Every 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.
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.
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.
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.
As 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.