As I sat on my sofa browsing my favorite cookbooks for next week’s menu, I had a sudden urge to grab my camera and share some of my favorites with you. I’m not good at suppressing urges, evidently. For example, I compulsively collected cookbooks for YEARS, easily amassing 50+ books, some of which I rarely read. I’ve finally gotten a grip on my addiction, clearing my collection down to my Top 20 or so, but it wasn’t easy. Some I can’t part with are in a cabinet, but my favorites are left out on the kitchen counter so I can grab them at will. Here are the best of those I keep within arm’s reach.
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook
I received this as a wedding present 29 years ago, and it’s still the cornerstone of my cookbook collection. I love the full-color photo index pages. When nothing sounds good, these gorgeous photos help me find inspiration.
In addition, they have illustrations throughout the recipe pages to give you technical assistance if you need it. As a menopausal space cadet, I can use all the assistance I can get. I make no apologies for that. It is what it is.
Cleora’s Kitchen, by Cleora Butler
This is more than a cookbook; it’s the memoir of a beautiful woman named Cleora Butler who worked as a cook in the homes of Tulsa’s great oil barons back in the golden age of oil barons. It’s a tribute to her family history, as well as the history of cooking and entertaining throughout her 70+ years.
What a remarkable woman she was. The stories she shares add a level of depth and clarity to her recipes I haven’t found in other cookbooks. Another thing I love is the structure of the chapters – done by decade. Starting with “The Early Years” of her childhood (pre-1920’s) and taking you through the 1980’s, her walk through the recipes that shaped her career and her life are enlightening.
If you’re into simple, family style cooking and you love noodle casseroles, try this one from Cleora’s collection. It was a hallmark recipe in its day.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks, by Ree Drummond
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am a Pioneer Woman fan. I love her beautifully executed website, and am an active participant in the Tasty Kitchen recipe sharing page. It should come as no surprise, then, that her cookbook is an extension of her website. It’s colorful and fun, like Ree herself.
It contains the recipes she loves, complete with full-color photos, as well as stories of her life on the ranch and her family, whom she lovingly refers to as The Marlboro Man and her punks. Of course, she also includes her extended family, farm hands, friends and household pets who have also become celebrities in their own right (ie. Charley the Basset Hound). This is home cooking at its best, with a spattering of her trademark humor to keep it entertaining. Anyone who believes food should be wrapped in bacon is my kind of cook.
The Lighthouse Breakfast Cookbook, by Michelle Bursey & Carol Korgan
This little gem is published by the owners and chefs of the Heceta Head Lighthouse Inn on the Oregon coast. We had the pleasure of staying one night in the Lightkeeper’s House B&B a few years ago. It came with a 7-course breakfast that lasted 2 hours. It was without a doubt the most fabulous breakfast I have ever experienced. Hands down. Bar none. Their staff focuses on using the best local ingredients that are available, and the love they put into their food is experienced in every single bite. Buying their cookbook was a no-brainer for me.
See that blueberry smoothie in the middle? It was a life-changing revelation. Made from blueberries picked on the grounds of the lighthouse, it almost caused me to ask a complete stranger if he was going to finish his. Almost.
The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather
I don’t know where to start with this one. I love it so much, I can hardly stand it. If I had to play “Sophie’s Choice” and choose only one cookbook to grab in case of an emergency, it might just have to be this one. Those spiky Texas Big Hair Tarts on the cover grabbed my attention, but the rest of the book had me running to the cash register. If baking is your religion, this could be your Bible.
If you dream of being a baker, you must get to know Rebecca better. If you’re a Texan, you’ll feel like this remarkable woman and her recipes are part of your heritage. If you find yourself anywhere near Fredericksburg, Texas, I command you to go visit her Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe. It should be at the top of your to-do list. Seriously. While her photos are fabulous, her recipes taste every bit as wonderful, if not better. I never tire of looking through this cookbook.
And I can’t visit her bakery without buying these adorable pink pig cookies for the grandkids. If you have an avid baker in your family, consider picking this cookbook up as a birthday or holiday gift. It’s a winner.
Throw in my two favorite America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks (I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned from them) and you have my list of favorites. What I want to know now is which cookbooks you treasure. Which can you not live without? I’d love to know what inspires you.