Cookbooks for You and Me

Etta Wilson

Blogger:   Etta Wilson

Location: Books & Such Nashville Office

Weather: Cold and rainy

Our feeling about cookbooks may be an indicator of our feeling about the people and events associated with food as much as the food itself. I used to wonder about my grandmother sitting for an hour or so just reading cookbooks when I knew she had no intention of cooking the recipes she was reading.

I was more inclined to take the utilitarian approach to reading cookbooks–you read to find the recipe you wanted– while she took the entertainment approach or perhaps the purely nostalgic approach to reading cookbooks. I understand her motives better now, as I see the recipe my mother used for jam cake or read one for roast leg of lamb from my husband’s family cookbook.

Not counting those cookbooks published as a collection from church members or local organizations as fundraisers, cookbooks are sold for two basic reasons–either for the buyer to give or for the buyer to use. The former category sold as gifts tend to be cookbooks around a theme or a particular food such as The Gourmet Cookie Book or the Williams-Sonoma Stir-Fry Cookbook. These gift books also include regional books such as the “Cornbread Nation” series, which is now up to #5 in the series.

The group of cookbooks for personal use is dominated by standards such the New York Time Cookbook, James Beard’s American Cookery, and The All-New Joy of Cooking (although I still love the earlier edition). These standards may become gifts within families or among very close friends.

I have some questions about how recipes on the web will affect the sale and collection of cookbooks. Has anyone explored that? I’m just starting to look at [email protected], and I know there are many others. Has anyone used their Kindle to read a cookbook? Will electronic publishing overtake print in the kitchen? Interested to hear your replies.

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12 Comments

  • I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I search for recipes online quite a bit. I have a whole shelf of cookbooks (LOVE picking them up on garage sales!) Usually, I sit down with those cookbooks and dream of being a great cook. But, when I want something for dinner tonight, I go online.

    Have you read the Gooseberry Patch cookbooks? They include entire sections of memory sharing. Many people enjoy the combination of recipes (and theirs are generally easy and good comfort food) and stories. It is definitely more of an entire experience with them – loaded with emotional memories.

  • Here’s a link to those cookbooks, if anyone is interested: http://www.gooseberrypatch.com/

  • Etta, let me offer one more use for cookbooks. When I arrived in Colombia (1983) for missionary duty, I spoke intermediate-level Spanish but lacked the key vocabulary for much of daily living. I could discuss literature but not shop for groceries. I bought a two-volume “Gran Libro de La Cocina Colombiana” and it became an important tool for learning the language and culture of my surroundings. Today it sits on my shelf in California. I’m unable to obtain many of the ingredients, but I open it for the same kind of nostalgia your grandmother enjoyed.

  • Etta Wilson Etta Wilson says:

    Brian, I hadn’t thought of cookbooks as an aid in learning the language, but I should have after buying some fromage for dejeuner in France.

  • Caroline says:

    I agree with Stephenie; I typically go online to find recipes as well, but also somewhat dreamily look through cookbooks.

    Of course, I’d hope that physical books (of all kinds) won’t be completely replaced by digital versions, and I’m not sure how cookbooks will look on e-readers. It’s an interesting trend to observe.

  • Caroline,
    I recently loaded a few samples from cookbooks onto my Kindle. I really like it, but I’m afraid of getting my Kindle dirty. Maybe I’ll have to put it in a big Ziploc while I cook. Since you can change the the size of the font, it could be pretty handy. I have a cover that lets me prop my Kindle up, and it doesn’t take up much room.

  • I love reading recipes and I go online to find them all the time, but I never use my laptop in the kitchen. I always print them first. Something about spilling liquid on it gives me shivers. Paper–well I can replace that easily! I have yet to download a kindle recipe book. Ziplock…that’s an idea!

  • Laurie says:

    I still struggle with the idea of Kindle. I like paper and pages that I can flip, spill flour on, and watch coffee rings grow on.
    I do have about 35 cookbooks in a cupboard that I use often. My favorite it the old standard red and white checkered Betty Crocker. I’ve noticed my old standard isn’t at all what I find useful anymore. I surf the web for recipes I want.

    However, with Thanksgiving approaching I did find myself wandering my assorted books. I found a cookbook my dad wrote and gave me. It is a spiral bound booklet of recipes he grew up with: his mom, my grandma is German decent and she had some great recipes. But interlaced in my dad’s booklet were “recipes” of how to get laundry clean, how to feed roses, how to get unruly children to behave, and the like. One “recipe” he had in his booklet was how to be a good husband.
    It was interesting.

  • Etta Wilson Etta Wilson says:

    Stephanie, I can see that the Kindle prop and certainly a big zip-lock of sheet of clear plastic might make it more useful. Thanks for good tips.

  • I used to read cookbooks for entertainment and dream time, but I don’t cook anywhere near as much as I used to so mostly use my recipe box of favorites. If a need a recipe, I rarely check online but I do go to the church cookbook from the church I grew up in, or the something Farm cookbooks by topic.

    I still collect recipes when someone makes something really yummy. Potlucks are great for this.

    Thanks Etta, interesting series, I loved doing the cookbook for Ingeborg b/c I was able to include the family stories for each of the recipes.

  • Kate Barker says:

    Thank you Etta for this timely post on cookbooks. My favorite cookbooks are those with stories; The Pioneer Woman Cooks, Sweetie Pies, and Mother’s Best (from a restaurant in Portland, Oregon). I am now anxious to find Lauraine Snelling’s cookbook. (My daughter grew up reading her books about horses!)

    Collecting cookbooks has become generational in our family. My mother collects cookbooks, I do, and now my daughter is an avid collector.

    Even if I do use online recipes, I’ll always buy a cookbook I love. Besides, it’s much more fun to hold a book and pick out recipes with your grandchildren than trying to find something on the computer!

  • Etta Wilson Etta Wilson says:

    I’ve just seen a note about the new book Table of Contents: From Breakfast with Anita Diamant to Dessert with James Patterson. It features recipes from 50 popular contemporary authors. Sounds like a gift book as much or more than a cookbook, but interesting.

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