There are many reasons to collect cookbooks—hopefully, cooking from them is uppermost for most of us. I have my share of cookbooks, purchased often out of impulsive enthusiasm, and then they sit, unexplored. I continue to be amazed by and grateful for people who tell me they read cookbooks like novels.
Recently a friend, JK, recommended The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman. “Not to be missed,” was his chuckling review. What would cause a man who claims almost total disinterest in food to like a book with such a title? So I listened to the very likeable, and highly improbable, romantic romp set during the dot-com bust. As the characters move toward each other and their fates, the book takes time to wander through the antiquarian book world and especially through a mysterious collection of cookbooks discovered stored in kitchen cabinets and even the stove.
One heroine, a vegan, moves from saving redwoods to studying the collection and develops a scholarly theory of cultural shifts reflected in the amount of sugar used in recipes. You can guess, I bet, that along the way she learns to eat with true relish (! recipe not included) and finds true love all without compromising her veganism.
There is a mention, too, of one of my favorite cookbooks, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. I had no idea, or had forgotten that the original contained a recipe for hash brownies. I’ve loved the book for its charming writing, for the descriptions of Gertrude Stein’s unique driving style and their parlor salons. I first read the book when I was camping out in the Paris apartment of a friend who claimed that the little writing table supporting her typewriter was the one on which Ms. Toklas had written her book and typed Ms. Stein’s manuscripts. How the table found its way to that apartment might be as rich a story as The Cookbook Collector.