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Basic Food Texts

I grew up with The Joy of Cooking as the staple cookbook in my family, and bought myself a copy once I was living in dorms and needed to start learning to cook properly for myself. I've tried one other basic cookbook - How to Cook Everything and never found it filled as many basic information needs about food as the Joy did. But lots of people swear by it, and that's fine. There are other all-purple staple cookbooks of American cooking too - Better Homes and Gardens issued one which other families I know use. But much as I'm curious as to what other basic, all-purpose cookbooks people rely on in the US - and Canada and all sorts of other countries - what I realized today, when responding to a question which was posed to me by paul_skevington, was that I don't know what the equivalent staple cookbooks are for Brits.

Food more than anything shows up cultural and geographic differences. Why should the Joy have much to saw on the subject of cooking celeriac when it's a rare import food on that side of the ocean? Peanut butter is a staple comfort for many North Americans in a way alien to Brits. Cookbooks more than anything reflect this difference. Also, I grew up cooking with cup measures and sticks of butter, cooking by volume, not by weight. I only recently acquired a kitchen scale, for a while. Really recently - this past Christmas, six weeks or so ago.

So Brits (and anyone else who wants to answer this about their own childhood and their own country) - what are the all-purpose, exhaustive-to-whatever-degree cookbooks you turn to when you need to learn or refresh a cooking basic (how many minutes to boil broccoli, how to truss a chicken)? Did you grow up with it, or find something else, something which better suited your cooking interests, along the way?


( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
Larousse Practique
Feb. 11th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC)
The original Moosewood Cookbook! No vegetarian can live without it, not just because it has so much useful information in it about cooking vegetarian food, but also because it's so sweet and funny and idiot-proof and handwritten and patient and just generally wonderful. I still love the book, though I don't use it as much as I did when I was twenty and living on my own and confused and threatened by my mother at regular intervals with wasting diseases brought about by protein deficiencies.
Feb. 11th, 2006 12:48 am (UTC)
Delia? We always had an old Delia book - from way before she did these "how to cook" thingymabobs - and it seemed fine.

I just use Heidi's Joy of Cooking now, though (and a measure conversion table).
Feb. 11th, 2006 12:59 am (UTC)
Feb. 11th, 2006 01:19 am (UTC)
I know I'm not a Brit, but I'll answer anyways :> The approximate British equivalent to Joy is the Mrs. Beeton's books. They were originally written by the wife of a publisher (or perhaps an editor) during the Victorian era sometime (I have 2 different versions in my room, but alas, they're both packed, so you'll have to take approximations :>)and she actually went to experts in matters of food chemistry, cooking, housekeeping, infant and invalid care, etc. rather than pulling it from nether regions as did many cookbook authors of the day. The original is terribly Victorian. Thankfully, it's been more or less continuously updated since then (including a regrettable "Mrs Beeton's Microwave Cooking"), and the modern versions are very useful indeed. I have the condensed version, which alas has no treacle pudding recipe but is very usable otherwise. (I covet Nicolai's copy, which is the full version. If we ever combine libraries, it'll be so I can use that book. Don't tell him that though.) Usefully, it also contains an ettiquette section (what to do when meeting the Queen) as well as infromation on how to fly the NHS.
Feb. 11th, 2006 01:19 am (UTC)
Yes, and Delia too :>
Feb. 11th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC)
Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. Of course, this was the up-to-date issue, not the Victorian version!
Feb. 12th, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, Mrs B is fantastic (well, those who have added to it afterwards). My husband rules the kitchen and is funny about using cookery books as he feels he can create anything himself, but I have caught him checking details in Mrs Beeton. It covers pretty much everything.
Feb. 11th, 2006 02:30 am (UTC)
When I was growing up it was Fannie Merritt Farmer's The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, which morphed into The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, by Marion Cunningham, by the time I received it as a wedding present.

I wonder whether these run in families. My friend turns to The Settlement Cookbook because it's the one her mother relied on.

