A love affair

CookbookEvery foodie has a particular relationship to cookbooks. Some will consider them a survival guide that will show them the way to the ultimate recipe while others see them as their best friend to whom they turn for the best advice.

Properly tidied away on a shelf, religiously sorted by theme or name or in one of the kitchen’s corners next to the spices and the oils, cookbooks can live myriad lives depending who their owners is are. Some will age with use, splattered with the traces of the recipes and ingredients hidden within while others will retain their freshness and the smell of a new book for years to come, a precious treasure protected from the traces of time.

Opening a cookbook is like opening the door to Ali Baba’s cave of wonders, where all the treasures of times past are possible once again, where chefs present their life’s achievements, leaving their mark for generations to come.

Surviving through the years, the traditional 2,000-page cookbook that still stands in our mothers’ kitchens reveals the secrets of dishes of our childhood – or even their childhood – and how ingredients have changed since our grandmothers’ first stepped into the kitchen. What better way to honour the first reasons why we came to love food and cooking and maybe allow ourselves a glint of pride when we teach them a trick or two.

For the novices among us all – we all have to start somewhere! – cookbooks have the power to reassure those stricken with the all too common phobia of the pan and wooded spoon.  The perfect alternative to a psychiatrist’s couch, cookbooks can give you the confidence to embark upon the most daunting of expeditions into… the kitchen! Jamie Oliver perfected the trend taking the fear out of cooking with his cookbook Ministry of Food, giving easy versions of recipes that everybody loves, enticing people back to their kitchen.
Jamie Oliver

Beyond teaching you how to finally make your favourite recipes for yourself, cookbooks have also become a way to travel, following in the footsteps of great pioneers such as Julia Child with her groundbreaking Mastering the Art of French Cooking. With books dedicated to cuisines from around the world, it is now easier to bring the flavours of Italy, Senegal or Japan into any kitchen, no matter where you are. Your attempt may be far from the true taste of those traditional dishes prepared in the heart each country’s local restaurant or kitchen but, with a bit of practice, it no doubt open your mind to food cultures and your mouth to tastes of places we may only dream of ever visiting.

Taking a page from post-war cookbooks of the 60’s and 70’s, when women’s rights were still limited to house and hearth, cookbooks often now revisit the cooking techniques of the fabled Michelin star masterchefs and homecooking magicians, teaching us the fineries of boning a whole leg of lamb or the complexities of a perfect Soufflé Au Fromage or Sabayon as described in Joanna Farrow’s Chef School.
Chef School

And, just in time for that ever-looming important dinner with your boss or, Apicius forbid!, a proper cordon bleu, more and more chefs are now inclined to divulge their favourite recipes, even going so far as to describe their signature 3-course meal as in the last pages of The Silver Spoon, self-named bible of authentic Italian cuisine.
Silver Spoom

Publishing houses have also learned to woo and allure younger generations with creativity and imagination, turning cookbooks into attractive designer objects, where pictures have become as important as the recipe itself. Be it a particular atmosphere that a foodie will look for while opening a cookbook, or the perfect shot of a that recipe your now craving for on page 34, the quality of the pictures will often be the tipping point to determine which cookbook is worth its salt.

The Eagle CookbookAs an example of a modern cookbook where pictures and produce share pages in perfect harmony, The Eagle Cookbook exudes sobriety and class, both in design and photography… an invitation to savour the recipes of England’s original gastropub in the serenity and relaxation of your own home.


Many thanks to Oliver Thring, Cathy Shore, With Knife and Fork, The Graphic Foodie, Weezos, Catherine Phipps, Chef and meemalee’s kitchen for having shared their thoughts about cookbooks.


31 thoughts on “A love affair

  1. There is no doubt that online recipe databases are a godsend at times, but there is no emotional attachment like a cookbook can offer. Some of my most loved are scrawled over, splattered and irreplaceable. I adore my Silver Spoon book and the Eagle Cookbook is my latest love.

    The cookbook still rocks.

    Crispy chicken with pancetta and butter beans and the death of the cookbook: http://thegraphicfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/04/crispy-chicken-with-pancetta-and-butter.html

  2. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for A love affair « Mathilde’s Cuisine [mathildescuisine.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com

  3. Lovely post – once again! I adore my cookbooks and never get tired of flipping through them. While I still cook some recipes exactly as they are printed, my relationship with cookbooks has changed over the years. I now use them as a reference and inspiration for new dishes.

  4. I don’t own many cookbooks, but most are to be treasured. Some have great recipes to be used, others are more for inspiration. And there are a few I like to just look at once in a while, to read the stories and background information behind the cuisine…

    • Dear Helen,

      It is true that not that many cookbooks tell about the story that is behind the recipe and just like you, that is the part that I enjoy the most. I should suggest that point to the publishing houses!

  5. Hey Mathilde,

    Last year my great aunt gave me my great grandmother’s recipe book – basically a copy of “The Canadian Housewives’ Cookbook” filled with clippings and notecards. So wonderful to go through even if I may never make a ‘jellied salad’

    A cooking bible for any North American, however, is “The Joy of Cooking” – i just stole my mother’s copy 🙂

    Great post!

  6. Besides cooking as a career and hobby too, one of the great side benefits is collecting cookbooks. I bought my first cookbook when I was just 14 years old, and have not stopped since. Our own library must have 300+ volumes and continues to grow. What did I get for an early birthday present….a cookbook of course.

    CCR =:~)

    • Dear Cajun Chef Ryan! First of all, I will have to try one of your recipes soon because I’m a big fan of cajun … I can’t believe you have more than 300 cookbooks at home. I’m far from that number but yes, what a pleasure to receive a cookbook as a gift and any circumstance is a good excuse!

  7. Wonderful post — much more extensive collection of cookbooks than me. I just have a few books that I’ve bought and several given as gifts. I’m a fan of eye candy, so I do love beautiful food photography. One of my favorites is the French Laundry Cookbook. Could just stare at it for days. Lately I’ve been going more for food books like Omnivore’s Dilemma or the Bourdain books and essays. No pretty pictures, but great reads!

  8. Lovely writing!
    I couldn’t agree more. There is something about a cookbook that just makes my heart skip a beat! There is nothing like opening the pages to a cookbook and thinking about all the wonderful times you will have together!

  9. I lost most of my large collection of cookbooks from all over the world in a fire a few years ago, and I must say that of all the clothes, shoes (and I have a shoe fetish), Persian carpets, art objects and antiques that burned along with them, it is the cookbooks I miss most.

    All that to say, I fully understand your fondness for the books themselves, and as you say, looking recipes up on the Internet is just not the same. A good cookbook becomes like an old friend who goes through the ups and downs of life with you, and is always there in its place on your bookshelf when you need it.

  10. Pingback: THE RAMBLING EPICURE » Blog Archive » Food blog log - 14 October 2009

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