If you’ve been to my house, you’ve seen them everywhere: in the kitchen, holding down the coffee table, on the nightstand (not in the bathroom, gross). I always ask for cookbooks at Christmas, I like to curl up with one or two on aÂ SaturdayÂ and flip through stunning photos, making notes on interesting dishes I’d like to try. But when push comes to shove and I need a quick recipe for the asparagus I brought home from the market? I go straight to the inter webs. As I sat down to write a blog post, a cookbook review, I got to thinking, are cookbooks still relevant? Have cooking blogs and super sites like Epicurious and AllRecipes replaced cookbooks?
Cue the chills and eerie organ music.
So when, and more importantly WHY, do we add new books to our collection? I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t cooked one thing out of the books I received at the holidays, so why am I considering purchasing another or recommending more to friends? Cookbooks cross the line between fiction and non-fiction. Yes, there are facts, and instructions, but you also lose yourself in the ‘imaginaryÂ you’ cookingÂ a multi-step-37-ingredient-dish, and the satisfaction that would comeÂ from the first, perfect bite once it is pulled from the oven. The voice of the author transports you, so that after you are half way throughÂ The Art of Simple Food, say, by Alice Waters, you are actually in Alice’s kitchen, glass of rose in hand, watchingÂ herÂ peel and thinly slice the onion as instructed to on page 254 in the Curly Kale and Potato Soup recipe.
Cookbooks, Blogs, and Food Super Sites all have their place in our digital culinary world, but just in case you’ve thought of giving up your collection, here are my top 5 PRO Cookbooks arguments:
1.Â Reference Material. Cookbooks are an excellent way to dive into any new diet or culinary skill. Much like any how-to-book, cookbooks can teach you how to transform your life if you decide to go vegan, paelo, raw, or hell, decide to go on an all cookie all the time diet (may I recommendÂ Cookies at Home with the Culinary Institute of America). Just try to scour the internet and come up with the same comprehensive research and instruction outlined in Michael Ruhlmen’sÂ Charcuterie.
2.Â Family Heirlooms. Cookbooks are gems for capturing a sense of time and place. I can’t bring myself to get rid of my copy ofÂ River Road Recipes, given to me by my Aunt, a book she and my mother would cook out of in the 1970’s when the pair lived in Batron Rouge. I’ll never make Chicken Mayonnaise or Fat Man’s Misery (a real recipe!!), but I can imagine my mom (younger than me at this point!!) flipping through the pages considering what to make for supper.
3.Â Gifts, for you or them. Cookbooks make great gifts, as all my family and friends know. Giving a cookbook wrapped in a dishtowel accented with a gorgeous handmade wooden spoon (not by you- an artisan, unless you do make wooden spoons) is a time tested delight. They also make fantastic souvenirs, albeit heavy ones. When I travel I always bring home a cookbookÂ from the place where dirt has gotten up under my nails.
4.Â Voice. Cookbooks can act as lecture notes; a front seat to the craft, passion and dedication of chefs. Generally my favorite part of cookbooks written by great chefs are the introductions. Skip culinary school and read what these chefs have learned along their culinary path. Here, they are also likely to share a few kitchen tips and their essential pantry ingredients.
5.Â Trust. Cookbooks have been TESTED. A lot. I know because I briefly worked for a cookbook author. Aside from a couple well trafficked blogs who I’ll follow a recipe from, I mainly use blogs as inspiration. But with cookbooks, I feel safe following every measurement and every step. Have you even made something from America’s Test Kitchen and had it fail when following the directions exactly? ItÂ doesn’t happen.