Friday, July 1, 2011

The Great Cookbook Purge

What my cookbook collection used to look like...

Every once in a while I feel a need to get rid of some stuff, to pare down, to reexamine the things I own and see if they're still useful to me. Part of this is just the fact that I hate clutter. Part of it is that I've spent so many years moving around, usually in small apartments, that now winnowing/purging is second nature. (For years, in New York, I operated under a strict "one in, one out" policy; if I got something new, something old had to go.) And part of it is that I know I can "trade in" things; sometimes directly, through sites like PaperbackSwap and SwapaDVD; sometimes indirectly, like selling things on ebay and using those funds to get new stuff, or by dropping things off at the Salvation Army and taking the tax credit.

I've also spent so many years debt-ridden and poor that now Stuff = Money. Or rather, Money Spent. The more stuff you have, the less money you have. Whereas once I owned close to 10,000 books and was inordinately proud of my book collection, now I own less than 1% of that (thanks to two cross-country moves) and do all my reading directly from the library. When I look at someone else's packed bookshelves these days, I just see dollar signs.

My secret dream is to one day sell everything I own and travel the world, maybe settling down in a container house in Costa Rica somewhere. I doubt I'll ever do that; for one thing, it would be hard to cook. But I have become much more minimalist in later years than I used to be.

Note: while it is very easy for me to apply this policy to clothes, books, DVDs, and furniture, it's more difficult to apply to Kitchen Stuff. I can't justify spending money on HBO, but I can justify owning 12 martini glasses. Bless my husband for putting up with that.

So the other day, I was flipping through a pile of printed-out recipes, looking for inspiration, when my gaze landed on my cookbook shelf. I suddenly realized that I hadn't opened 90% of them in at least a year.

The Purging Bone in my brain started to itch.

Did you know you can trade in things on Amazon for credit? I just learned this. Guess where all those big glossy cookbooks went.

Well, first I culled out the biggest and prettiest and newest of the cookbooks, and looked at each recipe in each one. I Xeroxed the recipes I knew I might use again. I ended up with less than 10 copied recipes. That was an easy $90 in Amazon credit, right there.

The next step will be to go back through the older, beat-up cookbooks, the stuff I picked up at yard sales and the like, to see which of those will be worth keeping.

Everybody has a different cookbook style. The cookbooks I get the most use out of are the utilitarian, all-purpose ones (The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything), followed by Cajun/Creole/Southern cooking (My New Orleans), then by French country cooking, then Italian. I had accumulated a lot of aspirational cookbooks--Indian food, French bistro cooking, Korean fusion, molecular gastronomy--that quite honestly I'll never use. I want to be able to use those cookbooks, and I love eating that food in restaurants--but I'm just not interested in making kimchi or pistachio foam at home. (As evidenced by the fact that I copied like 10 recipes out of the whole stack.)

And let's be honest--we all get our recipes online these days. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading this. I've got a stack of printed-out recipes that's easily two feet tall, and those are just the unfiled ones.

So the moral of the story is: You don't need a lot of cookbooks to cook.

1 comment:

  1. I did the same thing not too long ago, when the top two shelves of my pantry were just cookbooks and I had no place for my canned goods.

    But my cookbooks are like children, each one had its place, but I did say goodbye and donated 50% of them to our library's annual sale - felt good! :D