued soon. 

Since these lists always leave room for dissent, I'm going to add a couple of books and authors that I think deserve to be mentioned when talking about best baking books. The first of my favorites is Sweet Miniatures: The Art of Making Bite-Size Desserts by the late Flo Braker. Although not every recipe is a winner, there are plenty of keepers here, along with good advice on how to make small treats that are perfect for parties. For bread basics, my go-to has been The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart. It provides a solid foundation for understanding the many variables that go into making a loaf, from lean artisan breads to buttery, enriched ones like brioche. 

Dorie Greenspan also merits inclusion in at least one of the categories - or perhaps they could have added one for best cookie book. Greenspan's books are favorites of EYB Members, and with good reason. Greenspan's directions are clear and concise, and she guides bakers gently but firmly into achieving good results. She also allows you room to play and grow, suggesting adaptations to her recipes to achieve different effects. You can't go wrong with Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home AnywhereBaking: From My Home to Yours, and of course Dorie's Cookies.

I think that Stella Parks is poised to become the muse of a new generation of bakers. BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts has been a revelation, and I'm sure it's just the beginning for the talented Parks, who combines her scientific approach with a quick wit that makes her recipes come alive. 

Given the judges, this list is slanted to U.S. books and authors, but I would be remiss not to mention Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Food (UK), and of course the book that many of us immediately fell in love with, Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. There are other worthy contenders too, but only so much time to write in one day. 

Now that I've got you yearning for more baking books to add to your library, I'll quickly mention that we have upcoming promotions for two great baking cookbooks: The Pastry Chefs Little Black Book by Michael Zebrowski and Michael Mignano and French Patisserie: Master Recipes and Techniques from the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts by Ecole Ferrandi.

Winners of the JBF Cookbook Awards

 cookbook collage

Jane and Jenny are at the James Beard Foundation awards ceremony in New York City, and live-tweeted the winners of the JBF Cookbook Awards. The first announcement was in the American category, where The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley edged out Homegrown and The Lost Kitchen

It's no surprise that the comprehensive Modernist Bread: The Art and Science by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco J. Migoya took home top honors in the Restaurant and Professional field. EYB Member favorite Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat bested worthy competitors Christopher Kimball and Melissa Clark to take home the prize for best general cookbook. 

Joshua McFadden won in the Vegetable-Focused category with Six Seasons. This must feel good coming off the controversy with his IACP award being rescinded. I noticed a few tweets that said this win was "interesting" - I am not sure if they were implying that it was given to him because he lost the other award. Most EYB Members would agree that the honor is completely deserved; Six Seasons has earned superlative reviews in the EYB Library. 

Stella Parks is probably riding high right now, because her epic book BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts won in the Baking category over both Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh and The Sweet Spot  by Bill Yosses and Peter Kaminsky. This is a well-deserved victory although it would have been difficult for me to choose between BraveTart and Sweet - I love them both. 

Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán and Stacy Adimando won in the International category. The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen took home the prize for best Single Subject book. Michael Twitty's The Cooking Gene bested rivals in the Writing category, and also won the night's biggest award when it was named Book of the Year. 

2018's inductee into the JBF Cookbook Hall of Fame is Betty FussellShe is the author of seven cookbooks, including The Story of Corn, I Hear America Cooking, and Food in Good Season. She specializes in American food and good home cooking, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, Travel & Leisure, and other magazines.

You can see the complete list of nominees and winners in all categories on our JBF 2018 community page

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