Exploring the Cookbooks Throughout My Life

By Savindi, Contributing Writer

If there’s an egg in the house, there’s a meal in the house,”  is a saying that has stayed with me since my childhood. It’s from The Back to Basics Cookbook, which sadly is no longer in print. But it carries a special place in my heart because it’s one of my first memories of flipping through a cookbook. 

For me, cookbooks hold different meanings, depending on when they were introduced to me. There are some that I don’t quite recall the names of, but others are quite vivid in my memory. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Back to Basics Cookbook

In some ways, this is the book that started out my unconscious love for food photography and cooking in general. As far as basic cookbooks go, Back to Basics is an informative and easily accessible cookbook for anyone. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro in the kitchen, it holds up as a good book for reference. One of my favourite things about it has been how it informs the reader about various types of food and cooking techniques. It helps that it includes images of sliced, diced and minced vegetables, as well as images of various cooking utensils and what they’re used for. 

I remember bugging my mom once to make scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes according to the recipes in the book. The end results for both were quite good from what I remember, though I was around 10 or 12 when this happened, so my memory might be distorted as well! Nevertheless, it’s the book I credit for planting the seeds of curiosity towards cooking and one I still go back to every now and then to find recipes I want to try out.

2. Every Girls’ Handbook Edited by Roger Coote

If you think this sounds so incredibly British then you will be proven correct. Having grown up in Sri Lanka, a country colonized by the British, I was exposed to a lot of British literature and culture, which this book epitomizes. It’s packed with sections on hobbies, sports, history, science, music etc. To no one’s surprise, hobbies was one of my favourite sections, mainly because it featured cooking as a hobby. 

I mostly paid attention to the baking section and my mom and I even made cupcakes based on the recipe provided in the book. I can’t remember how they tasted, but I do credit it for instilling in me an interest in the kitchen. It also drilled in one of the most important rules for me in the kitchen, which is to always tie long hair back. I cannot tell you how annoyed I get when I see people on YouTube with long hair cooking without tying their hair back. Maybe it’s a personal thing as I have iron deficiency anemia so hair loss is a constant thing for me, but the last thing I’d want is for hair to end up in the food I’m cooking. 

Fun fact: This book features the internet in the hobbies section. It defines the internet as:

A vast network of computers , all over the world, connected together via telephone lines.  With the right equipment anyone can connect their own computer to the ‘net’ and swap information, pictures and sounds. (p.86)

You know you’re old when you remember the days of dial-up internet. Although who calls the internet the ‘net’? Was that ever a thing?

3. Eat St.: Recipes from the Tastiest, Messiest, and Most Irresistible Food Trucks by James Cunningham

Eat Street was one of my favourite tv shows to watch on the Food Network. It was one of my go-to shows in university, especially in my final year. I think I loved it so much because I saw people being so creative with food! Not to mention all the food looked so mouthwatering and had the ability to bring so many people together. When I found out there was a cookbook based on the show, I had to purchase it. Admittedly, I’ve only made the crepes and the Mighty Masala Fish Burger from Bhangra Burger featured in the book, but at some point I would like to try the other recipes. 

Eat Street was also something my brother and I bonded over. One of our favourite episodes took place in England and featured Bhangra Burger, Eat My Pies, and Street Kitchen food trucks. I’m not sure if these trucks are still in business, but the food looked simply irresistible.

4. The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan

I studied Islamic Civilizations in university and combined with my love for Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations, I became really intrigued about Middle Eastern cuisine. When I discovered Yasmin Khan’s wonderful book The Saffron Tales through some media articles, it wasn’t yet available in North America. Luckily, my friend who was studying in England at the time was kind enough to bring me a copy of the UK edition. This book features not only wonderful recipes,  beautiful food photography and various locations in Iran (my favourites being Isfahan and Shiraz), but also stories of everyday people in the country.

The Saffron Tales holds a special place in my heart because it’s one of the books that helped build my confidence and spark joy for me in the kitchen. It also kept me curious about a part of the world that I would love to visit some day. It introduced and sometimes re-introduced me to ingredients such as rose water, pistachio, dates, pomegranate molasses and much more. Some of my favourite recipes from this book are: Persian Love Cake, Date and Cinnamon Omelette and Shirazi Salad. For Thanksgiving a few years back, I was inspired to make a Persian/Sri Lankan fusion Thanksgiving lunch based on recipes from this book and I’m happy to say it was quite a success!

Our 2016 Thanksgiving lunch which was a Persian/ Sri Lankan combination

5. Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

I have to be honest, I bought this book in 2017 and did not try any recipe until last summer. Is it irrational to be afraid of cookbooks? I don’t quite know, but I was terrified of this book. When I bought it three years ago, I was excited, but for some reason all the food photography (which is beautiful!), procedural steps, and ingredient lists in some of the recipes overwhelmed me and kept me from making anything in this book. 

Fast forward to summer of 2019, where I decided, To hell with it, let’s try one of the recipes. I bravely copied the list of ingredients I needed to make hazelnut crumble cakes with nutella ganache. My group for board games night was going to be my guinea pigs for this particular food endeavour. It was somewhat of a process to make these cakes, but the end result was a delicious treat enjoyed by all. Sweet challenged me to get out of my comfort zone when it came to baking and work with ingredients I was unfamiliar with. Luckily, the end results turned out pretty great!

Hazelnut crumble cakes with nutella ganache from Sweet

6. Mom’s Recipe Books

One of my mom’s recipe books

One of my favourite things to do as a child (when I was not making up interesting worlds and stories in my head) was to watch my mom bake. She’s an excellent baker of cakes that do not require icing, since she hates working with icing. She has two notebooks that are filled with recipes from her cooking classes, translations of ingredients from English to my native language, and recipes she’s collected over the years. Whenever she would bake, she’d also have her recipe book open nearby to a specific recipe for reference.

In 2014, my mom went back to Sri Lanka to look after my grandparents, and one of the things she asked to be sent over was one of her recipe books. She said they were some of the most valuable things to her, even more valuable than the shoes she owned. When I mentioned to my mom about a friend sharing her own recipe book on Instagram, that’s when she told me that the recipe book still in Canada has recipes given to her by my aunt (my dad’s older sister) who passed away when I was 18. My aunt was also an excellent cook and one of the highlights of going to visit her was getting to try her delicious meals and desserts. 

Having that conversation with my mom about her recipe books inspired me to create my own. I’ve started working on it now, adding some of my favourite recipes and notes about them. I hope that in the future, this book will also help tell my own story. 

Do you have cookbooks that left a huge mark on you? Do you collect recipes and put them in a book or a folder in your drive?