Cookbooks are a relatively recent obsession for me. Since The Professor laid down his challenge, I’ve been browsing for new ones when I have a spare minute. But setting aside the dozen or so currently in my Amazon shopping cart, I probably own less than ten. I’m no Heidi Swanson … yet.

I managed to last this long with so so few cookbooks thanks to recipes in magazines (magazines being my long-time obsession!) and my mother, the latter being more important. Mom’s the one who shared her recipes and answered the phone when I had cooking questions, dilemmas, and emergencies.

Which got me thinking: Is the recipe on the splattered index card titled “Mom’s Pesto” really Mom’s? Where does she get her recipes? What cookbooks has she turned to to put vegetarian meals on the table for four decades?

This past weekend, to give The Professor some much-needed silence, I packed up the kids and drove to my parents summer house. While The Professor thought deep thoughts at home, I raided my Mom’s cookbook collection. And here’s what I learned:

First, Mom might own thirty cookbooks all told, but only a half-dozen or so get a slice of the prime kitchen real estate on the shelf above the stove. The rest live on shelves alongside family photo albums and yet more heavy academic texts. (Did I mention that my father is also a philosopher? Yes, well. That’s another story, I suppose.)

Second, her collection contained just one “vegetarian” cookbook — a  well-used and slightly charred copy of The Vegetarian Epicure, the Anna Thomas bestseller originally published in 1972.

The sight of the cover took me straight back to my childhood. The book was a bible of sorts as my Mom found her footing in a meat-free kitchen. But she hasn’t used it in years, and I found it on a shelf in my Dad’s office.

The rest of her cook books were ones you might find in the library of any curious cook. There was Mario Batali’s The Babbo Cookbook, Jody Adams and Ken Rivard’s In the Hands of a Chef, Marcela Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cook Book, and no fewer than three cookbooks by Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray  — the duo behind London’s River Cafe. In other words, as US Weekly might put it, vegetarians — they’re just like us!

I am now working my way through her collection, looking for recipes I already know by another name and new ones worth trying.



One Comment so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Hello. I am a food writer in Washington, DC. I recently did a piece on the Vegetarian Epicure turning 40 and chatted with Anna Thomas. Since the piece has been published, people have been commenting to me about how much they love the book. People have told us that no matter how beat-up their copies of VE are, they are still a treasure. From her Facebook page, Anna has asked fans to send me photo’s of their old copies of VE. I would love to include you picture from the post and some of your comments. I can also include a link back to your site here. Please let me know if this would be ok.



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