"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


What is it about cookbooks? I'm sure there are quite a few of us out there who enjoy leafing through photos of scrumptious food, reading about chefs, and wondering whether we have the 25 ingredients listed in that amazing recipe in our pantry. What makes a good cookbook? I think, as with all books, a decent index is a good start. A good book can be ruined by a bad index. And then, as with food per se, the senses must be engaged; the eye, with beautiful images, and the sense of touch with crisp, new pages. Then there's the imagination which must be fired, both by photos, the names and provenance of the recipes, and the stories behind them. Then there's the art of writing recipes. It sounds easy, but believe me, there is an art to writing an instruction that will result in a delicious, and often complex dish. Try writing a recipe for poached eggs!
I have been collecting cookbooks over the years, and have many great chefs at my fingertips, sitting on my bookshelves. Some are old books, brought with me when I migrated to Australia. I keep them, now mainly for nostalgic reasons. Cooking has moved on from the 1970s! Even more so from the 1850s, when Mrs. Beeton was the Margaret Fulton of her time, when cooking was serious business, upstairs and downstairs. But books such as these are great to browse through, and can certainly teach one the basics, if you can work out the archaic measurements. So many great cooks have touched our lives - who can forget Floyd "One glass for the pot, one for me", or the two fat ladies "lets add butter, and lard just for the hell of it", or Delia Smith "this is how you boil an egg". Not to mention Gordon F...g Ramsay.....
Some of these people have produced fantastic cookbooks. And yes, I do try some of their recipes when I have a quiet afternoon to shop and prepare. Sometimes the ingredients are unobtainable here in Australia, but the challenge is to find an acceptable alternative, and adapt the recipe using our excellent local and seasonal produce.
I do have some favourites among my collection - Tessa Kiros' "Cloudberries falling on snow", and her Venetian cookbooks. They satisfy on all levels! Greg Malouf's "Saha", in which he takes us on a wonderful visual and culinary Middle Eastern journey, Antonio Carluccio's "Italia", highlighting the best of Italian regional cooking, "Jamie at Home" - Jamie Oliver's very down-to-earth recipe collection, and Maeve O'Meara's "Food Safari", exploring the food cultures of Australia, Stephanie Alexander's "Cooking and Travelling in South-West France", and my most recent addition, "Brunetti's Cookbook" by Donna Leon, the crime author. My "bibles" - cookbooks that will come to the rescue if you're stranded in the middle of cooking and need help - Margaret Fulton, of course, and for my German food, a Bavarian tome given to me at my wedding.
Wayne sometimes brings me a new one when he sees a recipe he'd like me to try - so considerate! Of course, there are several cookbooks on my wishlist, such as George Calombaris' "Greek cooking from the Hellenic heart", "Moroccan Cooking", and Abla's cookbook (Lebanese cuisine). I'm sure I can think of a few more. One I'd love to get my hands on is Mum's old cookbook, but my sister is keeping a beady eye on that! My American grandma gave it to Mum when she came to America, and it's got quite a few handwritten bits and pieces in it. So, tell me about your favourite cookbooks!

1 comment:

  1. No matter how many recipes may be found online, there is nothing like a cookbook, especially ones with beautiful photography as well as interesting recipes. My "bibles" are The New World Encyclopedia of Cooking edited by the Culinary Art Institute and Sunset Favorite Recipes. The Encyclopedia was a joint Christmas gift to me and my sister from our cousin when I was 13. As my sister wasn't much interested in cooking I snagged it when I moved out! The Sunset cookbook was the first one I bought when Lionel and I first moved to California. The only thing I brought for my kitchen was a few pairs of chopsticks and a Kitchen Witch. They are the first books I search, are well worn and rarely let me down.