When I was growing up in a large family we could tell the day of the week by the meal on the dinner table.

If my mother used a cookbook to prepare these meals it was well hidden.

Normally when traveling, because of bad memories from my youth, I would go miles out of my way to avoid places that advertised "Home Cooking."

It wasn't until recently when a major accident laid up my wife for 14 weeks that I began to look to cookbooks to get a little variety into the weekly menu.

Because of this my interest turned to clipping recipes from newspapers and magazines and putting them in my desk drawer. There to stay forever.

Of course the kind of recipes I like would start with, "Take eight lobster tails," or "scrub three dozen mussels well."

Somewhere in most kitchens there is a shelf with a row of very impressive cookbooks and a person may be standing just beneath them frying hamburgers.

I'm always a sucker for the color photos in cookbooks and magazines showing lavish displays of meals. Bright-red lobsters surrounded by succulent steamed clams with bits of seaweed woven in and out; a perfectly browned Beef Wellington alongside a plate of pretty green asparagus - these are the things I love.

But it's not what we have or what most people I know have. A random survey of people with four to seven members in their families proved that they usually have a repertoire of about 10 dishes for evening meals.

Most said the menu for a week might be hamburgers, hotdogs, a stew, pasta of some sort, fish soup, poultry, an occasional trip out for pizza or Chinese food (according to the budget) and maybe something special on Sunday.

So why the overwhelming sale in cookbooks and the many being published?

A clerk at Brentano's main branch reports about 100 different cookbooks in both paperback and hardcover.

Next to the Bible and higher on the list than "Gone With The Wind," the three top best sellers of all time in hardback are "Better Homes and Garden Cookbook." with ouer 18 million; "Betty Crocker's New Picture Cookbook," 7 million; and the "Joy of Cooking," with close to 7 million.

On a shelf somewhere in our kitchen there was a cookbook with the title. "A Thousand Different Lunches," but my daughter stuck with only one.

When I worked at night I had lunch every noon with my third-grade daughter, who ate the same meal every day for a whole year. A fried-egg sandwich and a bowl of soup.

Today she has finished college and with the help of a gift cookbook and a strong desire to change her diet, she has turned into a very good cook.

The high school and college set seem to get along pretty well without recipes. They consume acres of peanut butter, tons of tuna fish, miles of baloney and still have energy.

Most people we asked at random said they did own cookbooks but rarely used them, all having mastered a few recipes for special dishes for company. One working mother said she really didn't have time, but did have a shelf full of cookbooks.

"Once in awhile I take one off the shelf to read and it reassures me that there are good dishes and some day I am going to try a few of them," she said.

Another said, "When the urge comes over me to make something exotic, I turn to a cookbook only to find that my cupboard is bare of a few essential spices."

A working mother said, "Sure I use cookbooks, I used two yesterday to reach for something on a top shelf."