The Hungry Reader: Hunting Food for Thought

1 Feb

A charity shop shelf is an unlikely place to find a gastronomic treasure. The main reason I’ve determined for its unsuitability is simple: people don’t give good cookbooks away. They use them over and over again, binding them with batter and drizzling them with grease and sauce, then hand them over to friends and relatives.

I haven’t done any empirical study of this phenomenon, but only speak from personal experience. The volume my shelves of fiction and non-fiction stays pretty much constant, as I accumulate some books and give away others, either to friends or to the library and charity shops. But my collection of cookbooks and food writing is always on the increase. I don’t think I’ve ever given away a cookbook. Not even once.

It appears that other cooks feel similarly. Every time I go browsing in Oxfam or Shelter, the main occupants of the cookery shelf are supermarket cookbooks of various stripes, with questionable titles and 1970s-coloured pictures. While I don’t think that all of these books don’t have at least one solid recipe, there are so many of them that they’re just an unappealing blur.

But sometimes, I luck out. This past weekend I was up in Edinburgh, home to several superbly-stocked charity bookshops. I was perusing one of them when I spotted something intriguing – a 1950s food memoir by Joseph Wechsberg called Blue Trout and Black Truffles: The Peregrinations of an Epicure.

Epicure? Peregrinations? Sold!

I haven’t yet cracked the spine of my new find, but I look forward to submerging myself in it soon. And I will keep up the hunt for more buried treasure!


3 Responses to “The Hungry Reader: Hunting Food for Thought”

  1. SeaSaw February 2, 2012 at 12:35 PM #

    Yes, I tend to agree, but I have found a couple of gems in charity shops – Nigella’s Forever Summer and Nigel Slater’s first ever cookbook – The Marie Claire Cookbook – which dates way back to the times before he was famous – he started out as MC’s cookery writer in the UK edition of the mag.

    I should add both finds came from a shop in London’s well-heeled Highgate. Pick your charity shop quarry carefully! I’ve also seen interesting things in Marylebone High Street’s chazza shops. Great big volume of Hugh Johnson’s wine bible for example.

  2. Shu Han February 2, 2012 at 2:47 PM #

    good point, though I do think it also matters which charity shops you go to. haha im hoping now with all these ipads and kindles, that people start giving away their good-quality cookbooks more 😉

    • tomatoesandradiowire February 2, 2012 at 2:59 PM #

      That’s true, maybe people will get so into apps that they’ll donate their hard copies! It’s interesting – I definitely use recipes from the internet, but I don’t like the idea of having a cookbook on something electronic, if only because I make an unbelievable mess. I am also very hands-on when I make things – mixing dough, chopping, etc. Are you the same way?

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