6 things I learned by cooking through our cookbooks with the seasons
I’ve written here on the blog and shared on my Instagram feed before that I have a sizeable book collection, but what I haven’t told you is that I also have a shelf completely dedicated to cookbooks. As you may have picked up, I love to cook and bake and my husband shares the affinity, which has led to quite the little collection. Now, I’m not talking dozens and dozens, but it’s certainly more than we could get through in a couple of months’ time.
For the most part, we use our cookbooks pretty heavily, but we’d been noticing that we tend to use and reuse the same handful repeatedly and fill gaps with old favorites from the recipe box or recipes from the internet. While we were enjoying the meals we were making and eating, our unused cookbooks were languishing. At the beginning of 2022, in an effort to address the less used books and expand our cooking repertoire, we decided to work through our cookbooks each week going in the order in which they sit on the shelves.
Looking at the picture above, this would mean that in a seven-day span, we’d make a recipe from the first seven books in the line-up. The next week, we pick up with the eighth book, etc. While many “cook through your cookbooks” challenges focus on one book at a time, I’ve found our method much more sustainable because we’re not locked into one type of food for an extended period of time or forced to make meals we’re not excited about.
Going along with this project, we’ve also been trying to make a concerted effort to mainly eat those veggies that are currently in season here in the New England region. This project has been immensely helped by Joshua McFadden’s excellent book, Six Seasons, which divides its recipes into six sections for the six growing seasons. While we’re not making a meal from his book every week, it serves as a guide to select seasonally appropriate meals from our other books.
With those two “rules” explained–that we work through our books in the order they sit on the shelf and that we attempt to favor seasonal meals when possible–here’s a brief list of things I’ve learned so far that I’ll be taking into my cooking life from here on out.
Some cookbooks are weekend books and others are weekday books. Early on in our adventure, we made the mistake of underestimating the time required to make certain recipes and ended up eating dinner at 8 p.m. on a work night. While this was very European of us, I’d rather not spend two and a half hours after work actively cooking, plus more time to clean and let the food cook. These cookbooks have now been relegated to the weekends when we have more time and energy to enjoy cooking a slow meal.
In-season foods taste way better than ones that are out of season. Okay, I know this makes sense and everyone knows this, but have you ever eaten Brussel sprouts at the height of their season? Amazing.
A cookbook stand makes the whole experience better. I’ve had our little minimal cookbook stand since last spring, but this project has meant I’m using it a lot more frequently than I did before. I love anything that frees up counter space and the fact that it looks cute is a real bonus.
If you use a cookbook repeatedly and can only name a couple of recipes from it you genuinely liked, get rid of it. While I’m generally good at decluttering, I find it difficult to give up on a cookbook. Perhaps because, when I got it, I was excited about the possibilities it held, or I’m worried that I just haven’t found the right recipe in its pages yet. This experiment has taught me to let go. If there’s a book that only holds a couple of recipes I like, now I’m perfectly happy to write those recipes down, slide them into the recipe box, and pass the book along.
A greater variety of recipes means you don’t burn out on any one cuisine style. When we were first married, we made chicken tortilla soup close to weekly (partly because it was delicious and partly because it was cheap). By the end of our first year or so of marriage, we had gotten so tired of it that I think we’ve made it maybe two times in the intervening six years. The way we’re cooking now, I’m not getting tired of any one type of meal because each cookbook offers its own flair.
Cooking a big meal on our tech-free Sabbath day is relaxing and fun. Even though I like to cook, doing so on a weeknight or after a particularly busy weekend day can be draining. Cooking a slower meal on our Sabbath, however, has been a great slow practice that helps me calm down from the hustle and bustle. Because of this, we intentionally plan a more complex meal for that day.
Have you ever undertaken a cooking challenge? Do you own cookbooks or mainly get your recipes online? What’s your favorite thing you’ve cooked recently?