I know Joy is a staple in many, many kitchens, but I've never used it because I grew up with Fannie.
Feb. 11th, 2006 04:27 am (UTC)
I stick to Fanny Farmer
Feb. 11th, 2006 07:09 am (UTC)
Try the Pauper's Cookbook. The original from the 1970s is the best, but the reprint's not bad.
Feb. 11th, 2006 10:37 am (UTC)
I love Joy of Cooking but I still need to get the version my mom has, which is the next-to-latest reprint. The game recipes were *classic* reading material and all got left out of my version, which is the newest.

I'm still adjusting to the notion of the kitchen scale myself - there are certain things for which it is invaluable but I have yet to buy a British cookbook, other than Ken Hom's Quick Wok, which may well be an American cookbook "translated" into British equivalents.

One thing I really miss, cooking-wise? Having tablespoons marked out on my sticks of butter for me...
Feb. 11th, 2006 10:51 am (UTC)
When I was younger it was The Penguin Cookery Book by Bee Nilson - which really does cover the basics of good plain traditional fare - and I used it to bits. Just recently we splashed out on the most recent edition of (Prue) Leith's Cookery Bible - which goes from basics to some more demanding but very effective recipes. In between there were years of wasted gifts and pounds on various things that didn't really work. So those would be my two recommendations (first may be out of print).

PS. Also grew up with a free BeRo booklet on baking - which was just terrific on basics and a full range of recipes for bread and cakes - I have never found a baking book as good since.
Feb. 11th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
OOOoooh! The BeRo Book!

We used to have a really, really old copy, leaves falling out, so heavily used that the years of baking had impregnated its pages with fat and the smell of flour.

Eventually, me Mum decided it was too manky and threw it out, but it is still being produced and is available for the princely sum of £1.50.

Feb. 11th, 2006 10:06 pm (UTC)
Woooow! I'm ordering one now! Our first copy looked just like the sepia version on the website. Never would have thought it was still in print!
Apr. 21st, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC)
Bee Nilson's cook book
Please if you have Bee Nilson's recipe for choc mousse could you send it to me. My book is in pieces and I can't find it. My son wants it for his birthday so I'm a little stressed out!
Feb. 11th, 2006 01:25 pm (UTC)
Marguerite Patten, Everyday Cookbook. I think this is generational - pre-Delia, as it were.
Feb. 11th, 2006 03:43 pm (UTC)
Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management.

Not necessarily the most practical of tomes purely for learning to cook, but absolutely hilarious for a load of the other codswallop in there. (Although the advice on how to remove mold from leather did come in useful once...)

If I remember rightly, my Gran was bought a copy as a wedding present, and it is currently sat on my mother's dressing table. Unfortunately, out of the entire library, that is the one book that my parents have agreed my sister will have rather than me :-(
Feb. 12th, 2006 04:08 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately mine is not as amusing as you think. They update it regularly so you need a very old version for a laugh. I imagine that few of the recipes were in the original but the second section, the household management, is totally rewritten regularly. My version does not tell me how to manage my cook and maid, instead it tells me how to go about hiring an au pair or a nanny (totally useless to me, but my brother-in-law has a nanny for their son. A different world maybe, but some people do find that relevent these days). As it also contains legal advice on wills and the like (I seem to remember) they keep it very up to date. I have never used that section but I have looked through it and it isn't that bad. I imagine that your gran's wedding present was probably an up to date version when she was given it, she may have chuckled if she read the original version from the mid 1800s. The cookery section is not bad, I often refer to it although I don't use the recipes in full so much.
Feb. 11th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm not British and have little new to offer, but I love the question and reading the answers! I have at least eighty cookbooks, but I have kept both my mother's and grandmother's old plaid Better Homes binders. Same 1965 edition, everything, but I can't bear to part with either one of them. My mother also relied heavily on James Beard's original cookbook, so now I do as well. I consult both quite frequently for basic cooking needs, despite the vast number of newer books in my collection.
Feb. 11th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
You've just reminded me of something I've meant to do -- thanks! I've got the updated Joy and my grandmother's BH&G AND the original Moosewood. But when I met X, he had the book I most use. I'm now logging on to e-bay to see if I can find a copy. It's a British book -- Reader's Digest's The Cookery Year -- it has some great recipes -- the Navarin of Lamb is very nice -- but mostly, the back section has all kinds of basic info -- equivalencies, cooking times and temperatures, etc.

