Cookbook Love Podcast

Sometimes I get tired of reading cookbooks. That's when I turn to podcasts so I can listen to cookbook authors and others talking about cookbooks! Lucky for me, there's another great podcast to add to my queue, as Jenny is returning to Maggie Green's Cookbook Love podcast. (You may remember that last Fall Jenny was a guest on the podcast discussing her love of cookbooks.)

This time around, Jenny and Maggie will be talking about recent cookbook news. Episode 25 contains a full hour of discussion, touching on 2019 releases (The New Pie, Claudia Fleming's The Last Course reprint slated for this October), our EYBD program, how Jane compiles our Best of the Best lists, plus the Magnolia Table and Jenny's obsession with the self-published title Gnocchi, Solo Gnocchi.

Grab a snack and settle down to listen to the entire conversation on the Cookbook Love Podcast page. 

Inside L.A.'s only cookbook store

Despite being the second most populous city in the United States and home to what some would argue is the finest food culture in the country, Los Angeles suffered for years from a drought of cookbook stores. The beloved Cook's Library closed its doors in 2009, and it took almost a decade for another cookbook store to emerge. That store, called Now Serving, opened in late 2017 and has become a haven for cookbook lovers and chefs in the area

Ken Concepcion and Michelle Mungal
Now Serving cookbook store owners Ken Concepcion and Michelle Mungcal, and their daughter, Frankie. (photo courtesy Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Former chef Ken Concepcion and his wife, Michelle Mungcal, brought the store to life after Ken hung up his chef's whites. He worked in a variety of top L.A. restaurants including Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse Cut, where he served as chef de cuisine. Concepcion envisioned the space for his bookstore as a place that chefs would want to hang out in on their days off. 

The small space is packed with a well-curated selection of top cookbooks, ceramics, and chef's tools. Cookbook authors from near and far come to the tiny store for talks and book signings; recent guests include Dorie Greenspan and Magnus Nilsson. While Concepcion brings his chef sensibilities to the location, he isn't exactly a stranger to bookstores, since he worked in one for two years after graduating from college. "They gave us an employee discount, and all I bought was cookbooks," he recalled. 

It's exciting to learn about new cookbook stores and it makes me wish that I had travel plans that would put me in Los Angeles soon so I could browse the stacks of books (the fact that it is 18 degrees Fahrenheit and snowy here makes the prospect of L.A. even more enticing). If you are in the city, be sure to head over to Now Serving to see the wonderful collection and chat with the owners. The store is open five days a week, but is closed on Tuesdays and open only by appointment on Wednesdays. 

Now Serving's events are always shared on our calendar. And their top selling cookbooks of 2018 were included in our cookbook stores' bestsellers lists. Ken also supplied his personal top-rated cookbooks of last year.

A limited edition Joy of Cooking goes luxe

Joy of Cooking was the 'gateway drug' for many cookbook collectors, myself included. Before cookbook publishing exploded, it stood alone as a paragon of the genre, teaching multiple generations how to cook for their families. Plenty of people hang on to their grease-splattered and dog-eared copies of Joy, passing them down to their children and grandchildren. New editions continue to be bestsellers, despite the proliferation of fantastic cookbooks over the last couple of decades. 

If you are a serious collector - or just have a penchant for leather - you might want to check out the limited edition Joy of Cooking that is being offered for sale. Bound in Vachetta leather, it features embossed lettering and a hand-painted spine. According to John Becker, the great-grandson of Irma Rombauer, the idea for this limited edition was simple.  "I wish there was more to it than 'someone came to us with a good idea,'" he said, noting that several colors are available. You can opt for black, blue, rust, gold metallic, a pink-ish "natural" color, or yellow nubuck.  Such luxury doesn't come cheap: the books are priced at $156 USD.

leather books

I found it fascinating that the article linked above is written by someone who is fascinated by the black leather-bound copy of Joy even though she does not cook and really has no interest in learning how to do so. Even for her, Joy of Cooking holds immeasurable appeal. She says that the book "speaks to me specifically because I have so many memories of my mom using it. I am convinced it is imbued with magical powers, and holds the secret to kitchens in the way other books do not. If I found a leather-bound  How to Cook Everything, I am sure it would be lovely, but I am not sure I would be as obsessed." Are you planning to spring for this new version? 

