In past years britishfoodinamerica has highlighted only things to buy but by now it only seems fair to recommend places where you can buy any number of them. The shops selected for recommendation stock nice things and offer unusually, even unaccountably, friendly service. Most of them conduct business online as well as in town; some are not quite cybercentric but will answer the phone.
Samantha and Don Lindgren at Rabelais in Biddeford, Maine are hard to beat; patient, knowledgeable people with an uncommon respect for British foodways both contemporary and traditional. Their culinary bookshop stocks new British titles difficult to find in America, delightfully obscure used books, and antiquarian treasures from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their good website is www.rabelaisbooks.com but visit the shop if you can; worth the detour from downtown Portland.
An engaging woman runs a cozy shop stocked with vintage rarities in a beautiful Federal rowhouse. She is Joanne Hendricks, the stock includes wonderful British titles and the house stands at 488 Greenwich Street in Manhattan. Its website alternately refers to the place as Greenwich Street Cookbooks or Joanne Hendricks Cookbooks. Ms. Hendricks finds prizes ranging from the original Elizabeth David pamphlet called “Potted Meat and Fish Pastes” from 1968 (good value at $40) to a rare first edition of Mrs. Beeton (whom David despised) in two volumes for $3000. Greenwich Street offers much in between, including books by Lady Clarke, Mrs. Leyel and other luminaries. The website is www.greenwichstreetcookbooks.com but by all means visit the shop.
Good, but not as good; Kitchen Arts and Letters, high on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, stocks books both new and used but trades in neither the antiquarian component nor displays a particular reverence for things British. Its owner is the legendary but approachable Nach Waxman; staff, however, are not necessarily friendly and seldom nearly as knowledgeable. Do not let the horrible website at www.kitchenartsandletters.com put you off; the shop itself, at 1435 Lexington Avenue, is one of New York’s treasures.
Some eighty blocks downtown from Kitchen Arts in the shadow of the Union Square Greenmarket, The Strand, like Mr. Lebowski, abides. It is no specialist shop but rather the last of the Manhattan behemoths selling rows and rows and floors of used and remaindered books. Lots of cookbooks old and new, and writings on food, line high shelves (you are allowed onto ladders) and cover big counters. Even some books on British cuisine some of the time.
Many more miles down, Charleston, South Carolina supports The Heirloom Book Company (dealing in ‘the literature of food’), and the name is apt. The city may lead the world in the revival and reinvention of traditional foodways, in its case from the Carolina Low Country; Sean Brock himself drops off seeds for sale at Heirloom in the Spring. The shop features an ‘event space’ for catered gatherings to help pay the bills and sells new cookbooks, but the big draw on fashionable King Street is the collection of vintage ones. Caryle Dougherty, one of the co-owners, is lively and personable, erudite and unsnobby. She posts a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of vintage books on the Heirloom website on a rotating basis; as one sells another hits the list. www.heirloombookcompany.com
As with so many things, New Orleans is a playground for collectors of old books. At the ramshackle Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street the primary focus is Louisiana but titles old and new that address other cuisines come and go. The website at www.kwbooks.com includes a long and luscious list of new books addressing the food of the state.
Kitchen Witch, New Orleans
It does not specialize in old cookbooks but the collection of them at Crescent City Books, also located in the French Quarter and newly moved around the corner to Chartres Street, usually is bigger, better and more varied than the selection at Kitchen witch; used books only. Prices are extremely fair but there is no online shopping at Crescent City.
One of the finest used bookshops anywhere shelters under the lee of College Hill on the East Side of Providence. The shy and pretty proprietor of Paper Nautilus Books maintains a meticulous collection resembling a private library as much as a shop. Cookbooks are not the only feature, and inhabit only a single tall case, but the selection is good and the stock changes all the time. And wait, there is more: Paper Nautilus not only hosts a coveted Art-O-Mat (score an original work of art for $5 from the rehabbed vending machine) but also sells other artwork, vintage clothing and random antique objects like chemical glass beakers and jars (handy for the kitchen), pretty ceramic budgies in a ‘cage,’ dogshow ribbons and other examples of quirk. Also belt buckles featuring Cthulhu, a nice injection of local dread.
The website at www.papernautilusbooks.com is not geared for sales but you can call 401.521.5533.
The Cook Book Stall at Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia lacks the depth and breadth of titles at shops like Rabelais or Kitchen Arts, and sells nothing used, but has lots of lovely books including just about everything (admittedly not a lot) connected to its city and, sometimes, titles related to British food. The owners are nice, the layout good and the Stall gives us an excuse, as if we needed another one, to visit Reading Terminal. The primitive website at www.thecookbookstall.com does the shop a disservice; it gives the visitor no inkling of the selection on the ground.