"We buy cookbooks in moments of passion. We want them to bring pleasure and give pleasure, along with joy and happiness and most usually, togetherness."
The widow of chef and cookbook author James Barber says her husband didn't just write those words, but also lived by them.
"James couldn't pass a book store without going in and buying another cookbook. I used to get irritated because sometimes he'd buy a book he already owned," said Christina Burridge, smiling at the memory. "But James loved the look, the feel and the sense of potential each book held so it wouldn't occur to him he had it already."
Case in point, Burridge pulls two copies of the same book, In and Out of the Kitchen, from a box stacked on a counter at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks shop on West Second Avenue near Burrard Street. The boxes, simply marked, "Quick," "Frugal" and "French," hold just a fraction of the cookbooks that once belonged to Barber. Fittingly, the popular food writer and TV cooking host died unexpectedly in 2007, at age 84 while sitting at his kitchen table at his farm near Duncan while reading a cookbook.
On Sept. 23, more than 1,500 of the cookbooks owned, and or written, by Barber will be available for sale at Barbara-Jo's. Burridge said as difficult as it was to finally sort through her husband's much-loved books, it was also satisfying to think about the promise they'll bring to new owners.
"It's about remembering James in the best way possible," said Burridge. "He'd be glad to know they've found new homes."
Before his death, Barber had penned dozens of books, but was best known worldwide as the Urban Peasant, which also spawned the popular TV series of the same name. Barber's last book, One Pot Wonders, was released just months before his death.
Barber had a successful career as a civil engineer before giving it up to pursue his true love of cooking. Barber and Burridge moved to the Cowichan Valley in 2000, where he raised miniature donkeys and grew fruits and vegetables.
Burridge said proceeds from the sale will benefit Providence Farm, an organic farm and non-profit society that offers therapeutic programs for adults and seniors in Cowichan Valley with mental health issues, brain injuries and developmental challenges. Barber was such a respected supporter of the farm, last year chefs from the area organized an annual fundraising event in his name. The second-annual James Barber Fundraiser takes place Oct. 7 at Providence Farm. Burridge said in the past Barber raised funds to build a kitchen at the farm, where recently a new brick pizza oven was named after him.
"Providence Farm was dear to his heart from the time he moved to the Island," said Burridge, who plans to attend the book sale.
Burridge added she's going to be happy to watch the cookbooks leave Barbara-Jo's with new owners.
"It would be a shame to leave these books in boxes in storage," she said. "James would want people to pick them up and use them. He'd be very happy to see them go."
One of Barber's first cookbooks was titled Ginger Tea Makes Friends, credited with helping establish Douglas & McIntyre as a publishing house. Barbara-Jo McIntosh said the book is the inspiration for the James Barber's Gingerteani Trunk Sale, where ginger tea, ginger cookies and "gingerteanis" will be served.
"James was full of spice and life, so we thought it would be a fitting theme," said McIntosh, a longtime friend of Barber's. "He was quite the jokester, so I wouldn't be surprised if he showed up himself."
The James Barber book sale takes place from noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 23 at Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks, 1740 West Second Ave.