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Top 10 cook books that have influenced me

March 23, 2010

When challenged to list the top 10 books that have influenced me most, apart from naming No1 (George Orwell – 1984), I struggled.  My top 10 influential cookbooks was no problem, they map my adult life and my cookery journey has contributed to growing self-confidence and maturity (in a good way rather than a wrinkly one).  Memories and food are indelibly linked.

  1. 10 cook books that have influenced me mostGood Housekeeping Cookery Book My Mother was given this when she left work as a secretary to get married (you did in those days).  There were some colour pages but mainly just text and illustrations.  There was a section of how to serve a dinner party without having servants.  The chapters on offal fascinated me – who would seriously eat tripe?  I bought myself a copy (not a trace of tripe) when I got married and it’s still a great reference for the basics.
  2. The Cook Book – Terence & Caroline Conran The first cook book I ever bought.  It was a window on a world that I didn’t know existed, full of dinner parties where they broke chunks off a huge slab of parmesan and floated lighted Amaretti wrappers up to the ceiling.  The first section was encyclopedic about food – most of the things I had never heard of.  I used the step-by-step instructions to joint a rabbit with great success.
  3. Leiths Cookery SchoolLeith’s Cookery School – I devoured each lesson with gusto, reading rather than learning from practical experience as I lacked the time and the budget for the often exotic ingredients.  At Christmas I jumped straight in at the final lesson and boned and stuffed a turkey (doing a lot of the prep after returning from various nightclubs) and collapsed in a triumphant but exhausted heap straight after the cannonball-shaped pudding.
  4. The Sunday Times Cookery Book – Arabella Boxer A soup tureen and vegetables I drooled over the illustrations and photography which have not been matched by any other book. The final chapters were my first introduction to some lifelong cookery friends including Claudia Roden and Antonio Carluccio.
  5. At Home With The Roux Brothers – Michel & Albert Roux Not a fancy book by any means.  It was published around the time of the ‘Take 6 cooks’ TV series.  Kay Avilla asked Albert Roux what his ultimate meal would be.  He described in detail a beautiful piece of sirloin and perfectly cooked pommes-frites.  “So, steak and chips then?” said Kay. “Exactly.”
  6. A New Book of Middle Eastern Food – Claudia Roden My Mother gave this to me when I moved to Saudi Arabia.  It is an authoritative work of food history as well as recipes.  I first made a feast of hummus, mutabal, stuffed vine leaves and numerous other dishes – without using a food processor.  A Lebanese guest was effusive “I can’t believe you did all this.  It’s exactly like my Mother makes.” I didn’t know whether to feel honoured or like a little old lady in black!  My well-thumbed copy was signed by Claudia herself at the Emirates Literature Festival in 2009.
  7. The Naked Chef – Jamie Oliver Yes, I know!  Just remember that he was a breath of fresh air when he arrived.  His recipes were accessible and fitted in with my life as a new wife and mum.  Antonio Carluccio inspired me to get a pasta machine, Jamie inspired me to use it.
  8. How to Eat – Nigella Lawson This book fitted into my life on many levels including as a bedside read.  From marmite sandwiches (love them) to dishes that were good enough to serve to friends but meant you weren’t missing out on the conversation for most of the evening.  This marks a growing up time in my life.
  9. The Art of the Tart – Tamasin Day-Lewis I have cooked more recipes from this than any other book.  It banished my fear of pastry-making and is the source of my ‘signature pudding’ – chocolate and apricot tart.  I went on to buy every book she’s ever written.
  10. Ottolenghi – The Cook Book This has taken me into a new realm of lighter, healthier cooking (dragging me away from my beloved stews and creamy puddings).  Not that it’s all healthy – the meringues are legendary.

P.S. River Cottage Every day – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall More power to Hugh’s elbow for his passion about the sourcing and provenance of food.  I support his Chicken Out campaign and backing of Compassion in World Farming.  This latest book has inspired me to bake my own bread nearly all the time too.

P.P.S. The Top 10 books that have influenced me:

  1. Top ten books1984 – George Orwell (read over 30 times – the scales fell from my eyes)
  2. The Outsiders – S.E. Hinton (coming of age book)
  3. Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood (fear for the world while laughing – so much is plausible in this book)
  4. The Babel Tower – A.S. Byatt (a door on the world of intellectuals and sadists in equal measure)
  5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy (first school read that proved ‘literature’ can be compelling)
  6. Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey (stretched my view of what a novel could achieve)
  7. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch – Alexander Solzhenitsyn (turning the screw of dislike for this regime and its effects on my family)
  8. The Rock of Tanios – Amin Maalouf (made me think deeply about the history of the region I live in)
  9. Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord – Louis de Bernieres (opened my eyes to the level of corruption and brutality of a drugs culture)
  10. Dickens – Peter Ackroyd (Dickens is the epitome of ‘can-do’ spirit and cared about injustice)

My eyes are always drawn to people’s book shelves when I enter a room – so satisfy my curiosity – share your top 10s with me.  Go on.

