Here are ten kitchen reference books everyone should have on their shelf. From cooking, baking and fermenting, to general culinary know-how, there’s a bit of something for everyone. How many of these are on your shelf?
JUST THE FAVOURITES
I read a lot of culinary books. As a bibliophile and a lover of food, it’s perfectly natural that one of my reading interests include perusing kitchen reference books from cover to cover.
Over the years I have amassed quite the collection of cookbooks, so I thought it would be fun to cover some favourites. Some of these books were recommendations, others I checked out from the library before purchasing, and two of these were gifts.
In my humble opinion, books make the best gifts, especially cookbooks. They’re so practical and inspirational! Even if you know your way around ingredients and don’t need a recipe tying you down, there’s plenty to be learned from the titles I’m sharing with you today.
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A NOTE ON THE ORDER
This list is in no particular order of preference. When I was filming the video for this post, I went based on the pile of books I had pulled from my shelves, starting with the top. As I don’t have an eidetic memory (a photographic memory), this order may differ from the video which can be found below or on YouTube (I hope you’ll follow me there, too!).
Back in the olden days when folks had root cellars instead of fridges, fermentation played a key role in preserving the harvest. As urbanization and industrialization pulled people away from the farm, the art of fermentation began to disappear. With modern refrigeration and the commercialization of food, who needed to bother with it?
Fortunately, fermentation saw a revival when Sandor Ellix Katz breathed life into it with his iconic book, Wild Fermentation. Inspired, Christopher and Kirsten started experimenting on their own, and in this book they share 64 recipes for gut healthy fermented foods.
If you’re brand new to fermenting, the Shockeys will walk you through everything you need to get started.
If you want to know which flavours pair best with Brussels sprouts, for example, this book will not only tell you which ingredients work well, but which ones are the best. It’s an absolute must if you like playing in the kitchen as much as I do!
This is not the first time I’m endorsing this book. The first time I recommended it was when I adapted my Victory Borscht recipe from it.
Marguerite Patten worked for the Ministry of Food in WWII, helping families prepare nutritious meals and reduce food waste based on the little rations they received. I spent hours reading this book because it is a fascinating read both from a historical and a culinary perspective.
Patten walks the reader through the war years and post-war years up until 1954, when rationing ended. As much as I adore this book, there is one thing that drives me absolute bonkers: there are no page numbers! Little sticky tabs are a necessity with this one.
This book was gifted to me for Christmas one year. It was before I went to school for baking and pastry, and for the longest time, it was neglected on the shelf. I don’t remember when I started using it, but it’s fantastic for learning the basics.
It has easy-to-follow photos that you can reference as you work alongside the recipes for making pie crusts, ganaches, breads, cakes, and cookies. It’s the perfect intro for the novice baker.
Where James Peterson is for the novice baker, Ken Forkish is for the bread baker who wants to level up. This is a book I had originally checked out from the library when I wanted to learn how to make artisanal bread. It wasn’t long after that this book took a permanent place on my kitchen counter.
This book focuses on three areas: breads using fermented overnight starters, sourdough breads, and pizza. Every single loaf I have made using this book has been a hit, but beware: Forkish will make you go out and buy a few things to get started.
I don’t remember how I came to discover this book, but am I ever glad I did! After checking this book out from the library and becoming smitten with it, I knew I needed a copy of my own.
When you flip through the pages of this book, Samin Nosrat becomes your own private culinary tutor. She takes you through the four key elements of cooking (hint: it’s the title of the book) and how to use them to create amazing dishes.
Nosrat’s goal is for you to wield these elements so you won’t need to rely on recipes. With that being said, there are recipes in the book which demonstrate the lessons she covers throughout the book. Out of all the books on this list, this one is my favourite.
This hefty tome of a book was first published in 1934 and serves as a food encyclopedia. It covers everything.
In it, you will learn about wines, cheeses, and cuts of meat; you’ll discover recipes scattered throughout the book; and you will read about famous chefs. When Julia Child first started honing in on her passion, she read from Larousse Gastronomique every night, according to her excellent autobiography, My Life in France.
Even though I can find the answers to my questions with a quick internet search, I still reach for this book. I value the process of consulting something that’s tangible, something that I can feel in my hands. As a bonus, this book helped me to put together my cheese tasting wish list. You have one of those, too, right?
I didn’t grow up with it, but I’m the biggest sucker for French cooking. And really, what collection of kitchen reference books would be complete without Julia Child? Did you know that her husband, Paul Child, drew all of the illustrations that went into this book?
You won’t find any photos in here, but you will find hundreds of recipes and variations in this book. While I have some issues with the system of measurements (I’m Canadian, I don’t measure in quarts) everything I have ever made from this book has been delectable. I highly recommend the mushroom quiche and the boeuf bourguignon: they’re heavenly!
This hot pink gem first caught my eye in a culinary book store at the Jean Talon Market in Montreal. I worked in pastry while living in Montreal and lusted after this book for the longest time until one of my best friends surprised me with it for my birthday one year.
It is the most thorough French pastry book I have encountered thus far, and my favourite thing about it is the set up.
If you’re brand new to the world of pastry, this book is perfect because you can start with lesson 1 and work your way up.
It’s basically pastry school in a book.
Moreover, there are hundreds, if not thousands of pictures to help demonstrate the stages and techniques throughout the book. Gorgeous.
I’m the Vintage Kitchen Vixen. Clearly I’m going to have at least a couple of vintage inspired books on my list of favourite kitchen reference books!
The Vintage Tea Party Book is all about how to throw a memorable tea party, and Angel Adoree goes above and beyond in showing her readers how to achieve that.
Whether it’s crafting accessories, creating a stunning spread or gussying up for the big event, this book is full of ideas that can be applied to any event you’re hosting.
The recipes and food presentation are inspiring, and the photography and illustrations are beautiful, making it a treat to flip through. It’s a spectacularly fun book.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you have any of these titles on your shelf? Which kitchen reference books do you find yourself turning to again and again? I love learning about new titles that may not have come across my radar yet, so please feel free to share your feedback and favourites in the comments below!
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Love and gratitude,