Each one of these books left my shelves at one point or another, due to moving here or there hither and yon and not being able to carry all the books along – or from winnowing with the thought 'I never ever use this book'.
And yet somehow I've bought the same books again, at book sales when they appear before me.
1. Food for the Emperor by John D. Keys – A cute little book with recipes not overwrought and overextended. A simple collection of Chinese recipes yet somehow chosen with a deft touch towards some of the more theatrical or surprising dishes existing in the Chinese array of home recipes. I like it because the cover is black and shiny, the book is square, and overall the entire thing is elegant and useful, including the masterfully chosen quotes. This was the first Chinese cookbook I ever owned. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Memory.
2. The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria lo Pinto – A very basic Italian cookbook with surprising touches here and there in the recipes that cause them to shy away from the norm such as little bits of anchovies or cloves in places in the recipes other books would not have them placed. No fluff or drama, just good simple food. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Respect.
3. The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot – One of the great travel tales of wandering through France while learning the Way of the Gourmand. A serious book and a romantic one. I've read it several times but have not read it yet with the knowledge discovered some time over the years past that the author was legally blind. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Curiosity.
4. The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins – Uh. The biggie of the past New Age of a certain sort of food. Expansive, cute, smart. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Can't think of one. It might be the bright red cover.
5. The Good Cook – Salads: Time-Life Series – Salads hot cold and everything in between. A good basic book with a little of everything. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Desire to see three recipes I could not exactly remember how written in the book. So it must be Forgetfulness.
6. James Beard's Fish Cookery – When Jim Beard wrote a cookbook or an article about food, it was thorough – or as thorough as any single person could stand in one easy sitting. I had a hankering to see his recipe for codfish balls with bacon. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Friendship.
7. La Cucina delle Regioni d'Italia – Trento – These little cardboard covered books on regional Italian food are charming. Half in Italian, half in English, small prints and colored paintings interspersed with sprawling poetry and recipes, the series is a testament to the delightfully unfettered. I had about six or seven of these books and gave them away. Recently someone told me that those volumes were worth several hundred dollars each. Reason for choosing it as a prodigal return to the shelves: Warning. (Think more before you give?)
My Prodigal Books all have their tales. They sit on my shelves and whether I use them to cook with or not, they speak to me. Of days past of days well spent of days squandered and of days where a final rest has come with a return to the place where the tales began.