Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why Do YOU Read Cookbooks?

Adam Gopnik has some ideas. Read them here, in the New Yorker's recent Food issue. I like anyone who echoes my opinion that if you eat out regularly you're eating a lot more salt and fat than you would if you cooked the meal yourself. Which makes it all the more important for the home cook to be a good cook. How else could you be expected to eat your own food? Cookbooks, I'd say, are around to encourage and excite us about food so that we'll do what we're itching to do anyway: TRY THIS AT HOME.

Gopnick puts cookbooks into categories: cookbook as dictionary (where recipes are written to remind the cook of the ingredients of a dish they already know how to prepare); as encyclopedia (which will enable the cook to master a particular cooking style); as anthology (enables the cook to prepare a culturally diverse menu than the encyclopedia approach). The final category, Gopnik calls "grammatical." By this, he means that the cook is not trusted to know anything about cooking or food preparation. Grammatical cookbooks offer extremely specific instruction.

In Gopnikese, Pinch is an anthology. I generally appreciate books written that way. I am always looking to broaden my repertoire. One of the reasons I'm always irritated by Cooks Illustrated is that it's SO grammatical. There are times, though, when I need this kind of instruction. Brining a turkey? Trussing a chicken? Filleting a whole fish? Cooks Illustrated is the perfect resource. I do have some dictionary-type reference books. Many times I just scan a familiar recipe just to make sure I'm not leaving anything out. And as for Mastery...well, I have other demands on my time right now. Also, I'm lazy. I'm not a bread baker because that art demands mastery and nothing less. Of course I just love to buy bread books. I just nabbed The Bread Baker's Apprentice at a school book swap.

I read cookbooks to learn new techniques, new ingredients, new recipes. It's kind of like listening to political pundits. Some get an Amen. Some make me change the channel. The good ones make me think.

How about you?


Sarah Caron said...

I love reading cookbooks. It's interesting to see how others write about food and the crafting of food (the same can be said of blogs). But I also find the recipes inspirational. You can learn so much about flavors, the dynamics of cooking and more.

Jessica Paul said...

I have been reading cookbooks before bed since about the time I could actually read them. The first, I remember clearly, was a beautiful 1970's hardcover published by Jell-O. I loved it. My parents started thinking I was weird when in 4th grade I read the entire series of 1960 Time Life books on American food culture that I got out of my grandparents' basement. The photos were so great! I wish I still had them. And, it has continued forever, including a recent gift - Alice Waters' classic given to me by yours truly, PINCH! In short, they make me feel calm and safe and pretty much always leave me with sweet (or savory) dreams!