Despite my love of a good clear-out I am in no way a minimalist. My home is not a sterile, comfortless place, it simply contains only the things its inhabitants want, use and need. Following my book clear-out I am left with only the cookbooks I really use whether it's to cook from or more often just to read and be inspired. Just three shelves.
I used to have a lot more. A lot more. Some I have mentioned on this blog but are no longer on my shelves, not because they were bad books but because after the initial fun of reading through them I hardly, if ever opened them again. This is good example. Rereading that post makes me shrivel with embarrassment and despite the fact I gushed that there were dozens of recipes I couldn't wait to try I actually only made one.
The cookbooks I bought when I began to cook for myself and Charlie are the ones I use most. I think if I were starting to cook today I'd choose new publications but for the stage I am at in my cooking life there is little the current trendy cookbooks can offer, unless I want to know how to cook without gluten or what to do with chia seeds and quinoa*,which I don't.
The thing is I don't need recipes any more. I don't say that to show off and I'm not saying I can cook everything, but I can cook all the things I want to cook. For example tonight I have some smoked haddock fillets for our supper. I'm going to poach them in milk and then use the milk to make a thick sauce. I shall flake the fish into a shallow dish and cover with the sauce and some grated cheese (gruyère or cheddar I haven't decided yet). I will put it under a hot grill to brown and we will eat it with crusty bread and spinach salad. If I were cooking for less fussy people (myself for instance) I would include cooked spinach with the fish. One could make a similar dish with large flat mushrooms instead of fish, they'd be delicious with blue cheese in the sauce. There are recipes for similar dishes in books but I won't be checking my books for one. It is a very rewarding stage to have reached in one's cooking life and very empowering. Learning to cook without a recipe is such a valuable skill. Luckily there are cookery books which can help develop this skill and the ones in the next picture are my favourites.
The Art of Simple Food - Alice Waters
Appetite - Nigel Slater
The Modern Cook's Manual - Lynda Brown (out of print but there are bound to be second hand copies available)
An Everlasting Meal - Tamar Adler
The Thrifty Cookbook - Kate Colquhoun
Of the above Nigel Slater's Appetite is the one I have found most useful and pleasurable to read. As an experienced cook I find these books very inspiring but I do think a beginner needs something more prescriptive at least at first. I have a recommendation for such a book at the end of this post.
The two books above are my favourite and most often consulted baking books. Mary Berry needs no introduction and I have frequently mentioned her cake book. It's not just cakes, there are biscuits, cheesecakes and scones too. Susan Reimer's little book of muffin recipes has been my companion for many years. I haven't made every muffin in it but her basic muffin recipe at the beginning is so useful and the yogurt-oatmeal muffins are delicious and a good way of using up the homemade yogurt I always seem to have too much of.
The books above are my favourite budget/thrifty/frugal cookbooks. They are possibly my favourites of all my favourites. Simple, unpretentious and useful.
More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre
The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn -not a cookbook but containing a number of recipes and brilliant advice about running an economical kitchen. Full of creative solutions to living on less.
Feed Your Family For £5 a Day by Bernadine Lawrence. There is a newer edition of this but I like this one. The recipes are basic and maybe a little dull but as a framework for feeding a family on very little it can't be beat.
The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes. I have the original 70s edition plus the most recent one. You probably don't need both. This has some excellent thrifty recipes from various cultures.
Frugal Food by Delia Smith. Good old fashioned recipes. The new hardback edition has quite unnecessarily in my opinion expunged all references to lard and dripping and replaced them with more expensive oils.
The Good Scots Diet by Maisie Steven. Not a cookbook but a comforting and reassuring reminder that a diet of simple home produced foods such as oatmeal, oily fish, fresh veg, berries and whole dairy is not only one of the healthiest in the world but much cheaper than flax seeds, coconut oil and goji berries.
As for the best all round cookbook on my shelves, one that has recipes for everything the average Brit is likely to want to make, is great for beginners and experienced cooks alike, well, it's this one.
Delia, you can't go wrong with her. Not the best for encouraging experimentation perhaps, but that will come with experience.
*Buy a nice bit of steak instead.