Chew and Review: Long Live the Cookbook!

Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table book cover
Thomas Keller, Ad Hoc at Home book cover

I read a recent New York Times article, Gadgets You Should Get Rid Of (or Not), that lists the devices that we can do away with (or keep) now that technology has progressed to the point of redundancy. One of the suggestions broke my heart: cookbooks.

“BOOKS Keep them (with one exception)… there is one area where printed matter is going to give way to digital content: cookbooks. Martha Stewart Makes Cookies, a $5 app for the iPad, is the wave of the future. Every recipe has a photo of the dish (something far too expensive for many printed cookbooks).

Complicated procedures can be explained by an embedded video. When something needs to be timed, there’s a digital timer built right into the recipe. You can e-mail yourself the ingredients list to take to the grocery store. The app does what cookbooks cannot, providing a better version of everything that came before it.”

Now, I for one don’t like to pit books vs. eBooks (or apps for that matter). It’s the apples to oranges argument. Cooking websites and applications can enhance your cooking experience, no doubt, but I believe that cookbooks will always have a place in our world (and our hearts). Let me give you a few examples to explain.

  1. Cookbooks are filled with details and recommendations that don’t fit the online, less-is-more format. Dorie Greenspan’s blog, In the Kitchen and On the Road with Dorie, is filled with her adventures in French cooking. But I couldn’t find her lovely (and highly recommended) Cote d’Azur cure-all soup that I had previously read about in her book Around My French Table. Sure, I could Google it but I wouldn’t have known about alternative methods and ingredients along with serving suggestions and historical notes. After checking the book out from the Library again, I was glad I followed her recommendation of adding three egg yolks instead of six.
  2. Cookbooks give you insight into the author’s life and passion. A great example of this is Thomas Keller’s, Ad Hock at Home. In his cookbook, sprinkled in between recipes, we read about his inspiration for writing a casual family dining cookbook and the pure joy he gets from cooking comforting meals. We read about the warming, heartfelt last meal that he cooked for his dying father: barbecued chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens. Yes, some of the recipes are online — if that’s all you want — but only a fraction of them are available, and none with the spice of life that Thomas Keller offers us in his book. (Side note: this book doesn’t have a table of contents. It’s just begging to be read from cover to cover.)
  3. Format, format, format. Here is where I list all of the “other” reasons that cookbooks are here to stay: they become heirlooms and have historical value; you don’t need a specific browser, mobile device or e-reader to download a cookbook; you can curl up with one at the end of long day or beginning of a rainy weekend; and my favorite — they’re free at your public library (we have eCookbooks too but nowhere near the number of cookbooks that are on the shelves).

I love practical technology and I use it every day in relation to food or cooking. I have an entire iGoogle page that shows me updates of my favorite food blogs (Joy the Baker, Smitten Kitchen, Cooked Books, 101 Cookbooks, Simply Recipes, Scanwiches and many more). I use Foodgawker to search a massive amount of food blogs at once for a particular recipe that I want to make a certain way or with a specific ingredient in mind (this site is also great “food porn” if you have a few minutes to drool while you scan the delicious images).

I have a kitchen fantasy where I have a tablet velcroed to my refrigerator and I have recipes, ingredient substitutions and cooking techniques all at my dirty little fingertips (with a protective display film of course). For now, my smart phone fits the bill; I have followed recipes and videoed myself cooking all with that one handy little device.

But there will ALWAYS be a place for cookbooks. To me, reading a good cookbook is like sitting down and slowly savoring a tasty dish. So for those of us who really love food and cooking and appreciate the value of food in our culture and families, we'll keep our cookbooks, thank you very much.

Comments

I also use both resources, often printing off a recipe from a culinary site, and along with the stains, it gets crumpled and folded - another indicator of its popularity. I do enjoy reading cookbooks, though -- especially when there's historical information behind the recipes.

And most importantly, imho, you can spill a little food and it adds to the character of the book. Can't do that with something digital ;)

Couldn't agree more, Laurie! Awesome post.

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