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Published: 11/11/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

The world is overflowing with used cookbooks

What is to be done with these one-off treasures?

BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

The calls come in with some regularity: “I have a large collection of cookbooks, and now that I am downsizing I would like to get rid of them. Do you know some organization that would like them?”

Actually, no. No, I don’t.

A handful of schools in town offer classes in cooking and culinary arts, but they apparently have all the cookbooks they could possibly need. Or want. Or stand. And the libraries, I understand, are similarly full. They aren’t much in the market to be a dumping ground for used books, anyway.

So, where can you take your cookbooks? Darned if I know.

I’m facing the same problem you are. I have about 200 cookbooks or so, with more trickling in at a steady rate. Through considerable discipline and mental sacrifice, I have managed to stem the trickle to just a handful each year. Even so, that means more are coming in than going out. And the space in my house is finite — my wife would tell you that all the space allotted to books has been exceeded, and then some.

Part of the problem is, cookbooks are like Christmas albums — everyone makes one. If a chef has a show on television (and these days, what chef doesn’t?), then you know he or she has at least a half dozen books on the shelves or in the works. Every celebrity seems to have a cookbook out, too, except, curiously, any of the Kardashians. (Obviously, that is an omission that must be addressed).

It used to be that if you had an over-abundance of cookbooks, you could at least take them to a used book store. But few of those still exist, and the largest in town by far closed recently. You might still have some luck taking them to a flea market or antique store for resale, but those dealers don’t want to be bogged down with cookbooks any more than you do.

Is the Internet to blame? Is the fact that you can instantly find 26 versions of any recipe you could ever possibly want drying up the market for cookbooks? And if so, why are so many of them still coming out?

A few years ago, many of the new cookbooks tended to look a great deal like many of the other new cookbooks. They specialized in fairly familiar American food, made quickly and with relatively few ingredients. The ingredients were designed to be fresh and local, prepared simply. Basically, they were the Food Network in book form. People who had one or two of those in their collections at the time are the ones who are now thinking of getting rid of Nos. 3, 4, and 5.

In the last couple of years, though, the trend in cookbooks has changed. The ones that cross my desk, at least, have become more exotic, with unusual and hard-to-find ingredients prepared in advanced, more involved ways.

Where we once saw recipes for Chicken Breasts with Roquefort Filling, Grilled Swordfish with Mustard, or perhaps even Korean Braised Short Ribs, we are now getting Grilled Pork Chops with Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing and Poached Cherries. Or Arroz Negro with Squid and Saffron Aïoli. Or Lemon-Cured Pork Belly with Balsamic Gel and Broad Beans.

And yes, all of those examples were from books I just now pulled off my shelf.

What this new trend in cookbooks means is that it will be harder to get rid of them once you buy them (this, of course, is assuming you want a cookbook telling you how to make Grilled Pig’s Feet with Béarnaise sauce or Spring Spinach, Nettles, and Dandelion Greens Tian). It is easier to prune away books that have redundant recipes for essentially the same type of foods than it is when the recipes are so wildly different.

But also kind of the same, if you know what I mean.

You could always just stop getting new cookbooks. You could stop getting new ones and give your old ones to young people who are just learning to cook. And that would work fine, if it weren’t for all those new cookbooks out there, glittering at you on their shelves like diamonds.

Contact Daniel Neman at 
dneman@theblade.com 
or 419-724-6155.



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