We currently have 57 cookbooks out on display in our house. We even have a feature wall of the better looking covers – initiated with a view of making our house look more presentable as we try to sell it, but used more so by me as a guide to the quick to reach, reliable favourites I use on a day by day basis.
The number of cookbooks we own is directly proportional to my old fussy eating ways, my need to spend money on something where vinyl and CDs no longer cut the mustard and – this is a really important factor – my use of Instagram.
If you were to plot a chart of the number of cookbooks we have and the time I first started to use Instagram, you would most probably see a fairly flat line before I became a “‘grammer” – one book every other month or so. The line quickly shoots up to, at one point, a couple of books a week based on following one person, who lead me to another – which brought in a new book with each new follow.
The line has plateaued a bit of late. I found I was buying books and not really using them, especially if they didn’t make the wall – hidden away on top of a cupboard or under a pile of paperwork that rarely gets sorted.
Now I try to read the books, try to learn as much as I can about the author – their stories, their tastes. Why they have produced the books they do. I rarely ever buy a book of recipes, always buy books of stories with ingredients added as a kind of culinary footnote.
So now our shelves are full of Instagrams Cooking Family Tree. Where you start at one person – in my case it was Katie Parla (initially for tips on where to eat and drink in Rome), which led me on to Rachel Roddy, who in turn peeled back the curtains on Marcella Hazan, Diana Henry, Claire Thomson and Jenny Chandler – authors of books we use week in, week out.
Finally there are the out and out escapism books (though you could include Rachel Roddy and Katie Parla in that list) by Russell Norman, Ed Smith and Stephane Reyanud that make me want to amble around the Rialto, Borough Market or to build a barbecue in the French countryside as per a recipe in Ripalles.
When I am in a rut, when I fear the next dish will cause noses to turn up – I often turn to the books for support. For a meal I know, that even if the kids don’t like it – the adults will. For a meal I sometimes just hold back for a Monday or Tuesday when the kids eat at their grandparents.
To cook from these books is to escape, to eat, to learn, to dream, to stand one pan handle – one spoon behind the authors who have changed the way I eat. Long may they do so.