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The gift of cookbooks (Recipe: sweet potato bread)


Almost every Saturday, my friend Laura visits yard sales. Her "finds" are the stuff of legend.

A real diamond ring forgotten in a box of junk jewelry. A set of mid-century modern patio chairs and table for $10.

A car.

To me, though, her most exciting finds are cookbooks (well, perhaps not quite as exciting as a diamond ring), classic and contemporary, the relics of other people's culinary whims, sometimes with notes penciled in the margin or recipes cut from newspapers and used as bookmarks.

Wonderful friend that she is, Laura often passes those cookbooks on to me.

My cookbook library also grows every time Ted takes a business trip; how great is it that he always looks for local cookbooks to bring home? I loved the Chinese cookbooks from Vancouver, and the eclectic selection from a great book shop in Toronto. The French-language book of Canadian cuisine, from a trip to his home town of Montreal, presented a bit of a challenge; merci, Pauline, for your offer to help with translation.

Chuck Williams, who owns Eagle Trading Company in Assonet, Massachusetts, the most wonderful used cookbook store in all the world, occasionally adds to my book pile things he thinks I would like. Last year he gave me the gift of Claudia Roden's A Book of Middle Eastern Food. I use it all the time.

Kate's son Max snagged some locally-produced, English-language books from Ecuador; Barbara picked up a book on Argentinian cooking in Buenos Aires. Candy brought a lavender cookbook from a festival in Washington State (along with some lovely culinary lavendar). And Kim, who traveled around the world, sent local cookbooks from every country she visited: Belize, India, Thailand, New Zealand... I still treasure every one.

Thank you, to my husband, friends, assorted relatives and cooking buddies who enrich my life, my cookbook collection, and my pantry -- and who know that I am a world-class, overflow-the-bookcases, can't-have-too-many, unrepentant cookbook junkie.

Sweet potato bread

A few weeks ago, Laura's yard sale scavenging unearthed the Global Feast Cookbook: Recipes from Around the World, published by the Mystic Seaport Museum. If you want to know how to make bayngan bhurta (eggplant casserole), Aleksandrikook (Alexander torte), boniatos glaseados con ron (rum-glazed boniatos), safran isai (Estonian saffron bread), or jolly jumpbuck in a tuckerbag (lamb in puff pastry), look for this book at a yard sale near you. This bread, a Native American recipe, serves 8-10.


2 large sweet potatoes
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp melted butter + additional for topping
1-1/4 cups warm milk (use whole milk)
2 eggs, lightly beaten


Parboil sweet potatoes in a saucepan for 50 minutes, or until tender-crisp. Cool. Peel sweet potatoes; cut into 1/4-inch cubes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt into bowl; mix well. Stir in mixture of honey,  2 Tbsp melted butter, milk and eggs. Fold in sweet potatoes. Pour batter into greased 8x8-inch baking dish. Bake for 1 hour. Cut into squares; drizzle with additional melted butter.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Apple spice bread
Spice cake
Sweet potato pie

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Laura does sound like a wonderful friend. I envy your home library. I am trying not to accumulate too many books for now (borrowing them from the library for now), can't wait for my cookbook drought to be over!

This sweet potato bread sounds like my kind of bread. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I'm out of cornmeal, will need to stock up.

Where do I get a friend like Laura? ;-)

How fun to be able to find cookbooks all over and even more fun to receive them.


What a delicious idea: to bring back local cookbooks from your travels! I am going to keep this in mind. It is only this year that I have really started to use and appreciate the few cookbooks that I own, and realize now what a treasure they are.
That sweet potato bread sounds delicious!

Laura the yard sale maven here....a great part of the pleasure of yard sale-ing, for me, is having a mental list of the things my friends and family would love and coming upon them! ( I found a perfect leather Coach bag for my daughter a few weeks ago...20 bucks!) I love that my lovely Lydia loves my cookbook finds for her!