Amazon's list of 100 best food books

I am a sucker for lists and have been since a very young age. When I was little I used to type up lists of things to do during my summer vacation, banging out a new list nearly every day on my mom's old manual typewriter. Any time I see a "must-have" list of books to read, foods to eat, or places to visit, I can't help myself but click through. I was doubly excited today when I saw a tweet from Dorie Greenspan extolling Amazon's list of 100 books for a lifetime of eating and drinking. A list dedicated to books about food and drinking, including many of my favorite cookbooks of all time? I think I'm in heaven. 

cookbook covers

Scrolling through the list I noted the books I would definitely expect to see included on any such list: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, Larousse Gastronomique, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. Also unsurprising were entries for M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating and Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. However, I encountered several books that I did not expect to find, like Polska: New Polish Cooking by Zuza Zak or The Bob's Burgers Burger Book: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers by Loren Bouchard. The latter especially caught me off guard, although the book does enjoy a high rating by EYB Members who own it. 

Browsing through this list prompted me to think about the books I would choose to represent the best in food and cookery over the past century. Narrowing the choices to a mere 100 would be a daunting task. While I have quibbles with some of the selections on Amazon's list, I am also certain that people would also disagree with my picks. Despite my quibbles about a few of the items in the list, it was a fun exercise to count how many of the books I had in my library (29). It looks like I might need to hit up the thrift stores this weekend to grab more of these treasures, as I'm sure people have been "Kondoing" their cookbook collections since the beginning of the year.

The best selling cookbooks of 2018

Last month our friends at cookbook stores around the world gave us their picks for their favorite books of 2018. Now we asked them for their top sellers. In past years we have compared the lists from specialist stores in the USA to that for all US sales from the publishing industry data company, Nielsen.  Unfortunately Publishers Weekly has not published the list this year (or at least not yet) so we cannot do the comparison. We do know that the top selling US cookbook of the year (by a huge margin) was Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines.

Please do remember when buying cookbooks to support your local cookbook store, if you are lucky enough to have one. You will miss it if it closes! Toronto's much-loved The Good Egg closed last summer.  Though on the bright side, two new cookbook stores opened in the USA this year - Now Serving in Los Angeles and Lizz Young Bookseller in Brooklyn, NY.


Omnivore Books (San Francisco) - owner Celia SackSalt Fat Acid Heat

1. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
2. The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
3. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
4. The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson
5. Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
6. Feed Your People by Leslie Jonath
7. At My Table by Nigella Lawson
8. Season by Nik Sharma
9. Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden
10. Repertoire by Jessica Battilana


Now Serving (Los Angeles) - owner Ken ConcepcionMatty Matheson

1. The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
2. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
3. Matty Matheson: A Cookbook
4. You and I Eat the Same, Vol 1 edited by Chris Yang
5. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
6. Bestia by Ori Menashe & Genevieve Gergis
7. Superiority Burger Cookbook by Brooks Headley
8. The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson
=9. Chicken & Charcoal by Matt Abergel
=9. I Am a Filipino by NIcole Ponseca & Miguel Trinidad


Kitchen Arts & Letters (New York) - owner Matt Sartwell The Noma Guide to Fermentation

1. The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
2. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
3. Cook LIke a Pro by Ina Garten
4. At My Table by Nigella Lawson
5. How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
6. River Cafe London by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli, and Rose Gray
7. You and I Eat the Same, Vol 1 edited by Chris Yang
8. The Flavor Matrix by James Briscione with Brooke Parkhurst
9. Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
10. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat


Book Larder (Seattle) - owner Lara Hamilton Ottolenghi Simple

1. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
2. The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
3. At My Table by Nigella Lawson
4. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
5. You and I Eat the Same, Vol 1 edited by Chris Yang
6. Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan
7. Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden
8. Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
9. Let's Stay In by Ashley Rodriguez
10. How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry


Read It and Eat (Chicago) - owner Esther Dairiam

Bread is Gold

1. The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
2. Bread is Gold by Massimo Bottura
3. Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
4. You and I Eat the Same, Vol 1 edited by Chris Yang
5. Pizzapedia by Dan Bransfield
6. Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan
7. More Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless
8. Korean BBQ by Bill Kim
9. The Whole Smiths Good Food Cookbook by Michelle Smith
10.  Kitchen Creativity by Karen Page



Kitchen Witch Cookbooks (New Orleans) - owners Debbie Lindsey and Philipe LaMancusa

