Barnes & Noble bookstores sell used books! (Don’t know if this is a sign of the times, or if I just always missed the “used” section somehow.) The Gretna, LA, store had a big table of used food & cookbooks on display this weekend; I picked up Desserts by Pierre Herme (with Dorie Greenspan) for just $5. If you hurry over, you can get the soft-cover Penguin Companion to Food by Alan Davidson for around $7. (I already have the hard-cover version, published as the Oxford Companion to Food, so I didn’t buy the paperback.) The Companion to Food is a wonderful, encyclopedia-style reference compendium covering ingredients, techniques, food history, culinary styles & movements, culinary botany & zoology, spices, seasonings, and so much more. I pull it off the shelf most often to look up obscure ingredients.
So what can a reference book do that Google can’t? First off, it’s edited by qualified people who aren’t trying to sell pots and pans or SlapChoppers, so you have some reasonable assurance of veracity. Second, it contains an extensive bibliography: when you find yourself gripped by a heretofore unknown fascination with Japanese gobo or West African yam varieties, you’ll have in hand a wealth of sources to feed your need to know. Third, it is browseable while lying in a hammock (though the hardback is a little too heavy for said purpose).