Of course I already have far too many cookbooks, but if I had more time I would love to go to yard sales and buy more! What could be more fun than that? You're lucky to have such a great friend.

How cool is that? Ted and Laura = true gems.

I love scouring used book stores for cookbooks. Yard sales- so fun. Enjoy all your fabulous finds.

SO hard to balance the cookbook craving vs the space! We have a wonderful used book store here, where I've made good finds. Another place for goodies is our town recycling center which has a 'share' shed. People leave wonders, cookbooks included. My prize from travel is Japanese cooking cards from Hawaii, with the phrase 'the odor of scorching soy sauce' -- and good recipes, circa 1965.
And that sw potato bread: today?? MMM!

Nora, I've given up trying to get this particular cookbook-acquisition thing under control... but I confess that I do like having my own cookbook library.

Paz, you can find my friend Laura at a yard sale!!! Seriously, I am very lucky to have her in my life, for a thousand reasons.

Nupur, I started collecting locally-produced cookbooks on my travels many years ago. I remember particularly looking all over Malaysia for an all-purpose cookbook, and finally finding one (in English, of course) in the gift shop at the E&O Hotel in Penang. The search is often the most fun part, and gives some focus to my souvenir hunting.

Laura, you are one of a kind. xoxo

Kalyn, I am lucky indeed. And the most fun is that sometimes these cookbooks have notes left behind from their previous owners, about which recipes work and which ones don't, and which were favorites. I love it.

Karina, some of my favorite cookbooks are ones from the 50s and 60s -- I remember my mother entertaining at little bridge parties with food just like the recipes in those cookbooks.

Susan, my cookbooks do keep encroaching on the bookshelves in the rest of the house. Your cooking cards sound exquisite -- scorching soy sauce....hmmmm....I know just what that means.

It is such great fun to read about how different cultures interpret ingredients/food across place and time. Given as gifts, only doubles maybe quadruples the pleasure. I think someone ought to take up the challenge to cook something different every day... can you imagine?

We went to Hay-on-Wye a few years ago - thankfully we drove (went by ferry) because I found a huge 'cookery' book section. Mon mari was not amused...tolerant, though, but definitely not amused...
Those all look wonderful! Can I come and spend a week reading?

I'm addicted to old cookbooks too, my latest acquisition is a 1936 copy of Au Petit Cordon Bleu. You've got a very nice selection there, the book spines look so good together.

Cookbooks? My eyes opened wide...
Sweet Potato? The chin sropped. Yummmm!

Callipygia, I agree that cookbooks are windows into other cultures, and sometimes into the families of those who've used the cookbook before. I do know someone who makes a different recipe every day -- and while I think it's wonderful, I also know that it's practice that makes you a good cook, and practice means making the same recipe enough times to become comfortable with it, and learn from it. But I applaud the energy it takes to find a new recipe, and sometimes new ingredients, every day. I surely couldn't do it!

Katie, come and bring your favorite cookbooks, and we can share. Wouldn't that be fun -- a kind of 1960s-style cookbook happening?!

Tommy, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. I love what you wrote about that wonderful cookbook on your blog. I'm especially interested in old cookbooks for children; I have a lovely Junior Fanny Farmer, and perhaps 30 other books about cooking with children.

Chris, I always suspected there were more than a few cookbook addicts out there in Pantry Land. Sweet potatoes are one of my new passions; I never used to like them, because they always seemed to have marshmallows attached. Now I know that's not true, and I'm really learning to appreciate them.

You're so lucky to have so many people feeding your cookbook addiction! I love little regional books too, all those Junior League towns from across the South, the church supper cookbooks, very quirky. You should consider getting the newer edition of Roden's "Book of Middle Eastern Food," as the older one is a bit antiquated, though nice in its own way. Ask your friend to keep an eye out at yard sales :-)

What a collection of cookbooks! I don't have many cookbooks. My only collection is a scrapbook made out of newspapers/magazine recipe cut-outs.

