The Joy of Cooking, Part One

Saturday, November 12, 2011
While clearing bookself space for several new cookbooks that arrived in the mail this week, I began leafing through many of the books, wondering why I own so many cookbooks. The stuffed shelves overflow with hardbounds and soft covers, spiral- and plastic-bound books. Plus, I have a collection of cooking magazines and single pages ripped from other periodicals, all boasting delicious recipes.

If you were a guest in my home, you may wonder how often I use each of these treasures. How often does each get pulled from the shelf and pages flipped through in search of a delectable recipe?

If you know me well, you know I enjoy cooking. But while I flip through each book, I realize I seldom  use a cookbook to cook. No, if I need to whip up a fancy dessert or a quick Italian dish, I just know how it goes together. I really don't need a recipe to follow.

 Last month, I shared a blog post about the unwritten stories told through recipes. It's true. Many recipes have a story behind them, a back story that blends to create a combination of narrative and culinary roots.

And I got to thinking: how do I read a cookbook? Do I glance at the photos? Read each recipe in detail?

I read a cookbook like any other book. I read it cover to cover. In the introduction, I discover what motivated the author/cook to assemble this collection. A lot of times I learn new information about a specific technique or why certain ingredients are important. And I definitely learn more about the author.

I peruse each recipe and the step-by-step instructions. If a page includes narrative, I savor it. And of course, I pour over each picture, gleaning details about presentation and photography.

You can learn a lot by reading a cookbook. The writing requires precision and attention to detail. A sense of place develops through most, and readers generally feel a sense of connection with the cook/author.

It's unique, but at the same time, the elements of writing are so similar to other genres. Cookbook and fiction writers can learn from one another. Perhaps the most important lesson is that writers don't always need to follow a recipe.

How do you read a cookbook?

by LuAnn Schindler  Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.


Unknown said...

You sound like me. My bookshelves are stuffed with over 200 cookbooks and the collection keeps growing. Do I use them all? Of course not, but I know what each one contains, because I too read cookbooks like they are novels.

Finally, after cooking for family and friends, I’ve decided it’s time to cook for my fuzzy son, Mikey. I’m working on a people-dog cookbook and having fun trying to adapt my tried and true recipes so their ingredients are all dog-safe.

My cookbooks have a history; some of them are stuffed with clippings from the New York Times and tons of magazines, others with faded bindings as a result of years of living under skylights. There are the new ones that are still on my living room coffee table and old community cookbooks with crumbling plastic bindings. I may not remember the stories in the novels I read in the last month, but, somehow, I remember what’s in each cookbook.

Could I ever throw any of them away? I don’t think so because each one is a living thing, having lived through years of abuse on my kitchen counter and next to the sputtering frying pan. I’ve tried to resort to using cookbooks on my Kindle and recipes from the Internet, but they’re not the same. Cookbooks have to be fully dressed; they can’t be squeaky clean and simplistic.

I’m hoping my cookbook will be fun and practical and interesting. In its infancy, you can see it on my website:

Cookbook Fetish said...

My collection of cookbooks grew to the point where I decided to start a blog and actually cook from the books. And with the opening of the blog, the collection got larger! Still, I know my collection isn't nearly as large as some of those I've heard or read about on eGullet or other places - I only have 150 or so. Plus magazines, printed pages, and so on. I read a cookbook from cover to cover, slowly savoring each page; and this approach varies with each book and my mood the day I pick the book up. Sometimes a certain cookbook sings to me, other times I can't even pick up the same book. Still, I adore cracking open a new (or ancient) cookbook to see what I can learn about cooking, and about myself.

LuAnn Schindler said...

Eventually, I want to write a cookbook. One of my friends owns a boutique and she's been bugging me to write a cookbook because she "knows it will sell." It's on my bucket list. Eventually. :)

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