Return of the single-subject cookbook

I’m a bit late with this week’s post, mostly because I’ve been up to my ears in the summer cookbook roundup.  It was an exciting batch of books, but what struck me especially forcefully this time round was the predominance of outstanding single-subject books (both in the top 10 and the shortlist).

It’s not that single-subject books have been scarce over the last several years.  Publishers know that people like them, and some, like Robert Rose, Inc., specialize in them.  But I had thought that the wide availability of online content, the democratization of expertise, the dominance of Youtube would all mean that people would look to other media to learn, say, all about ice cream sandwiches.  And as for recipes, I would have thought that except for us here on EYB, with our searchable libraries, most of the world simply would just Google them.

Maybe that’s still true.  All I can say is that in today’s single-subject cookbooks, recipes are just the beginning.  They’re packed with great reference information, sidebars, chart, fantastic photographs (often with step-by-step illustrations).  They’ve got histories, cultural context, sometimes even personal anecdotes.

Can you get all that stuff online for free?  Of course you can, but you’ll have to hunt around.  And you won’t be able to immerse yourself in the subject, or flip back and forth between pages, or browse it on the beach.  In other words, all the things we love about books – the sheer amount of value packed into one appealing, portable package – are what make single-subject books so irreplaceable.

What single-subject books do you love?  And are there some subjects you’d rather turn to the internet to educate yourself about?

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  • CharmianC  on  May 23, 2013

    Single-subject books used to be mere variations on a theme (7 Billion Muffin Recipes!!!!) and a bit lazy, riffing on a formula. Now I find the quality to be quite high, expecially when the books are ingredient driven, not dish driven. Single-subject books allow you to delve deep into the subject and look at the topic from different angles — some are exciting, some are a bit of a stretch. Sure, you can find a lot of the info online, but it takes a lot of poking about. And you can't always trust the source, so it's not really worth it.

    Single-subject books I love? Pure Vanilla and Roots spring to mind. The second I click "submit" I'll think of a dozen more.

  • krusso119  on  May 24, 2013

    I LOVE single subject cookbooks! I have a ton of them – too many to say which ones are my faves. And yes, the quality of them in the last few years has really improved. Just in general, there have been so many amazing cookbooks published in the last 10 years, it is an awesome time to be a cookbook lover (maybe not so awesome on the wallet, etc. – but there are much worse things to spend money on.)

  • ellabee  on  May 24, 2013

    Have never been a fan of the single-subject cookbook, and own very few — but agree that quite a few recent ones look more worthwhile than expected. One that I will probably buy soon is Emma Christensen's True Brews, which covers all kinds of fermented drinks.

  • TheSpicedLife  on  May 25, 2013

    I think that the rise of single subject cookbooks can be attributed to bloggers. Most bloggers (I was told by a publisher at a conference, I have no direct experience) do better pitching a book if it has a tight focus or a niche.

    I personally enjoy the tight focus. It makes it easier for me to reject or crave that book lol.

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