Welcome to Chuck’s Cookbook Corner
Pacific’s founder Chuck Eggert has an incredible collection of more than 5,000 cookbooks and agriculture books – some even from the 1600s! – and he wants to share them with you. His library is an essential part of our research and development program, which is how we’re able to bring you the flavorful, wholesome and simple products you enjoy at home.
Watch this section of our website throughout the year to get the inside scoop on the best cookbooks of the past four centuries, recipes that inspire us and ideas to apply at home, whether it’s in your kitchen, garden or hobby farm.
A Lifelong Collector
Interview with Chuck Eggert – Jan. 2, 2012
How many books do you have and when did you start collecting them?
I’ve never been one to throw away books. In fact, I still have an algebra textbook from high school in my collection. So I guess you can say I’ve always been a collector. At home I mostly have history books, but here at the office I keep my collection of cookbooks and agriculture books. Nowadays I mostly collect agricultural textbooks and old cookbooks. I also have a large collection of books on the economics of agriculture. I’m not really interested in new books, but prefer old ones. I will always buy odd books too—for example, I have a couple of books on How to Raise a Muskrat or How to Have a Frog Farm. I will always buy strange books, but I pay more attention to old cookbooks to make sure they are relevant to me before I buy them. If it has anything on making chicken or beef broth I always buy it!
5,000 books is quite the library, how do you keep them straight?
My wife, Louanna, keeps a master list of all of the books, but we don’t catalog them. I know where they all are though; if someone moves one I notice.
Why do you like old books instead of new ones?
New cookbooks focus on how to make your food look pretty, and they don’t explain why you use certain ingredients or the process behind cooking. Old cookbooks tell you the “why,” which I like. Old agriculture books, like the ones from the 1800s that I have, talk about rural life. They explain everything from how to build a barn to how to measure plots of land. Back then they didn’t have antibiotics, so they had to farm in a more traditional, organic way, similar to what we’re doing now.
What’s the oldest book in your collection?
I have a couple from the 1600s, and about 10 or so from the 1700s. The oldest book in my collection is from 1649. It’s called Mark Ham’s English Housewife. It tells you everything from how to get flavor from bones to home remedies for common ailments. When I got it, I read how to get the flavor from bones from the book, tried it at home and then applied it to what we’re currently doing with broth.
Growing up, were you a big reader?
I read a lot as a little kid, and I still do. I’m often reading 4-5 books at a time. My favorite book as a little kid was The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, which I read in the 7th grade. I remember also reading Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, and a lot of Ayn Rand. I must have read the Sherlock Holmes books more than 20 times throughout the years. Now I don’t read any novels though, mostly non-fiction.
Which book in your collection do you refer to most often?
My favorite book, and the one I refer to the most often, is the Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef, 5th Edition. I have all of the other editions, like the 14th or the 8th, and they’re not as good as the 5th. It’s the best collection of classic recipes you’ll find anywhere. The other book I use quite often is On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. His book explains how things work in the kitchen, the science and chemistry behind why food behaves the way it does. Between these two books you can do anything in the kitchen—they really provide you all of the building blocks.
Is there one recipe you refer to the most?
Broth, of course!
What do you appreciate about classic recipes?
With a classic recipe the food tastes like it’s supposed to. In old cookbooks there is a reason behind everything they did. With modern technology we’ve used a lot of shortcuts that in the end have left us with food that has not-as-desirable ingredients. Every ingredient in our food should have a purpose.
What’s one book you think every home chef should have?
Besides the two that I use the most, I would recommend Alton Brown’s Good Eats. It’s a little more casual but still tells you the “why” behind food. I also use The Betty Crocker Cookbook a lot. They’re sort of classic recipes, but taken to the next level. I have about 15 different versions of The Betty Crocker Cookbook. I collect them because I love to see what people would write in the books. It’s an interesting glimpse of history, seeing what notes people would make or what newspaper clippings they would add. Many people used them as binders for all of their family recipes.