Vegan Dawlin

1. Vegan Dawlin by Barbara Ganucheau
2. Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen
3. Gumbo Shop Traditional and Contemporary Creole Cuisine by Richard Stewart
4. Austin Leslie's Creole-Soul by Austin Leslie and Marie Rudd Posey
5. Chez Helene by Austin Leslie
6. Talk About Good! by Junior League of Lafayette, LA
7. Good Time Eatin' in Cajun Country by Donna Simón
8. From Crook to Cook by Snoop Dogg
9. Cooking up a Storm Edited by Judy Walker and Marcelle Bienvenu
10. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat



The Cookbook Co. Cooks (Alberta) - owner Gail Norton

Food Artisans of Alberta

1. Food Artisans of Alberta by Karen Anderson & Matilda Sanchez
2. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
3. The Wickaninnish Cookbook by The Wickaninnish Inn
4. Whitewater Cooks More Beautiful Food by Shelley Adams
5. Best of Bridge Weekday Suppers by Emily Richards & Sylvia Kong
6. Uncomplicated by Claire Tansey
7. Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden
8. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
9. How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
10. The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives by Kevin Kent



Scrumptious Reads (Brisbane) - owner Julie

Meat: The Ultimate Companion

1. Meat: The Ultimate Companion by Anthony Pulharich and Libby Travers
2. Suqar by Greg & Lucy Malouf
3. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
4. Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
5. From the Earth by Peter Gilmore
6. PlantLab  by Matthew Kenney
7. Eat Local 2 by Brenda Fawdon
8. Etxebarri by Juan Carlo Cardenal & Jon Sarabia
9. Smith & DELI-cious by Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse
10. Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit



Cook the Books (Auckland) - owner Felicity O'Driscoll


1. Season by Nik Sharma
2. Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
3. Always Delicious by Lauraine Jacobs
4. Let's Eat by Nadia Lim
5. The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Michelle Dickinson 
6. Ripe Recipes: A Third Helping by Angela Redfern
7. The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
8. Meat & Three by Kathy Paterson
9. Thai Street Food by David Thompson
=10. Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit
=10. From Crook to Cook by Snoop Dogg



De Kookboekhandel (Amsterdam, Netherlands) - owner Jonah Freud


1. De Banketbakker by Cees Holtkamp & Jonah Freud
2. Simpel (Ottolenghi Simple) by Yotam Ottolenghi
3. Groentebijbel by Mari Maris
4. TLV by Jigal Krant
5. Bon Appétit by Jonah Freud
6. Shortlist Amsterdam by Famke & Floor van Praag
7. The Rijksmuseum Cookbook by Jonah Freud
8. Heel vel Veg! (River Cottage Much More Veg) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
9. Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
10. Japan the Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

'The Naked Chef' turns 20

Can you believe that Jamie Oliver's first cookbook is 20 years old? That's right, The Naked Chef premiered two decades ago when Oliver burst onto the scenic as fresh-faced, exuberant young chef with something to say. He hasn't stopped since, building a veritable empire of restaurants, cookbooks, and television programs.

Jamie's Dinners

To celebrate this milestone, Penguin are re-releasing Jamie's first five cookbooks - The Naked Chef, The Return of the Naked Chef, Happy Days with the Naked Chef, Jamie's Kitchen, and Jamie's Dinners - as beautiful Hardback Anniversary Editions. The first in line is the last of the five, Jamie's Dinners, with a release date scheduled for April 11. 

This move is reminiscent of Nigella Lawson's cookbook being reissued with cover designs that turned out to be a little controversial (people seemed to either love them or hate them). We don't know what the new cover will look like for Jamie's reissued volumes. 

Best of the best cookbooks 2018

It's hard to believe, but this is the tenth year that Jane has sifted through hundreds of 'best cookbook' lists from all over the world to determine which book is the #1 book of the year. And it's also difficult to believe, but the same author has had the top book six out of the ten years we've been putting this list together - Yotam Ottolenghi, whose Ottolenghi Simple annihilated the competition. No one seems to be able to top Ottolenghi if he decides to publish a book - not even Dorie Greenspan (Everyday Dorie, #4) or Ina Garten (Cook Like a Pro,#9).

cookbook collage

This year's surprise finish goes to The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber (#2). Who would have guessed that a specialty book filled with pickles, vinegars, kombucha, vinegars and garums would be so popular? (Speaking of garum, if you are interested in learning even more about this ancient condiment, I recommend reading Mark Kurlansky's Salt: A World History, which explores the history of all things salty, including preseved items like garum.)

