The Under-Appreciated: Cookbooks
Great content is all around us, and too often I feel that we miss out on fun, interesting, and quality reads just because of a label or stereotype. I hope to debunk some of these misnomers and give credit where credit is due through a series of posts I’m calling “The Under-Appreciated.”
Let me tell you something about myself. I love food. My days are typically planned around food. I try not to, but occasionally I am that annoying friend that is enjoying a delicious lunch and makes a comment like, “wonder what’s for dinner?” (Admitting I have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?) I am NOT, however, what I consider a “foodie” who wants the fanciest of exotic ingredients and knows the best wine pairing down to the vintage.
I begin with the information above to clear my conscience as I dive into our next group of underappreciated texts – cookbooks!
Not only do I believe cookbooks are sorely underappreciated, but I would dare to say they are a dying art form. Pinterest, iPads, smartphones and refrigerators with touchscreens are rapidly replacing Good Housekeeping’s binders and grandma’s recipe cards. I think it’s time for an intervention!
The cookbooks in my house fall into three broad categories: family and friends, vintage basic, and gorgeous drool-worthy. (It is also safe to say that I have not paid for a single one of these cookbooks. Not sure I know how half ended up in the cupboard either…) Let’s break down each of these genres.
Family and Friends
These are the books that mothers and grandmothers have spent time putting together for their children. These are books that churches arrange as a fundraiser or as a special memento of the congregation. These are books that friends share in memory of loved ones or as goofy reminders of “epic” occasions.
Probably the cookbooks that contain the least additional content, these make up the emotional tear jerker genre. Go back and read some of the early recipes. Even the directions can be amusing and induce thoughts or comments like, “What did Grandma mean by THAT???” or, “What the heck is oleo???” Some more elaborate creations recount tales of particular recipes that were enjoyed (or destroyed) during various family get togethers. My family’s notes might include the quote, “A tie…on a birthday cake. Ha…ha…ha….”
These are the books or binders from the likes of Good Housekeeping and Betty Crocker that have been seen in the kitchens of many, many prior generations. While terminology (see comment on oleo above) may change, these are the classic recipes that we return to time and time again.
While you may think to consult Betty when you want “mom’s” banana bread, you may not have taken the time to read the plethora of information in and around her recipes. Histories of how or why recipes have developed the way they did offer fascinating glimpses into the lives of our ancestors. Basic instructions are provided in many books on how to grow and prepare fresh foods that were simply practical then and are trendy now. I have even seen advice for cleaning ovens and storing utensils that makes so much more sense than some of today’s chemicals and contraptions!
Gorgeous and Drool-Worthy
These are the books that make easy gifts and/or are the impulse buys that you make at bookstores (yes, you would actually have to walk in to a bookstore…) because the photography makes everything look SO. GOOD. And I mean Instagram #foodporn good.
So, if these books are all about the photography, the content won’t be good, right? Wrong! Similar to the other genres, these books include the history of foods, the stories behind recipes, and why we do things the way we do. Additionally, I have found that many of these books – including one that I have written a review of! – include the science behind ingredients from how they are made, to why they work together, to how different processes enhance the flavors and textures of food.
I stand by my assertion that I am NOT a foodie, but reading through my cookbooks has taken my kitchen to a whole new level. Being educated on simple things like the best way to mince garlic and what blanching asparagus actually means have made me more confident cooking for my family. It has also made cooking more fun because I’m not confined to doing the same things I’ve always done. My husband may even say the food tastes better!
While nothing will ever taste as good as when mom or dad made it for us “back in the day,” food brings people together and cookbooks store these delightful memories in their spaghetti sauce stained pages. Beyond that, they are tools and resources that chefs and editors have spent time cultivating to improve the quality of your meals.
The next time you need a dinner idea, open a book! Don’t know how to execute Step 3? I bet the book has that answer! Take a chance on these under-appreciated texts and see how your life might flourish! Even if you don’t have the perfect wine pairing…
*Image in text is from Cowgirl Creamery Cooks.