What Makes a Good CookbookDecember 31, 2016 by Jenny
Recently, there was a discussion in The Cookbook Junkies about the marks a cookbook must hit to be defined as “good” or in other words “what do we look for in a cookbook”. This discussion has been rehashed several dozen times and I feel, at times, as if my life was the inspiration for the movie, Groundhog’s Day. To be fair, I remember a great deal, much to my husband’s dismay but that’s another story. Each time the topic is posted – we find that we all basically have the same desires in a cookbook: recipes that work, photographs (including step-by-step process photos), and wonderful story telling.
We all possess different levels of cooking experience and our wants and desires for what a book brings to our table are reflected in those experiences. Some of us want more than just a recipe that works or a nice photo.
I, personally, want a title that provides inspiration and unique recipes that will stretch my culinary muscles. Indeed, photographs are lovely and desired but they are not a deal breaker for me. For instance, All Under Heaven, contains no photographs and was my pick for best cookbook of the year tied with Breaking Breads which is adorned with stunning photographs. Both books are prized in my collection for the same reasons which include unique recipes that challenge me, recipes that work and wonderful writing. The gorgeous photographs in Breaking Breads are gravy but are more necessary in a baking book to show technique or shaping of dough. In All Under Heaven, Carolyn Phillips provided her own artfully done illustrations for various techniques – i.e., folding a dumpling.
There are cookbooks, in my opinion, that can over do it with the photographs – a dozen photographs to showcase a chocolate chip cookie recipe – not nececessary. We all know what two sticks of butter or what our mixing bowl looks like with all the ingredients contained within. My reason for not caring for the plethora of photographs is that the space used for all those photgraphs could be filled with other recipes which are hopefully more unique than chocolate chip cookies (although a great chocolate chip recipe should be in everyone’s arsenal). Step-by-step process photographs do have their place and are much appreciated for difficult techniques such as pleating dumplings or braiding a loaf of bread.
There are also books that I know I will most likely never cook from but provide inspiration to me. The French Laundry, for example, is on nearly 2000 bookshelves here at Eat Your Books including my own, but will I cook from it? Probably not. Do I like to read it and be inspired? Yes.
There are books in my collection that are here for the beautiful writing and photographs – Far Afield is an example. Any of Naomi Dugiud‘s or Fuchsia Dunlop‘s books provide the same experience along with fantastic recipes. Books that are conduits to better understanding another culture or land are also favorites of mine – Palestine on a Plate, The Aleppo Cookbook, Saffron Tales, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, Samarkand, The Indecisive Chicken, Five Morsels of Love and Istanbul Cult Recipes are all examples of books I love to open up and cook from but still afford an escape from everyday life.
What makes a cookbook for you – all the reasons above – or is there anything else you look for specifically?
Happy New Year to you and yours! I predict 2017 to be another great year for cookbooks. Reminder here is a link to all current giveaways and links to other information that can be helpful here at Eat Your Books.
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- JenThomas318 on Meat-Free Mexican Cookbook Giveaway
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- Sfgordon on Simply Chinese – Cookbook Giveaway
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