Other notable finishers on the 2018 list are Season, Big Flavors, Beautiful Food by Nik Sharma (#3), Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers by Julia Turshen (#6), How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry (#7), and Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook (#8). The next ten books could have easily been in the top 10 in other years, but the competition this year was tremendous. That list includes Rose's Baking Basics by Rose Levy Beranbaum, The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson, and Joe Beef - Surviving the Apocalypse by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin & Meredith Erickson.

In addition to the overall lists, Jane has assembled lists for the UK & Ireland, Canada, and Australia & New Zealand, plus specialty lists for drinks/cocktails, memoirs/general food writing, and vegan/vegetarian. For the UK, the top book was How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry, followed by Ottolenghi Simple and Asma's Indian Kitchen by Asma Khan.

Canada's top book was Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin & Meredith Erickson with Set For the Holidays With Anna Olson coming in second. There was a 4-way tie for third place in Canada!

Turning to Australia and New Zealand, top honors went to The Noma Guide to Fermentation, followed again by Ottolenghi Simple. Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit and Eat at the Bar by Matt McConnell tied for third place.

The top cocktail books were Apéritif by Rebekah Peppler and  Cocktail Codex by Alex Day, David Kaplan & Nick Fauchald. There was a tie for first place in the vegan/vegetarian category between Chloe Flavor by Chloe Coscarelli and Superiority Burger Cookbook by Brooks Headley. Top honors for memoirs/food writing went to Let's Eat France by François-Régis Gaudry.

See the complete lists, plus find out where the underlying data came from, on our Best Cookbooks of 2018 page

Also our beloved bookstores have shared their best picks and those can be found in our Best cookbooks by the experts 2018  post.

The best cookbooks of 2018 by the experts

Who knows cookbooks better than the owners of specialist cookbook stores? They stock and sell thousands of cookbooks and because their stores are focused on food and drink books, they are true experts. They read the books, cook from them and then share their knowledge with their customers. When shopping for cookbook gifts this holiday season, please think about supporting your local bookstore.  

We asked for favorite cookbooks of 2018 lists from the cookbook stores that feature in our directory. Some of the books listed were published in 2017 in the USA but in 2018 in the bookstore's country. All these lists will be included in our Best of the Best list, which is being unveiled shortly. 


Korean BBQ

Omnivore Books - owner Celia Sack

Korean BBQ by Bill Kim
Repertoire by Jessica Battilana
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
Rose's Baking Basics by Rose Levy Berenbaum
Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
Cooking South of the Clouds by Georgia Freeman
Season by Nik Sharma
I Am a Filipino by Nicole Ponseca and Miguel Trinidad
The One Bottle Cocktail by Maggie Hoffman
Feast by Anissa Helou



Kitchen Arts & Letters - owner Matt Sartwell

Season by Nik Sharma
A Very Serious Cookbook by Jeremiah Stone & Fabian Hauske
Room for Dessert by Will Goldfarb
Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee
Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan
Feast by Anissa Helou
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
Jam Session
by Joyce Goldstein



Ottolenghi SimpleBook Larder - owner Lara Hamilton

Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
At My Table by Nigella Lawson
You and I Eat the Same by Chris Ying, René Redzepi and MAD
How to Taste by Becky Selengut
Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan
Now & Again by Julia Turshen
Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
Let's Stay In by Ashley Rodriguez




Food52 Genius DessertsPowell's City of Books - cookbook buyer Tracey T.

Food52 Genius Desserts by Kristen Miglore
Home Cooking with Kate McDermott
Sister Pie by Lisa Ludwinski
Tiffin by Sonal Ved
Cook's Illustrated Revolutionary Recipes
The Campout Cookbook by Marne Hanel & Jen Stevenson
How to Taste by Becky Selengut
Now & Again by Julia Turshen
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
Season by Nik Sharma



The Noma Guide to FermentationRead It and Eat - owner Esther Dairiam

The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
Korean BBQ by Bill Kim
Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee
Matty Matheson by Matty Matheson
Soul by Todd Richards
Between Harlem and Heaven by JJ Johnson & Alexander Smalls




Israeli SoulNow Serving - owner Ken Concepcion

Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
Cooking South of the Clouds by Georgia Freeman
The Noma Guide to Fermentation
 by René Redzepi & David Zilber
Repertoire by Jessica Battilana
Apéritif by Rebekah Peppler
Japan The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu
Cooking in Iran by Najmieh Batmanglij
Korean Home Cooking by Sohui Kim
Solo by Anita Lo
Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin & Meredith Erickson 




