Cooking the Books

My cookbook shelf in the kitchen had managed to overflow onto the sideboard in the dining room, a situation She Who Must Be Obeyed advised me wouldn’t be tolerated for long.

Unfortunately IKEA stopped manufacturing the twenty four inch wide Billy bookcase (why?), so I was forced to have something custom made. After two days of sanding and sealing with polyurethane I installed the replacement and promptly filled it, leaving a bit of room for expansion:

The extra height on the shelves allowed my to organize the books by topic, rather than by size. What’s on the shelves? From top to bottom:

Shelf 1
A complete run of Cook’s Illustrated from 1996 – present, including index; The Dessert Bible; The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue; The Cook’s Bible, The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook; Good Eats: The Early Years; The Professional Chef (Seventh Edition); Larousse Gastronomique; and The Visual Food Encyclopedia.

Shelf 2
Two binders, one labeled “Cook,” the other “Bake,” each holding printouts of recipes found online; Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs; Sunday Suppers at Luques; In the Heat of the Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay; Yes Chef!: 20 Great British Chefs, 100 Great British Recipes; The Flavor Bible; Culinary Artistry; Sous Vide for the Home Cook; The Splendid Table; Fundamentals of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan; and Molto Italiano, Molto Gusto, and Italian Grill by Mario Batali.

Shelf 3
Smoke and Spice and Born to Grill by Jamison & Jamison; The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen; The Thrill of the Grill, License to Grill, and Let the Flames Begin by Chris Schlesinger; The Summer Shack Cookbook; The Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain; The River Cottage Meat Book; Variety Meats by Richard Olney (part of the old Time/Life The Good Cook Techniques & Recipes series, a rare find); Charcuterie; The Whole Beast and Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson; Ratio by Michael Ruhlman; On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee; and Cookwise by Shirley Corriher.

Shelf 4
How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman; The Joy of Cooking; Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes 1 and 2, and The French Chef Cookbook, all by you-know-who; Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques; I Know How to Cook (Je Sais Cuisinier) by Ginette Mathiot; The Perfect Scoop by David Liebovitz; Well-Preserved by Eugenia Bone; The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich; Jam It, PIckle It, Cure It by Karen Solomon; and The Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

Shelf 5
A Return to Cooking and On the Line by Eric Ripert; The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, Under Pressure, and Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller; Alinea; Au Pied de Cochon: The Album; Gourmet Today; Momofuku (not pictured); The Kitchen Sessions by Charlie Trotter; Blue Ginger, Ming’s Master Recipes, and Simply Ming by Ming Tsai; Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen; Sushi for Dummies; The Wagamama Cookbook; and The Complete Book of Sushi.

Those are the cookbooks in active use; there’s another bookcase in the Belm Utility Research Kitchen Reference Library with about as many books that have been retired from – or have never been brought into – active duty.

After examining the shelves, a friend noted “For an atheist you sure have a lot of bibles in your kitchen.” I do. And I swear by them.

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7 Responses to Cooking the Books

  1. Karl R. Wurst says:

    Ahhh… Cookbook porn.
    I still haven’t managed to get shelving for the cookbooks you gave me – that requires replacing the dishwasher first…

  2. Bryan says:

    I can tell you that a 24″ Billy bookcase is a stopgap measure only; cookbook collections will expand to fill the available space. I’ve had to weed a couple of times, and reclassify some books (like McGhee and the historical industrial ice cream manuals) into the general collection. And my own collection is minuscule compared to some that I have seen. When I worked at the FCI library, we were constantly struggling with packed shelves (1500 volumes in one room).

    • David says:

      I’m aware of the expansion problem. Yesterday’s arrival of the second Good Eats book has forced me to move the Schlesinger grilling books back upstairs.

  3. Jeez, you think you’d organize this stuff or something.

  4. Peter says:

    At last count I have 748 cook books and that doesn’t include Nathan Myhrvold’s epic (pre-ordered on Amazon) nor Ideas in Food by Talbot & Kamozawa (pre-ordered from Book Depository) nor the others I might find in the meantime.. 😉
    I too have the problem of being able to organise my books into sensible groupings so that I can find what I am looking for due to shelf space height constraints. Most of my shelves are about 300mm (1 foot) high but I need some taller spaces for the outsized books so my sorting regime is distorted by size/space constraints.
    I recently found an website which if it keeps going will solve all my problems. It’s called “eat your books” and it allows you to upload a list of your cookbooks and then use their index to find recipes in books you have at home.
    The site is in beta and they are working to index more books using the frequency the ownership of their subscribers to decide what to index next.
    Of my 748 books 624 are recognised by their database (some of my collection even pre-date ISBN’s) and of the 624, 132 are fully indexed.
    With just that small subset of my books there are nearly 40,000 recipes which are all indexed down to the level of ingredient.
    Even with this limited (so far) scope I have found recipes that I would not have discovered with weeks of research.
    The other advantage is that you can add a “location” to any book in your collection so if you have a big collection like mine you can find the book. My only concern is that if I ever re-organise my bookshelves I will have a big maintenance task! That aside it is a great idea.
    For the record I have no involvement with in any way other than the fact that I am a subscriber who hopes that they succeed.
    Keep up the good work with your blog – it is one of the more interesting ones I read.
    Regards, Peter.

    • David says:

      I have all of my cookbooks catalogued at, but it doesn’t tell me anything about recipes or indexes. I’m going to have a look at Eat Your Books. Thanks for the tip, and thanks for reading!

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