Oh how I love cookbooks - the used ones are even better. I try to keep a rule that when my bookshelf space allocated to cookbooks is full, I have to give one away before bringing a new one in. But, you probably understand that is practically like choosing which child to send off to the orphanage!

I love getting cookbooks as gifts too. This time for eid(a festival we muslims celebrate), I got two wonderful looking books...and I trated myself by buying three more ;)

Mercedes, I love the little local cookbooks, too. Jessica's Biscuit, known online as ecookbooks.com, has in their Boston-area store hundreds of church supper and community cookbooks from all around the country. I do have the new version of Roden's book, too -- but of course have not been able to part with the earlier edition, because the book was a gift. The updated edition is terrific and one of the basic references I will always keep in my library.

Tigerfish, I'm embarrassed to say that I have piles of magazine cut-outs, too -- in addition to 400 or so cookbooks.

Caroline, I tried to follow that rule for a while, too, but clearly it was too difficult! Now I go through spurts where I'll cull my cookbooks, pulling out some (mostly new or trendy) that I don't want to keep for the long haul. The ones I keep tend to be classics, basic reference, or an overview of an ethnic cuisine (Persian, Vietnamese, etc.) that has a range of recipes. The trendier books pass through -- I read them, try a few recipes, and eventually pass them along to a friend.

Nabeela, would love to know what some of these wonderful books are -- maybe something new to add to my collection??

Hmm, Lydia! your bread sounds lovely & comforting on a dull & windy day!

i love yard sales too. mmm that sweet potato bread sounds delish. i'll take a buttery piece please?

Cookbooks are the gift that keeps on giving! I always want more despite the fact that I have no room for them.

I have only started collecting cookbooks in earnest last year. I wonder how your cookbook library looks. Will you be able to fit it in one photograph? ;)

Valentina, it's finally turned very cold here, too, and I think this bread will be wonderful for the colder weather.

Aria, me too. And I'd love to share some of this bread with you!

Brilynn, it's taken me more than 30 years to convince my husband that there's always room for another cookbook....

Veron, not in one photograph, but I promise to publish a photo of part of my library, as Ted built a beautiful bookcase to house it.

I was looking forward to this post since you mentioned it. Sounds like you´re a very lucky lady. I´d happily trade a diamond ring for your cookbook collection (not that I have one, hence the readiness n saying so, I suspect)

Hi, Lydia! I'm still examining "Cusine Traditionnelle des regions du Quebec" and enjoying recipes and the tourist information it contains. I also have accumulated clippings from newspapers and magazines in my cook book collection and finally have a workable filing system.


Lobster, I'd rather have a cookbook collection than a diamond ring, too... but I'm weird that way!

Pauline, glad you've figured out how to organize your clippings. Mine are in piles, and piles, and piles.

Steamy, you betcha!

I just returned from our local library's book sale with an armload of used (and not so used)cookbooks. I too love reading the comments made by others...

Diane, library book sales are a great source of cookbooks. Now, if you can only put them down long enough to get to the Red Sox parade this afternoon....!!

It sounds like you have a pretty nice collection! I especially admire that your husband brings back a local cookbook from each destination he travels to. That must be a very eclectic collection!

I do love a little peek into other cookbook collectors librarys!!

Hillary, my library is very eclectic, but built around the basics -- some classic all-purpose cookbooks, a good ethnic collection, a baking section (though I do not bake -- but my husband does), a good number of books for kids/grandkids, food lit, and reference books. And then there's everything else, including wonderful old books, local finds, etc.

Kelly-Jane, this is just the tip of the iceberg, I'm afraid!!

That sounds like a delicious recipe. I've been meaning to start trying my hand at breads and this sounds like a delicious way to start

Mike, it's been fun reading about your adventures in the kitchen. I'm sure you'll have fun with breads, too.

How funny -- I grew up near Mystic Seaport! We used to go on field trips there in grade school. The cookbook was made in Mystic, Connecticut, right?

Katy, yes indeed, Mystic Seaport! It was done as a fundraiser and sold at the museum store.

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