Vegetarian Viet NameAppetite for Books - owner Jonathan Cheung

Vegetarian Viet Nam by Cameron Stauch
Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi
Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov & Steven Cook
Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse by David McMillan, Frédéric Morin & Meredith Erickson
Montréal L'Hiver by Susan Semenak & Cindy Boyce
Milk Street Tuesday Nights by Christopher Kimball
Uncomplicated by Claire Tansey
The Last Schmaltz by Anthony Rose & Chris Johns
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry





Eat at the BarScrumptious Reads - owner Julie Tjandra

Eat at the Bar by Matt McConnell
You and I Eat the Same by Chris Ying, René Redzepi and MAD
The Vegetable by Caroline Griffiths & Vicki Valsamis
Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden
From the Earth by Peter Gilmore
PlantLab by Matthew Kenney
Eat Local 2 by Brenda Fawdon
Lateral Cooking by Niki Segnit
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry
The Life of Tea by MIchael Freeman & Timothy d'Offay




De ElizabethDe Kookboekhandel (Netherlands) - owner Jonah Freud

De Elizabeth by Jonah Freud
Zout vet zuur hitte (Salt Fat Acid Heat) by Samin Nosrat
TLV by Jigal Krant
Simpel (Ottolenghi Simple) by Yotam Ottolenghi
The German Cookbook by Alfons Schubeck 
Kookbijbel (Lateral Cooking) by Niki Segnit
Bon Appétit by Jonah Freud
Hoe dan?! by Maroeska Metz 
Stamppotbijbel by Werner Drent
De Grote Oven van van Boven by Yvette van Boven




TimeCook + Book (Netherlands) - owner Riejanne Schimmel

Time by Gill Meller
Koekjesbijbel (translated: 'Cookiebible') by Rutger van den Broek
Zes seizoenen (Six Seasons) by Joshua McFadden
TLV by Jigal Krant
Kleine taartjes (translated: 'Tartlets') by Meike Schaling
Zout vet zuur hitte (Salt Fat Acid Heat) by Samin Nosrat
Simpel (Ottolenghi Simple) by Yotam Ottolenghi
Noma's handboek voor fermenteren (The Noma Guide to Fermentation) by Rene Redzepi & David Zilber
Een jaar koken in de Provence (translated: 'A year of cooking in Provence') by Marita van der Vyver
JapanEasy by Tim Anderson

Epicurious breaks the mold with new cookbook awards

Readers of this blog are no strangers to cookbook awards. Each year, we provide full coverage of prestigious awards from the JBF and IACP, plus report on Food52's The Piglet and other awards from across the globe. One entity that has heretofore not assembled any cookbook awards is the culinary website Epicurious. This December, that changed, with the announcement of their 1st Annual Cookbook Awards

cookbook collage

The Epicurious awards don't follow the typical format, don't have a list of semi-finalists, and aren't voted on by any governing body. Let's face it - this is just a list of great cookbooks that the editors at Epicurious love, with categories created to suit the chosen books. For example, one category is 'Best Use of Heat', and the winner is Melt, Stretch, Sizzle: The Art of Cooking Cheese: Recipes for Fondues, Dips, Sauces, Sandwiches, Pasta, and More by Tia Keenan. Says editor Soleil Ho, "the cheese in  Melt inhabits a fantasy world of brilliant gold and neon. Sandwiches ooze and fondue glimmers with the kind of palette that would put Jem & the Holograms to shame."

The rest of the awards follow suit. 'Best History Lesson' goes to Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking by Michelle Rousseau and Suzanne Rousseau; the winner of 'Best Reminder to Call Your Mother' is The Last Schmaltz: A Very Serious Cookbook by Anthony Rose. And who can argue with 'Best Argument for Excess' going to the Chewy chocolate chip cookies in Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook by Dorie Greenspan? Surely not me.  

Leaving a cookbook legacy

If you have a significant number of cookbooks, you may have thought about what will happen to your collection when you are no longer around or able to keep it. You might have a plan for some or even all of your books, perhaps bequeathing them to friends, family, or the local library. But what would you do if you had over 5,000 books? If you are Carolyn and Randall Abney, you create an entire library in collaboration with a prestigious university.

The story begins over 20 years ago when the couple relocated abroad from their home in Georgia. At the time, neither Carolyn nor Randall cooked much since they were busy with their careers. Carolyn was successful in a variety of pursuits, including real estate and finance, but it was Randall's work in a media-related job that led them to London. The move resulted in Carolyn having a lot of time on her hands. Since food in the UK proved to be expensive and not particularly to her liking, Carolyn enrolled in cooking classes and began to enjoy making the couple's meals.

