My Life in Cook Books

My obsession with cook books started with this little volume:

I guess it caught my eye because it looked like fun. And it was. The Betty Crocker Party Book was a 60s classic, filled with recipes for party foods and ideas for favors and games. I remember my mom using it for holidays and for our birthday parties. I can't say I ever made anything from it, but just looking it gave me lots of pleasure. By the time I had a place of my own, this iconic volume became my culinary bible:

While I only played around with Betty Crocker, I got serious with Irma Rombauer. But she was a serious cook who took a nearly scientific approach to food. For basics--a perfect hard-boiled egg, a smooth white sauce, or flaky pie crust--she has few peers. And she taught me a whole lot about the craft of cooking. By the 80s and 90s, however, a new kitchen bible emerged:

Every young married I knew owned one of these. We were moving away from our mothers' cook books and embracing a new, yuppie-inspired cuisine that started with fresh, seasonal foods and put together with unusual ingredients, courtesy of Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukens. Which of us hasn't made the Chicken Marbella from this book, which pairs chicken with green olives and prunes? Exotic stuff at the time! I followed this one up with Silver Palette's New Basics Cook Book, and then both of Jane Brody's books. And while I had some favorite recipes out of both of them, those meals just didn't feed my soul the way Italian dishes did. My Sunday Sauce was my mom's recipe, handed down from her own mother. I made a lemon and garlic chicken based upon the memory of my Sicilian grandmother's version, but mostly I winged it. And then I came across this book in the bargain bin at Borders:

This oversized, nearly 800-page sucker fundamentally changed the way I cook. It's authentic, clearly written, and contains recipes for everything from antipasto to zuppa. (The recipe for Bolognese sauce alone is worth the cover price.) Most significantly though, it teaches me the process behind the great foods that are my heritage, like how to make a real ragu or the steps involved in a great risotto. And every time I open it, I learn something new about Italian cuisine. So what about you? Which cook books hold a revered place in your kitchen or a warm spot in your heart?

♥ ♥ ♥