“A combination of the qualities of the scholar, the master cook, the painter, the gastronomer, the sportsman and the pantologist, assisted by the skill of the bookmaker and etcher, will be requiredto compose the cookbook par excellence.”
George Ellwanger (1848-1906) ‘Pleasures of the Table’ (1902)
The evolution of cookbooks could be the evolution of a society’s views on food – sustainable foods, home-cooked foods, food in 30 minutes, gluten free, Asian, Moroccan, French, Italian, Southern – whatever the trend, the most popular view of the moment, the cookbooks seem to be published overnight.
Classic cookbooks or classic Chefs tend to be my favorites – I rarely have any of the “pop culture” cookbooks. To understand a food culture, you need to learn the basics first and then you can break the rules. I drag the classic incredibly heavy Cooks Illustrated Cookbook tome out every few weeks and it stacks on top of The Silver Spoon. Visits to used bookstores and thrift stores have me going through dusty stacks of books to find treasures and I have found them – Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone by Alice Waters from 1984 for $5 or The New James Beard from 1981 for $1.50.
Since I grew up in a home that was well-populated by cookbooks, I love them but not always to cook – I love to read them. Lazy Sunday afternoons are curled up with a healthy stack of favorite cookbooks so I can read and peruse – observe the ingredient combinations and ponder how I would like to do it. I have to laugh a bit because I remember my Mother doing that when I was young and even now, there are inevitable stacks of cookbooks and notes next to the couch where she sits.
I have two favorites at the moment, “Plenty” by Ottolenghi and “The New Portuguese Table” by David Leite. I have used “Plenty” more than other cookbook in my life. Ottolenghi’s flavor profiles are superb and precisely how I want to eat. ”The New Portuguese Table” is a new acquisition but since I adore David Leite’s site, Leite’s Culinaria, I knew I would adore the book and I have already started my list of things to cook.
My end goal after consulting cookbooks is to master a dish with mastery for me meaning that I can cook it without needing the recipe and I can put my own flair on it. Risotto was a good example of my progression from second by second peeks at the instructions to a few glances here and there as I tossed it all into my red pan and produced a delicious and creamy result.
Mostly, I love to read about food which is why I take a reading approach to cookbook and maintain annual subscriptions to Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food & Wine, etc … I want to take in food experiences, the stories behind dishes, Chefs, ingredients and cultures. I acquire as many books or more that are about ingredients or whole foods or in the “Food Writing” category than cookbooks.
With the advent of the blogosphere, I do a lot more reading online, although nothing replaces the books that I can hold in my hands and refer to again and again. Food bloggers have revolutionized cooking and the window into kitchens worldwide. Chefs are the new celebrities and food events are not just for the food snobs but food lovers everywhere. The energy and momentum behind food blogging and home cooks that are internet savvy is a joy and it has certainly upped my game about how to share food. For those of you who write about food, I highly recommend “Will Write for Food” by Dianne Jacob and her site.
Food is a driving force in my hungry world and since I am also a book lover, food and books go together like filet mignon and truffle butter – Delectably.
I invite you to share your favorite cookbooks and recipes that resulted from them at the next #HGEATS Cook with Books on August 1 at 12n est – I can’t wait to hear about the books that stay in your kitchen!