Oh -- and Madhur Jaffrey's Invitation to Indian Cooking is the best basic Indian cookbook (and I've got several) I've come across.
Feb. 11th, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
now trying to get the book on e-bay ... but if I lose this auction and anyone over there sees a copy and wants to send it/bring it to Kzoo, I would happily give money trade/trade for a purchase here ...
Feb. 11th, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
To be honest, I never saw my mother refer to a cookbook when I was growing up. Now, baking books, that's another story. However, there are still older versions of Fannie Farmer's and Julia Child's books in my parents' kitchen, among many others, but those are the names that stand out. One of my college graduation presents was a Silver Palate cookbook, I think it contained a lot of basic recipes, though I didn't bring it with me. I know my mom has a few of those too.

We used a lot more baking references when I was learning my way around a kitchen, Fannie Farmer, Maida Heater (sp?), James Beard (his basic bread recipe was the first one I used when teaching myself to bake bread). There was one book of brownie recipes which is quite good, it's called Brownies but I forget the author's name.

I wouldn't mind getting a copy of Joy of Cooking one day, as it sounds worth having. The conversions can be a pain, but I have gotten used to a kitchen scale, though I do have measuring spoons and cups on hand for my American recipes. I think Delia's is a pretty standard reference to have around, I knew at least one or two Brits that had it when I was a postgrad. Most of the recipes we currently have come from various issues of the BBC's Good Food magazine, a good basic vegetarian cookbook by Roz Denny, and a paperback called Comfort Food. There's a new Italian cookbook that's been recently translated into English for the first time, I think it's called Silver Spoon, and that's supposed to be very good.
Feb. 11th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
Fannie Farmer, the Marion Cunningham version. Also one you don't see often - the Kitchen Companion. written by I believe an ambassador's wife, it covers how to cook and entertain anywhere anytime for anyone with just what you have laying around in the kitchen. Really basic and cool book.
Feb. 12th, 2006 11:34 am (UTC)
The co-op cookbook: Vår kokbok. My dad finally bought my mum and updated copy, and I got the old copy... with all the notations offering advice on tweeking the recipies, and the farenheit already worked out, and the names of fish in English written in :) I am slowly teaching Mark to read Swedish by making him read my recipies out loud when I cook.
Feb. 12th, 2006 03:57 pm (UTC)
A friend gave us a copy of Mrs Beaton's cook book revised quite frequently, obviously. After all it was written in the mid 1800s and covers household management as well. Now instead of how to handle the maids it gives advice on hiring nannies and au pairs (still a different world for me but never mind), advice on various legal stuff like wills (I think) and modern ettiquette on various things. To be honest I never use the non cookery half of the book.

The recipes are all updated although some of them may be from the original and you often get Mrs Beaton's tips, things included in the real Mrs Beaton's book. Mrs B (and her many, many successors working on the book) include a lot of the basics, they do not assume a level of cookery knowledge. There are some fancy recipes in there but everything you need to know is in the book. The main thing I refer to it for is if I am doing a roast (something I rarely cook so I can never remember details for) it tells me the temperature and time per weight of each kind of meat.

Another wonderful reference book for basic cookery is anything by Good Housekeeping. They are wonderful and their veggie cookbook includes a page or so of instructions for baking blind (with photographs).
Feb. 13th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC)
I have Betty Crocker new edition (my mother has the 3-ring binder from the late 60s/early 70s), and the other one I suppose I use fairly often is the not-quite-vegetarian cookbook (can't find it online, I assume it's been out of print for forever). I don't often cook from books, nor do I live with people who can tolerate my being daring terribly often - picky eaters. Bah.

I have the Frugal Gormet's Guide to Our Immigrant Ancestors (I like his pierogi dough recipe, it's very elastic), some working woman 30-minute meal book that I occasionally pull stuff from...I want to get Rachael Ray's 30-minute books..she has one for kids' meals that looks darn useful (not for you, but even so...hee)
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