30 years of cookbooks at Philly’s Cook Book Stall

As Amtrak’s Keystone train arrived in Philadelphia on a summer Friday, I heard the woman behind me inform her two teenage boys, “This is where they make cream cheese. And that’s all I could do not to turn around and correct her: “No, that’s where they got it.” Reading Terminal Market. And a cooking bookstore worthy of this marvel. “

The bustling market, just down Market Street from the station, is almost always one of my first stops on any trip back to the city where I starved myself for three years, in another life as an editor. obsessed with weight, not a professional eater. Every year it gets better; on a recent trip we found an entire stand dedicated to lamb and another selling cheeses made on site. Corn the cookbook stand has been a constant lure, the place where you can always find the latest in local food of the print variety – and, as with the market itself, so much more.

Locals, tourists, and lunchers are usually looking for recipe tips or in the mood to drop some plastic for a souvenir.

Jill Ross, who bought the 250-square-foot store 10 years ago from the woman who opened it in about 1983, says she doubts it would have lasted so long without the oldest rule in the food business : location, location, location. Locals, tourists, and lunchers at the adjacent convention center are usually looking for recipe tips or in the mood to drop some plastic for a souvenir like The Reading Terminal Market Cookbook (“our Junior League cookbook”). Ross speaks to chefs, but she also acknowledges that she needs impulse buys by “people who don’t even know they’re going to walk past a bookstore.” (While I was toasting her, she called out a blank diary – “no Amex, only Visa / MasterCard” – for a young tourist. “I swore I wouldn’t sell them, but people keep on stopping to ask.”)

As you would expect in a market dominated by independents, with no Cinnabon to sniff, the Cook Book Stall’s stock is very personal. Ross says publisher reps know his tastes (you might spot anything in the Richard Olney classic Simple French cuisine To Real cat food); she also likes to present “everything that is pretty”, especially from Artisan and Workman, because “it’s about eating with the eyes”. She clearly prefers jazzy covers and must-have subjects: bacon, barbecue, cheese. On a bulletin board, you might find titles as disparate as Malts & Milkshakes, Rick Stein’s India, Balance and Harmony by Australian Neil Perry, Autobiography of a delicatessen (it would be those of Katz) and Culinaria on France, Spain, Hungary and South-East Asia.

“Everything that comes from Phaidon is really popular,” says Ross. “Carla Hall and the To chew sell well, but I move away from TV bosses. “(Alton Brown, a recent visitor, seems to be an exception.) She distributes Rachael Ray’s magazine, but Culinary arts is displayed above, at eye level. Currently, she is helping a local author promote I am hot, you are hot, a macrobiotic guide for couples, because “she’s a nice lady”.

The shelving is also not dictated by Dewey Decimal, although Ross has a background in library science. To her left, sitting on a padded stool at the counter, are healthy choices, vegetarian, raw, vegan, and more. to its right are Italians and Asians and Mexicans and more. The seemingly random arrangement “gets people to come talk to me, talk about what they want, how they like to cook.”

“People come to talk to me, to talk to me about what they want, how they like to cook.” —Jill Ross

But what always sells best is “local stuff”. Vedge, from the famous Philadelphia meatless restaurant of the same name, is “seriously popular.” Philadelphia Italian cooks also does well with recipes from Italian Market and South Philadelphia restaurants. new Store by the pint, which Ross promoted at the impressive Fair Food Farmstand in the marketplace, is another reliable seller. And the decades ahead of its time Frog cookbook / curator remains a prominent title long after the revolutionary restaurants themselves have closed. (However, the catering division continues.)

The Marketplace cookbook, which includes vendor descriptions, is being updated and will be released before the holidays, Ross says. Considering that the market is home to 32 restaurants, as well as stores selling everything from scrapple to tortillas, the recipes should be even better than in the 1983 original.

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Other books that move in the stall are those of Yotom Ottolenghi Jerusalem and anything about the butcher’s shop. When I spoke to Ross, she had high hopes for Einat Admony’s Israeli cookbook Balaboosta as its next big seller, perhaps unsurprisingly in a town where Zahav is consistently among the top restaurant recommendations.

But now she’s even more turned on by the “glut” of fall titles, especially Sean Brock’s. Patrimony, Gabrielle Hamilton Plum and Much more of Ottolenghi. The highly publicized Mallmann on fire, Ross happily reports, is “out and about selling.”

“Chefs usually talk about books. Honestly, this part doesn’t interest me. I want them to cook good food. —Jill Ross

Ross is constantly in touch with chefs, but refuses to chat, let alone name his favorite restaurant in the competitive city. “When they talk to me, they usually talk about books. Honestly, I’m not interested in that part. I want them to make great food.”

And while she may not be popular with TV-centric chefs, she does appreciate the power of the stars. Once she “noticed Marcus Samuelsson buying cheese around the corner and shouted,” Excuse me, chef. “” Then made him sign books. Alice Medrich will also stop to sign books whenever she passes through Philadelphia.

Ross, who says she traveled across Europe when she was younger, ate in good restaurants and took cooking classes as a “leisure lady”, tests some of her stock, especially books on the pastry. “I love it when they send out uncorrected proofs,” to get the first tests in the oven. Thus, it can serve as an information booth for both cookbooks and the market, directing shoppers to the right stalls for the right ingredients. It is in the aisle of an excellent salumeria, a short walk from a seafood stall, not far from the main produce stand, opposite a chic table linen store and, now, the waitress at a posh herbal store who looks really at home among the Pennsylvania Dutch sausage and pickle vendors.

In addition to matching newspapers and aprons and non-verbal items, Ross also sells postcards from the original market, which opened in 1892 and still has a decidedly grainy feel even though new management is keeping it cleaner. . She stores back issues of cooking magazines for a dollar the pop (late / lamented Culinary arts, anybody?). And she displays a demo set of Mace Ferran Adrià on her counter with another loaner in case “someone wants to spend $ 600 on a cookbook.”

jill ross cookbook stall

The Cook Book Stall has a few empty shelves, but Ross has opened an online store and is storing it in a warehouse. A sign in the store, however, sends a message to those who check prices online while browsing: “Find it here + buy it here = keep us here.”

Ross, who just renewed his lease for five years, became addicted to the cookbook stall after wandering one day and spotting a sign asking for help. “I walked over and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jill. I’ll see you on Monday. “I was cheeky. The owner and I hit it off; I was supposed to be the part-time guy, but a year and a half later I bought the shop,” after taking classes at Wharton and developed a business plan.

“Find it here + buy it here = keep us here.”

Now she is reveling in her situation. “The market is almost like a family. My son has been coming almost since he was in my womb. He learned his first Korean words here. Everyone knows Emerson here. I always say you need a market. You know, like a village? “The whole market is closing in time for her to go home for dinner.

Her boyfriend of six years, Dallas Drummond, is the manager of Blue Mountain Vineyards in nearby Lehigh Valley, which has its own large stall just across the market. Closing is as easy as pulling down heavy canvas blinds that attach to the loops of the concrete floor. When she says “it’s a good life”, that sounds like an understatement.

And in a refrigerated crate at a nearby stall, you can always find cream cheese for sale. But it’s not labeled Kraft. This one carries a sign saying: “Made locally.” Best of Philadelphia ”.

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