Have you ever picked up one of those $5 books from the clearance aisle at Borders or Barnes and Noble and it turned out to be the best purchase?
That would be this book:
Cooking Ingredients: The Ultimate Photographic Reference Guide for Cooks and Food Lovers by Christine Ingram.
I really do enjoy this book. It was the first cooking reference book I ever bought and when I got home, I read it from cover to cover.
The photography is fantastic and in it you will find every ingredient you can possibly imagine. While a lot of the ingredients mentioned are only available in the UK and Europe, there are many references made to ingredients and items available and popular in the US.
The cheese section is absolutely fantastic, and makes the book worth owning just for that purpose alone. The same goes for the spice section.
I find it a useful guide when I want to try out a new ingredient and need to know tips on buying, where to get it, time of year available, or possible uses.
Unfortunately, as I found out after a quick internet search, this book isn’t readily available. You can still buy it used from Amazon or abebooks.com. (Be prepared to pay a pretty penny!)
I highly recommend Cooking Ingredients, or any other encyclopedic reference guide as an important addition to any cookbook library.
Other books I like:
Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, et al.
–Although this is a cookbook, it has a great reference guide at the beginning of each section.
The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson
–A recent addition to my library, a much more encyclopedic look at food and drink. More of a history of food than a buying guide. A favorite.
The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: 2 Volume Set or The Cambridge World History of Food
–I don’t own either of these, but would love to. I think they would make a great addition to any personal library–cooking or otherwise.
Dictionary of American Food and Drink by John Mariani
–I own this book. It was given to me by the author, whom I met a few years ago. I like this book, but it holds more entertainment value for me than one of reference to cooking ingredients. Still fun. There’s a lot of history in it and trivia. Check it out if it’s in your library.