My Favourite Cookery Books

I quite enjoy cooking and trying out cuisines from many different countries, so obviously I have a bit of a cookery book collection. However, when you have children, at first fussy, then constantly hungry, your plans for sophisticated cooking go out the window and you end up providing the same stalwart reliable and quick crowd-pleasers over and over again.

There are some books that have stood the test of time, however, as well as recent favourites which I can foresee will become my go-to cooking bibles. Like all UK-based people, I have enjoyed Delia, Nigella and Nigel Slater, but I only occasionally use their recipes. I have not gone down the Mary Berry and Yotam Ottolenghi route. I tend to prefer something more filling and simpler to source, without having to hunt out the ingredients in five different shopping sessions at Waitrose or specialist stores. I have been lucky enough to grow up with a solid mix of Viennese, Romanian and French cooking in my childhood. As a student I learnt Japanese, Italian and Chinese cooking – from friends rather than from a cookery book, so I don’t actually own reliable recipe books from those countries. Later, I learnt Greek and Lebanese cooking from family and friends – a limited number of recipes, but still among my favourites.

However, what you see above are the books that I find myself picking up most frequently. Tessa Kiros is a global citizen like myself (Finnish mother, Greek Cypriot father, grew up in Australia), and her cooking reflects this mixed heritage. Her Apples for Jam contained many recipes which even my super-fussy youngsters enjoyed at the age of 4-5.

My major regret, food-wise, is that I did not sit down with my aunt, who was a fantastic cook, and write down all her recipes. However, I can compensate for that somewhat with my most recent acquisition: Carpathia by Irina Georgescu – This is a book I have bought for many of my friends, as it contains a lot of cultural detail as well as Romanian recipes for an English audience. It also has slightly more detail about exact quantities than the book lying open in the picture below, which is my well-worn, by now coverless copy of the classic of Romanian cookery books, Sanda Marin, first published in 1936 and never out of print since (although with considerable modifications during the Communist period, to disguise the fact that many of the ingredients were unavailable or restricted). The four volumes you see to the far right of the picture is a box set a schoolfriend living in France sent me between my first and second move to France (knowing that I missed the area very much). It has a recipe for every single day of the year, divided according to season, and the produce available at the time, or special traditional recipes for Christmas, Easter and other holidays.

Another French book which I used at least once a week when I lived in France but not quite so often nowadays is Sophie’s Cakes – which are savoury or sweet cakes you can bake in a bread tray, once again grouped by season. Best party food – I made them whenever we were invited anywhere, as well as for events at school.

Since returning to the UK in 2016, however, what with working in London, long commutes, rapidly growing teenagers and financial struggles, cooking has become more of a challenge. So the three books below have been very welcome: Jack Monroe‘s down to earth recipes on a budget, plus the appeal of ‘just bung it in the oven’ of Rukmini Iyer‘s roasting tin recipes.

So what kind of cooking do you like to explore? Do you have any favourite recipe books or food writers? And has that changed over the course of the years?

22 thoughts on “My Favourite Cookery Books”

  1. I really enjoy cooking but like you I feel work demands and budget constraints have limited me a bit! I’m trying to put more effort and planning in though. Jack Monroe is brilliant – genuine budget recipes and so inventive.

  2. It’s only the Roasting Tin series that I know from your selection. Nigel Slater is my go-to cookery writer. I like it that he just flings things that might work together and doesn’t do careful measuring. A man after my own heart. Meera Sodha’s East is a recent favourite, and I love Rachel Roddy for her writing as much as her food. Increasingly, though I love my book collection, I turn to the net for those ‘What shall I do with these odds and ends lurking in the fridge?’ moments. I’ll definitely investigate ‘Carpathia’ though. I know nothing at all about food from that part of the world.

