Baker and blogger collects boutique cookbooks
Anyone who photographs food has a serious job to do in a short time frame, making a platter of ribs, a bubbly dish of macaroni-and-cheese, or a three-layer cake with sexily applied gobs of frosting look so fresh and tempting the viewer wants to jump in and indulge that very second. Tiffany Welsh, an accountant for local book distributor Common Ground, captures mouthwatering dishes in her side hustle as a freelance food photographer.
She’s also mad about accumulating cookbooks — but in this case, the pressure’s off. “I’ve always been a big baker, and at first most of my cookbooks were basic ones like Joy of Cooking — but as time went on, I started acquiring very specialized titles, like cookbooks that focused solely on making pastry or chocolate,” says Welsh, who publishes a food blog, “Well Fed Baker” (she was also editor of the now-ceased local publication Food Life Magazine).
It’s her stack of quaint community cookbooks that truly feeds her collecting passion, though. Part of a genre long published as fundraisers for schools, churches, and civic organizations, these books are typically spiral bound and include appetizer, entrée, and dessert recipes contributed by members of the sponsoring organization. “Most of mine are from the 1980s and ’90s,” says Welsh. “I find them at thrift stores and have ones from the Black Mountain Baptist Church and the Enka Lake Club. It’s fun revamping recipes from these books to modernize them.”
Welsh’s grandmother Barbara Welsh figures prominently in the curation of her collection, which currently includes about 85 titles. “I grew up watching her bake, and her father, my great-grandfather Charlie Stiburek, actually owned a bakery in Cascade, Idaho. He had the bakery from around the 1920s until it closed around 1980, and was famous for his signature ‘Charlie’s butter rolls,’ which my grandmother still makes today.” Barbara Welsh wrote The Yorgason Family Cookbook, published more than 30 years ago. “It contains all these great recipes that she made for our family when I was a kid, so it’s special to me. The book’s in pretty bad condition, with stained, dog-eared pages, but that means it’s been well-used and loved.”
But her interest in baking isn’t just sentimental — she considers it as much a science as an art. “It’s an extension of my accountant brain,” says Welch, “because to be successful and create something delicious and beautiful, precision is crucial.” She’s fearless about experimenting and often pulls ingredients from recipes in different books to create entirely new cakes, pies, and cookies. Her friends challenge her to dream up new creations: “I’ll turn anything into a cookie — I even developed a margarita cookie recipe.”
The baker’s adaptability was stretched further when she went gluten-free several years ago, and she’s versed in vegan baking, as well; Welsh recently self-published her own cookbook, Perfect Gluten-Free Pies. She makes plain her preference for tactile recipes over ubiquitous online versions: “I like printed cookbooks because they’re easier to keep track of than online recipes. I have my favorites where I make notes that I can refer to every time I use them.”
Welsh never set about to gather lots of cookbooks. “I’d have to say I had a good collection before even realizing I was a collector,” she says. “My exposure to gorgeous cookbooks started when I began working for Common Ground in 2009 — the titles we had were full of stunning photographs and creative recipes; I’d just pore over them.”
The collection is stored in a built-in cabinet and used almost daily, as opposed to being relegated to a shelf for display only. She periodically goes through her collection and culls it as she acquires new books. “Some I’ll never give up because they’re favorites, and I’ve marked their pages with notes on how a recipe tasted or if it was really yummy,” she says. “I know I need to reassess my collection when the cabinet I store them in won’t accommodate any more.”
Welsh is transparent about how much baking — and her cookbook collection — has sustained her as the pandemic’s weeks of isolation turned into months. “The act of baking is comforting and meditative — it never gets old. Plus, when I give what I make to friends, it connects us, something we all need now.”