Randall Abney
Randall Abney with a very small selection of his and Carolyn's books

As her cooking skills increased, Carolyn started to collect cookbooks, a habit that continued as she and Randall moved from country to country. Cookbooks were the perfect souvenir to remind them of places they lived in or visited, like Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Malta. Carolyn's passion for cooking expanded along with the cookbook collection, and when the couple lived in Italy, she taught cooking and wine classes and was the wine writer for The Florentine, Tuscany's only English-language newspaper.

When they returned to Athens, Georgia in 2008, Carolyn and Randall began collecting US books, initially focusing on Southern cookbooks. As collections are wont to do, theirs continued to expand, eventually growing to thousands of cookbooks - not including their other books, which number over 6,000. These cookbooks aren't just items for display, as the Abneys use them daily, preferring to look for recipes in their collection before turning to the internet or other sources. They try to make 3 to 5 new dishes per week, an ambitious goal.

As their collection grew ever larger, the Abneys began to think about the long-term plan for the books, and in 2012 they decided to donate the cookbooks to a library. Key meetings with culinary historians and professionals shaped their plan and set it into motion. One occurred when Randall met John T. Edge, the founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance. The SFA has a food writing and cookbook library in Oxford, Mississippi dedicated to Southern books. However, the collection is not easily accessible, as the public is not allowed to browse through the stacks and the library's antiquated card catalog access means that you must know the title or author of any book before viewing it.

A visit to The Southern Food & Beverage Museum, a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the food, drink and the related culture of the South, also influenced the Abneys. Based in New Orleans, the SoFAB Museum includes a culinary library that serves as a valuable tool for researching Southern food culture. The Abneys were also inspired by discussions with chef (and cookbook author) Hugh Acheson, who also lives in Athens. Acheson requires all of his employees from the dishwashers to the chefs to bring a recipe in with them to a weekly staff meeting. The executive chefs of Acheson's restaurants use these recipes as a starting point for items that eventually make it on the menu.

If their books ended up in a library, the Abneys wanted everyone to be able to access them, not just chefs or researchers. In 2015, the pair entered into talks with the nearby University of Georgia, an institution they knew well since both of them are fellows of its Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. UGA houses several different libraries, and decided that the Abneys' collection would be a good fit for one of their special collections.

As people learned about the Abneys' plans, they began to contribute books to the couple for eventual placement in the library. Many of these books are church or community books, which as Carolyn notes are not just about cooking. The books "represent a slice of life in that small town, church group, or community," she says. They have received books from nearly every state in the US. "It's like people dropping off zucchini from their gardens," Carolyn jokes about the hundreds of books that end up on their doorstep.

You might think that after amassing thousands of volumes, the Abneys would tire of cookbooks, but the couple remain enthusiastic about them. Carolyn is fascinated with the history of cooking viewed through the lens of cookbooks. She enjoys seeing how people migrated from writing recipes that assumed a certain level of knowledge - that everyone would know what a knob of butter was, for example - to recipes that spell out the smallest details. She noticed how British cookbooks referencing ration tickets reduced the number of servings for recipes as ingredients became scarce. Carolyn also explained that you can learn how ingredients move from one region or country to another by reading cookbooks. For instance, you can trace the introduction of balsamic vinegar from Italy to the US in the 1970s, aided in part by Marcella Hazan's recipes.

When you have as many books as the Abneys, it's almost impossible to come up with a favorite. The couple did provide details on the rarest book in their collection, however. It is a 1939 booklet distributed at the opening of the film Gone with the Wind at Loews Grand Theater in Atlanta. The White Flour Co. of Atlanta created the pamphlet, which featured 30 recipes, specifically for the film's premiere.

Carolyn and Randall are committed to seeing their cookbook library become an invaluable resource to community members, cooks, chefs, and researchers. So far, the couple has donated over 3,000 books to the library, and their friend Tim Dondero (a local chef and restaurateur) has donated a similar amount. Cataloguing that many volumes is a large undertaking, and since UGA is in the process of converting all of its libraries to a digital catalog search engine called GIL-Find, progress has been slow. Recently the Abneys contributed funds to help expedite the process, and currently about 700 books are available to the public. The couple hope to eventually have 25,000 books in the library. Duplicates will be donated to other libraries such as the SoFab Museum, and to culinary training programs. If you have books that you would like to donate to this project, you can email Carolyn at  

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