The great book extinction is coming. Or is it?

I loved reading cookbooks when I was a kid. We had The New York Times Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking as well as 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger and Men Cooking (it was the 1960s).

A cookbook reflects its times.

A cookbook reflects its times.

My best friend’s mom, who was much more into cooking than either of my parents, had books on Chinese cooking and Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts. She also subscribed to Gourmet magazine. I spent hours reading lists of ingredients, thinking of meals I would make and ogling the few color photographs.

I even created my own recipe book.

The beginning of my writing career?

The beginning of my writing career?

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Or, perhaps, risen.

Now I have a Pinterest account. When I want inspiration, I look at my Recipes board. I can ogle endless, gorgeous, glistening photographs—food porn, anyone? I can instantly print any recipe I want. Or I can go on a treasure hunt, letting Pinterest lead me to other boards that share my Pins and to other recipe sites until I’m in danger of disappearing down a cooking rabbit hole.

Books vs. ?

The cookbook-vs.-Pinterest state of affairs strikes me as an apt parallel to what is happening in the world of fiction. When we say traditional book publishing is in trouble, the fiction writers among us fear the demise of the novel. But other segments of the book publishing world fear the same slow slide into oblivion. I looked for some expert opinion. It was as mixed as a chopped salad. Here are two:

Many of the pro-physical book arguments are strikingly similar, whether you’re talking about fiction or cookbooks.

Here’s my (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) take on the pros and cons of the physical book.

Pros

  • Physical books are beautiful objects that make memorable gifts.
  • Because of the resources required to produce them (especially illustrated cookbooks), the quality tends to be higher than online or electronic versions—better editing in the case of fiction, vetted and tested recipes in the case of cookbooks.
  • They’re nostalgia items for the aging among us.

Cons

  • Anybody under 25 doesn’t really care about the physical beauty of the object. They want the information, straight up.
  • Editing, vetting, and curating is overrated. Who cares if the recipes misspell ingredients or aren’t very clear on baking times? It’s fun to follow Bettie’s Baker’s Gluten-Free Baking Blog and participate vicariously in her baking experiences.
  • You’re killing trees, man!

It makes sense that the coverage of the cookbook market, like that of the fiction market, is mixed. I find my emotions mixed as well. There are pros and cons to both physical and e-books, to traditional publishing and self-publishing. Maybe we can celebrate the advantages of each and stop worrying so much about whether and when one will destroy the other.

BONUS TRACK: STEW 850

For those of you who remember vinyl record albums (which I believe have made something of a comeback in recent years), I offer a bonus track for reading to the end of this post: a recipe. I created this in early 1974 when the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average) was around 850. My dad was a stock market investor, among other things, and the state of the  was always big dinner conversation. Hence, the name: “Stew 850, for when the market is at that level.” Enjoy.

Stew 850What do you think? Do you like beef stew? Do you prefer getting your recipes in dead-tree form?

19 thoughts on “The great book extinction is coming. Or is it?

  1. I love a good cookbook when I want authentic tested recipes. I have a book from celebrity chefs or just featuring Austrian food. But for a one off recipe, I tend to grab it online and try it out. I’m going to say what my best friend said to me on Friday, “Why is it all or nothing? Why can’t there be some middle ground?”

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  2. Interesting recipe for casserole – I’ve never used port, always red wine…no matter. I have one favorite cookbook which is falling to pieces now with overuse, the reason being I know all the recipes work, and that’s unusual. I follow certain chefs because I like their approach to flavor and to some extent their methods, and I must admit I use the search engines a lot more now. I like the imagination – a preferred method is to search two or three ingredients in combination and see what comes up – a habit I developed from one of those days when I had to produce something from a virtually bare stock cupboard. BTW, lest I be corrected, I always use ‘casserole’ in preference to ‘stew’. My youngest child, in his early school years took serious exception to the stew that was served to him once a week for a school meal. So whenever I made one at home and I always insisted that it wasn’t ‘stew’ it was ‘casserole’.

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    • I have always thought that imagination and cooking go well together! The willingness to experiment (and possibly fail) by trying new things can go a long way. My mother was a chemist and not a very good cook but an adequate baker because baking requires much more precision. She didn’t like putting in a “pinch” of this or a “handful” of that.

      And I like your creative use of the word casserole. It’s always amazing what we’ll come up with to get our [young] kids to eat. Mine were usually onto me, especially when I followed the suggestions to hide broccoli in the brownies or butternut squash in the mac and cheese.

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  3. Love to cook. Love online recipes. Love old cookbooks. Easy to please, I guess. Just started a food blog, in fact. With all that extra time. You had very nice handwriting in 1974. Ah, 850! That was a tough time to be in the stock industry, right?

    Most of the paper for books comes from leftover wood waste and recycled materials, so we don’t have to feel horribly guilty about real books. We could, I suppose, lobby for 100% recycled materials and revolutionize the industry. With all our extra time.

    Oh, yeah, love stew.

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  4. Interesting question. I never thought of cookbooks in this whole publishing rebirth. I’m equally as likely to use a recipe from one of my cookbooks as I am to use one on my iPad (from a recipe site or some other online source). But it’s been a long time since I’ve purchased a cookbook, and I’m not so sure I will again, so maybe they will become a bit of a dinosaur in the future.

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