We got an email from a reader last week asking about where to find cookbooks, specifically older vintage ones, and I have to say, I didn’t really have a good reply. “Used bookstores” seemed like a really patronizing answer, but that’s about all I could come up with.
After a bit of research, my answer would be dependant on the disclaimer of “what do you want to do with it?” For some people, the hunt is the best part of the process, and if you’re not cursed with asthma, an afternoon spent digging through dusty stacks and boxes of cookbooks at the back of a used bookstore might be sheer heaven. If it’s the having of the book that is the goal, then online resources might be a better bet, and if the plan is simply to view, copy and try out the recipes, then I’d head to the library to dig through their treasures.
The Cookbook Store (850 Yonge Street) offers an extensive collection of older titles, as do most of the big chains. Amazon offers many titles at new or used prices, and it’s possible to find vintage or rare stuff in the used section here. Alibris specializes in used and rare books, but it helps to know the title of what you’re looking for in order to search effectively.
Newer titles – published in the past couple of years – can often be picked up at those remaindered bookshops that tend to pop up in malls or empty storefronts on main shopping stretches. I actually do most of my own cookbook shopping at these places, and my favourites include the one in Dufferin Mall; the one on Yonge Street, south of Bloor on the east side; and the one on the corner of Front Street East and Church. I don’t know the names of any of them, but everyone’s been to them, I’m sure.
Finding older or truly rare titles requires patience and effort, with ongoing searches of used bookshops like Balfour (601 College Street)), The Recycled Bookshop (162 McCaul Street) Ten Editions (698 Spadina Avenue), and Seekers Books (509 Bloor Street West) an important part of the process. Don’t discount junk and antique shops as well as thrift stores like the Goodwill or Salvation Army. These are great places to find old books that people have dumped because they can’t be bothered to have a yard sale.
And of course, it goes without saying that yard sales, rummage sales and flea markets are imperative destinations for anyone looking for old cookbooks. You may not score every time, but like the thrift shops, these are the very best places to find the goodies that have been sitting in someone’s attic for 50 years. I’ve found books at both yard sales and flea markets for under a buck that turned out to be worth hundreds of dollars when I got them home and looked them up online.
I mentioned the library above, and this should not be discounted for tracking down books on food and cooking, both new and old. You don’t get to keep them, of course, but the Toronto Public Library has probably the best selection of cookbooks in the country, spread across its many branches. The online search option even allows users to search by year of publication, so it’s easier to find the old, rare stuff. Note that TPL generally only has one copy of the rare items, though, and they generally don’t allow them to leave the premises of the reference library location.
And finally, although I’ve never attended, it’s worth mentioning the Cookbook Caper event which takes place on November 23rd at John McKenzie House in Willowdale. Hosted by the Ontario Historical Society in conjunction with the Culinary Historians of Ontario, this is a sale of donated cookbooks and food magazines.