  3. Nigel Slater’s Tender is probably my most used cookery book (and the one from which I learnt to cook as a student). I don’t like his more recent books which have a strange air of snobbishness to them. I really love the recipes in Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger, and there are a few favourites in there that I go back to over and over. I have not yet bought any of her actual cookbooks, but Meera Sodha’s vegan column in the Guardian is one of my go-to sources for new ideas – I’m not a vegetarian but I cook a lot of veggie and vegan food, and unlike a lot of vegan columns she mostly uses affordable ingredients that I can actually get at my local supermarket.

    1. That was my feeling about Nigel Slater as well – I too used him a lot as a student, but have rather moved away from him now. Thank you for those suggestions, will investigate…

  4. I’ve never bought into the Nigella school of cookery; I’m more of a Jamie Oliver. My most treasured cookery book is Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course. It was part of my prize for an exam paper so has sentimental value but more importantly, it explains the basics of cooking in a very practical way. Has helped me through the complexities of cooking Christmas lunch for a large group …

    1. I have Delia’s Complete Cookery Course and am thinking of giving it to my son (although I did get him an easy book of student recipes, since I don’t know what cooking equipment he will have in his student accommodation).

    1. I didn’t realise that my preferred style of cooking (bung it all in one tin and put it in the oven) was the material of cookery books, although it did give me additional ideas!

  5. Having been veggie or vegan most of my life, I’ve had to do a *lot* of cooking and the many cookbooks on the kitchen shelf reflect that! I tend to have old favourites I go back to (and when I say go back, we’re talking a few decades – you can trace the development of modern cooking trends through my bookshelves!!) I’m very fond of the BOSH boys but I do use the vegan recipes in one of the traybake books and the oven risotto is amazing!!!

    1. Isn’t it funny how fashions come and go in food and recipe books? That’s what I find amazing about the Sanda Marin book – that it will soon be 100 years old and it’s still pretty much spot on (or does that just show that Romanians are not that keen on experimenting when it comes to food?)

  6. You’ve got a really nice collection, Marina Sofia! I know what you mean about needing to provide quick, reliable meals; that’s the way it is with me, too. Still, it is fun to try different things, and I do try to stretch myself now and then. Thanks for the reminder to do so.

    1. Just writing that post has made me eager to experiment again (I just hate spending too much time at the supermarket at present though…)

  7. It’s so interesting to see the Tessa Kiros amongst your collection. I think she’s very underrated as a cookery writer. A friend gave me another one of her books, Twelve, a Tuscan Cookbook, many years ago, and it’s excellent. Full of eminently ‘doable’ recipes that have stood the test of time.

    1. So glad to meet a fellow Tessa Kiros appreciation society member! Yes, I don’t know why she didn’t become a big star – perhaps because she was living abroad, not in the UK, so didn’t appear much on TV? I gave one of her books (Fallen Cloudberries) to a friend of mine who was thinking of becoming a chef and also had children of the same age as mine, and she really appreciated it too.

  8. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage cookbooks are our standards. He has a few that are primarily vegetable-based, and a couple that minimize the number of ingredients. We have a few Nigel Slater books but they are mostly nice to look at rather than to actually make something from (that said, he does have a cake recipe that we make every year when the gooseberries on our bush come ripe). The standard American cookbook, which my mother gave me when I was a young adult, is by “Betty Crocker” (a fictionalized character much like Mrs Beeton), and there are a few recipes in there that we rely on, especially for traditional Thanksgiving foods.

    1. Ah, nice to get an international perspective too. Doesn’t Betty Crocker also have a readymade cake brand or baking ingredients brand? I remember the River Cottage books were hugely popular when I first came to the UK, but back then I didn’t have a proper kitchen or even pots and pans, and certainly not the money, to attempt any of that, so I never explored it further.

  9. I swear by Delia for how to know-how for standards, I like Nigella for baking, but despite having a shelf full of cookbooks, I rarely use them as I’m not really an adventurous cook – I do use Madhur Jaffrey and Ken Hom for Indian or Chinese occasionally.

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