In this day and age it’s almost old-fashioned to keep paper copies of cookbooks in the kitchen. While I do find a lot of recipes on Pinterest I love to keep my very own handmade scrapbook of my favorite recipes as well as having weathered copies of my most beloved books readily available. This has come in handy not just for regular use but also for emergencies like power and network outages, which happen frequently for us during the winter season and usually require from-scratch dishes and cooking over our wood-burning stove.
Over the years I have amassed an impressive selection of cookbooks (not as impressive as my grandma’s, but I’m working on it.) I keep most of them on our bookshelf upstairs but a select few make the rotation on my butcher block. Here’s a list of the most-used, best-loved cookbooks from my collection: these contain my tried and true recipes as well as the basics which I use as a template for some of my own culinary creations!
The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
The dogeared 1979 paperback edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is one of my most-used volumes in the kitchen. It has hundreds of historical favorites like homemade pies, jams and jellies, and other traditional staples that have been lost to the ages as far as being available online. I picked up my copy from a church rummage sale and coincidentally my local co-op publication featured an article that same week recounting Fannie’s historical contribution to culinary arts in United States history – something I had been completely unaware of when I snagged the volume from the 25¢ bin. The first edition was published in 1896, then called The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, and it took America by storm for one major reason: it was the first publication of its kind to standardize units of measure for cooking and baking. Previously, units of measure were usually described in quantities like teacups or teaspoons (not the standardized measure that we have today, but a silver spoon one might have in the kitchen.) I’ve even seen historical recipes refer to a “lump of butter the size of an egg”! For this she’s often referred to as the Mother of Level Measurements. After publishing her revolutionary concept she catapulted to near instant fame, prompting the young woman to open her own culinary school, Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery, which remained in business nearly thirty years after her death in 1915.
There’s no better resource of down-home dishes and country baked goods available. Some of my staple dishes from this book include chicken and dumplings, baking powder biscuits, and meatloaf.
While there have been dozens of editions published, the older, un-modernized copy is my favorite. While it still calls for outdated ingredients like lard, substitutions can easily be made. Newer editions tend to be edited for health reasons and ingredient availability and I don’t think the recipes retain their authenticity. More on that in the next paragraph!
Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book
Moving up slightly in publishing date, I have a similarly aged 1982 paperback, pictureless edition of the New Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book. Almost everyone has seen the quintessential red gingham three-ring binder type cook book on their mother or grandmother’s shelf! It’s an American staple and I’ve had multiple copies of this book over the years and have settled on this vintage edition for one reason: it’s true to its original edition in content and structure. Many of the newer copies have changed or even omitted classic recipes, so a new edition will be much different from the classics. Editors and nutritionists have decided that many of these dishes should be revised for modern diets and fads, something I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! One I can remember in particular being different in one of my newer versions was the white sauce chicken enchilada recipe. It was very different in ratio of ingredients and just didn’t perform as well as the original.
My go-to resource for used or older books is Biblio! If you’re looking for a particular edition you can search by title, author, publication date, or keyword. It’s fabulous for finding obscure volumes and books that may be out-of-print.
The American Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook
If I’m looking for a brunch or breakfast dish this is the book I reach for! It’s also great for baked goods, and I’ve used more recipes from this book than any other besides my two staple cookbooks, Fannie Farmer and Better Homes. It contains recipes from countless bed and breakfast establishments across the country, and the recipes are even organized by state for easy reading. My husband and I have visited a few of the establishments listed in the publication and it’s a treat to make recipes from those places which we have fond memories of.
I happened upon this book at a roadside bookshop in rural Oregon and I’m so glad I snagged it. It’s a hidden treasure for sure!
Blue Ribbon Preserves
It’s always good to have a canning book around and this is the best one I’ve found. I picked this up from a now-defunct bookstore in Coeur d’Alene because it has a recipe for tart cherry jam, something I came up short on while looking online for cherry preserving recipes – our tree has produced exceptionally well the past 2 years and I needed a shelf-stable way to put the fruit up. The only person I’ve met who has even heard of cherry jam before is a friend of mine from Michigan, the birthplace of cherry agriculture in the United States.
Since finding this recipe cherry jam has become a family favorite and something I process every single year. However, this book is chock full of other award-winning preserves and canning tips and is one of my most-recommended canning books along with the quintessential Ball Canning Book.
The Prairie Homestead Cookbook
Jill Winger is one of my homestead idols and when she came out with her cookbook I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! Luckily my ever-thoughtful stepdad shipped me a copy from her preorder and I’ve been enamored ever since. He also got my mom a copy and a few of our favorite recipes include the pot roast, skillet bread, and chicken noodle soup. She does a lot of from-scratch cooking which is just my style. It doesn’t hurt that it’s packed with beautiful imagery and vintage kitchen tools!
The Pioneer Woman Cooks Series
The Pioneer Woman has become a household name thanks to her partnership with Walmart, but I followed Rhee long before she was department store standard. I found her through Pinterest and because my husband knew I liked her blog so much he bought me two of her cookbooks for Christmas many years ago. I’ve since collected a few more and I love perusing them on the porch swing with a cup of tea. They are full of beautiful imagery and well-written stories of family and country life, and they are just as enjoyable to read as they are to cook from.
BONUS: The Renee’s Garden Cookbooks
I’ve included these publications as a bonus for those of you who cook from the kitchen garden! Sometimes it can be hard to find seasonal recipes for what’s coming out of the veggie patch, so these will be a welcome addition to a gardener’s bookshelf. They sprinkle in growing tips and gardening wisdom with the beautifully curated illustrations, and they’re an aesthetic pleasure to have on the bookshelf as much as they are a culinary resource. I’ve just received these recipe collections and I can’t wait to try them this gardening season.
I’m always looking for new additions to my cookbook collection. What are some of your go-to recipe books? Please share them with me in the comments!