  1. March 23, 2010 5:29 pm

    This was interesting. You’ve probably had more time in your life to read than I have, but here is a short list of the top books that have influenced me:
    1. The Grapes of Wrath. (wahhh <3)
    2. I Have a Dream: Writings and Speaches That Have Changed the World (MLK)
    3. Warriors Don't Cry- Melba Patillo Beals
    4. Atonement- Ian McEwan
    5. True Tales of American Life—love it love it love it.
    6. Like Water for Chocolate

    Sorry for the short and incomplete list. I'm actually in school right now and the class period just ended so I have to leave the library 😛
    I have a lot of stuff on my goodreads page though; it's on my blog!

    • March 23, 2010 5:48 pm

      I have always meant to read The Grapes of Wrath. Saving it for a time when I feel extra cheerful. Love Ian McEwan’s writing but I don’t think it has influenced my thinking – although Saturday did make me think that brain surgery was beautiful! Thanks for comment.

  2. March 28, 2011 11:31 pm

    hi Sally, I’ve been browsing your blog on and off all morning, but before we head out to enjoy the day, I just wanted to tell you I found this post to be most interesting. I also love looking at the books on people’s shelves when we go to their homes. Always have, actually.

    I’m not familiar with any of the cookbooks you mentioned, and of those, the one I’m most interested in checking out is “River Cottage Every Day.” Why? Well, you said it inspired you to bake fresh bread nearly all the time, and I want to know why the book inspired you to do that.

    I also make fresh bread nearly all the time. Once in a blue moon I’ll pick up a loaf at a bakery, but other than that, I’m baking bread all the time. I just love it! I love having my hands covered in flour and dough, and kneading the dough is always such a joy. Of course, the aroma of bread baking has got to the the most beautiful smell in the entire world and savoring fresh bread from the oven is my favorite pastime! 🙂

    Anyway, I don’t have time right now to share with you my favorite cookbooks and the books which have most influenced me, but I’ll be back to do so.

    Before I go, I just wanted to tell you that the bread you make is so incredibly beautiful!! You’ve posted several recipes that I’d love to try.

    More than anything else, I want to make sourdough. But first, I have to make a successful starter. I’ve failed three times. I think I’m gonna attempt it again.

    If you happen to know of a recipe in one of your books that has a sourdough starter in it that you’ve successfully made, I’d love to know so I can go buy the book. Thanks, Sally! 🙂

    • March 29, 2011 9:25 am

      What a lovely comment Sheila. These books are mostly quite old – they influenced me in the past… I’m surprised at how many are out of print! River Cottage Everyday gives the recipe for a loaf that uses a sponge – so not the complexity of sour dough but some of the satisfaction. I wish I could say I always make bread but I go through phases of making lots and then buying lots. I’ve had a few attempts with sour dough and not very successful but I’m going to keep trying. I made the starter from Every Day and it didn’t do anything at all, I made the starter from Dom at Belleau Kitchen and got too busy to use it (I threw it away and then found out I could have revived it), I have Dan Lepards leaven in my fridge at the moment but made the worst loaf ever the other day so it’s back to the drawing board. Visit Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, Virtous Bread and Artistta (see links in side bar) for more really good info about sour dough. Good luck and keep me posted.

      • March 31, 2011 9:30 am

        hi Sally, and thanks so much for the tip to visit Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, Virtous Bread, and Artistta for good info about sourdough. I really appreciate it, and I’ll definitely check it out.

        I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had difficulty with sourdough. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m really good at baking bread and it always tastes so good. The exception is sourdough, and what’s frustrating is it’s my favorite bread. I was born in San Francisco and remember the incredible San Francisco sourdough bread that I so much loved. I just want to be able to make my favorite bread. I know it won’t be as good as the San Francisco sourdough but if I could just make my own loaf I’d be happy! 🙂

        My favorite 3 cookbooks are:

        “Bread: the breads of the world and how to bake them at home” by Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter

        “The Complete Book of Greek Cooking” by Rena Salaman & Jan Cutler and

        “Simply Pasta and Italian” by Parragon Publishing, Queen Street House, 4 Queen Street, Bath, BAI, IHE, UK. Published in 2001.

        As for books which have influence me…well…certainly “1984” is on the list. There’s actually so many books which have influenced me so besides “1984,” they are:

        1. Every book by Carlos Castenda.

        2. Every book by Herman Hesse.

        3. “The Prophet” by Kalil Gibran

        4. “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy

        5. “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn

        6. “Watership Down” by Richard Adams

        7. “The Souls of Animals” by Gary Kowalski

        8. Every book by Milton H. Erickson

        9. Every book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

        10. “The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious” by Carl Jung

      • April 1, 2011 8:51 am

        Really appreciate you sharing your list – so interesting. I visited Khalil Gibran’s hometown in Lebanon last year btw ( and took The Prophet with me on my journey.

  3. September 6, 2013 6:00 pm

    shockingly, I have none of these cookbooks, I may have to go on an Amazon splurge 😉


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