After the Accidental Locavore posted the review of Provence, 1970, an email arrived from the author, Luke Barr. He asked, “Shouldn’t you at least deign to actually read a book before posting a review of it?” I was thinking of his question (which neglects to say; in its entirety) while admiring Vegetable Literacy, a beautiful book by Deborah Madison which was a Christmas present from my cousin, because I don’t believe most cookbooks are made to be read from start to finish. There are lots of recipes I’m looking forward to trying, although to really maximize the flavors many of them will have to wait until the key ingredients are in season.
My usual method for perusing a cookbook is to open it up and see where it takes me. Then, I’ll hit the index and look for some of my favorite foods. That’s followed by going back to the beginning and skimming through the entire volume. No matter what the method, if something looks wonderful and the ingredients are readily available, a list (and dinner) will be made.
However, no matter how much a cookbook is loved or used, I have never read one cover-to-cover. Never, ever. As a matter of fact, reading a cookbook in its entirety sounds terribly tedious (and do we really need to have yet another pantry list?). It’s probably like reading operating manuals (something I’m also guilty of skipping over — just ask my husband), usually ignored unless dangerous power tools are involved.
There are lots and lots of books on my shelf that I’ve never even looked at more than a couple of recipes (usually just before buying them). Does that mean I couldn’t review them? For that matter, is there anyone who reads a cookbook in its entirety?
Well, I bet my friend Zhu Zhu does. I’ve lent him a couple of volumes of Modernist Cuisine and I’m pretty sure he did read most, if not all, of at least the first book. And maybe after writing this and realizing that I have never read a cookbook from pantry list to desserts, I’ll pick one of them up and pretend it’s a novel. How about you?
Try “The Art of Eating” by M.F.K.Fischer. Well, I will admit it’s not a real cookbook, rather it’s a book whose recipes have charming stores attached to each. THAT could be read cover to cover. I have made myself sit and read large sections of “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer, a shower gift from my sister 40 years ago, regardless of my eagerness to get over to the stove and begin the night’s meal. Oh, that was a challenge. I put it into deep storage in a NYC storage facility with all my other cookbooks and things I believed I couldn’t part with because I was moving to Spain, not knowing when, if ever, I would return to the US. (It’s tucked away with all my most trusted kitchen utensils, including my mother’s cast iron skillet.) That book is a useful reference for any cook (I found how to prepare venison). But let me tell you, now that I’ve been in Spain for over a year and still do not have my beloved cookbook library, I resorted to the internet for ideas. Watch out! Not all the recipes there work out. Oh hum, I do dream about holding and reading my old faithful cookbooks in print. After time, in bits by bits, I have indeed read them from cover to cover. Because of that, they are a cook’s most reliable friend.
I’ve never really thought about this question until I read your blog post. Like you I don’t read cookbooks from cover to cover. Part of the joy of owning a cookbook is being to delve into their pages for inspiration. I particularly like reading snippets from Jane Grigson’s books. She wrote fabulous recipes but was also a talented writer brining her recipes alive with her anecdotes.
One really great cover-to-cover cookbook is Daniel. It’s a fave of mine…. partly because a good chunk of it is written by Buford (of “Heat” fame), and partly because the food looks so yummy, and Bolud is cool.