The Cookbook Quarantine

Once upon a time in a kitchen far, far away there was a massive pile of cookbooks. My first cookbooks were wedding shower gifts. And then the collecting began. Birthday cakes, veggies, soups, pasta…from fundraisers and girl scouts and contests. I had everything from the Costco cookbook to ones that came with every major appliance, including the Coleman camp stove. If I needed to whip up some chicken fried venison steaks in the wilderness, I was ready.

One year, I watched an entire winter Olympics while putting my free-floating recipes into a three ring binder, gluing or stapling or enveloping them. I thought about using baseball card pocket pages but it was pricey. I just didn’t want to see them fall behind the fridge, never to be seen again.

You know…in case I wanted to make one.

I subscribed to Taste of Home Magazine. They have gorgeous color photos and easy recipes with normal ingredients. I kept them in the magazines. And then I had to keep all the magazines.

When they piled up beside the binder and the cookbooks, it dawned on me.

I was overwhelmed with recipes and good intentions.

Mine is a family that would cheerfully live on spaghetti seven nights a week. Usually introducing a new menu item was a recipe for rebellion.

I had to deal with my demons: no more incoming recipes! Take what you have and use them or lose them!

I found myself sneaking photos of recipes in magazines at the dentist office with my cell phone.

“Genius!” thought the demons.

Until you have your phone in the kitchen, trying to read it while spewing batter all over.

Not gonna happen. Not for what I just paid for my phone.

Here’s the catch: I HAVE to have a recipe in front of me when I cook. I may have made this exact same cornbread from scratch for the last 20 years. I may not even want to follow this recipe. But it’s my personal safety net, my security blanket in the kitchen.

Because when I get cocky and just start throwing things in the bowl, it’s a recipe for disaster. You’d think after a serious amount of cooking for a large family, it wouldn’t be. But just as Anne of Green Gables discovered, cooking requires that you keep your wits about you.

“There’s so little scope for the imagination, you just have to go by the rules.”

All it takes is a phone ringing or a bird flying by or maybe thinking about the color I want to paint the wall, and boom. I leave the sugar out of the pumpkin pies. Oh sure, they bake up lovely, smell divine, and the cute little pastry cut-out stars show off nicely. Take a bite. I dare you.

Squash. Pumpkin is a squash.

And now you know it.

Each cookbook only contained one to five recipes that I had actually made and only one or two that we liked enough to repeat. Some cookbooks were purely ornamental. And as most of the recipes I held onto were, let’s admit it even though it hurts, wishful thinking, I did a drastic thing.

I banished every single one to the garage in a box.

When I really needed one, I pulled it out, wrote it onto an index card, and returned the book to the box. I have a small bound set of index cards now with only the family recipes that we love and repeat. Every time hubby brings home an odd item from the grocery (“But they were on sale!”) I can go to the internet and find ten ways to cook it.

The cookbooks were sent to the resale shop. I feel about 50 pounds lighter.

Best diet ever.

Comment (2)

  • Jerusha| June 2, 2014

    I love cookbooks. But I have my favorites. And they sit on the favorites shelf. Then there’s the secondary favorites in the kitchen cupboard. And then there’s the banished and mostly-forgotten ones in the cabinet in the garage. Also, I have to try new recipes on a regular basis or the whole cooking dinner thing gets too boring and repetitive. I’m sure my family would prefer boring. But then they’re not the ones cooking. : )

  • Pam Schlottman| May 31, 2014

    I am glad someone else has the same problem I have . always collecting cook books and using only a very small percentage of the them. Could really identify with you.

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