"New" vs. "All in One Place" cookbooks

Fall cookbooks have been streaming in over the threshold, and over the weekend I got the call for cookbook roundup.  So, this morning I sat on the kitchen floor, where stacks of books have been piling up, and started sorting.

There are three big piles: (1) "Give away," (2) "Keep but not under consideration for roundup," and (3) "Roundup candidates".  At first, it's easy, because the "Give Away"'s are obvious - Books that have no U.S. measurements whatsoever, or call for lots of unsubstituteable ingredients you can't get here.  Books that are clearly only a marketing vehicle for the author's show or restaurant.  Extra copies of books (this actually happens sometimes).

But then things get trickier.  I haven't yet started taping my 7 questions to the books--that comes later--but one of them is always on my mind: is it really new?

This is a tougher question than you might think, because all cooking is derivative.  Every recipe--whether it's the ingredients, or the technique--comes from somewhere else either consciously or not, which is why copyright is such a morass in this industry.  

"New," for me, is some ineffable combination of improved technique, an ingredient shown off in a new context, and/or an unpredictable yet intuitively delicious-sounding new combination of ingredients or flavor palettes.  And I don't just mean "classics with a twist"--a popular subtitle in many cookbooks.  Adding kaffir lime leaf to a roast chicken recipe isn't quite enough.  I guess you could generally say that one good idea won't catch my attention.  But three might.

Year ago, it used to be that as I sat, paralyzed, on the floor with a cookbook in my hand, saying, "New....new...is it really new?" I would reply to myself:  "Maybe not exactly, but it's all in one place."   By "all in one place" I meant something like "These aren't very good recipes for using blueberries, but when blueberries are in season, won't I be glad there's a cookbook that gives me lots of ideas how to use them!"  Or "I've seen all of these slow-cooker recipes before, but in November when I take out the slow cooker, won't I be glad they're all in one place!"

Basically, I was giving cookbooks points for helping me index my library, because trying to hunt down recipes was a huge pain in my everything.

But these days, it's different.  Thanks to the Internet, not a lot of home cooks feel they need to buy a whole book of mediocre blueberry recipes.  And thanks to Eat Your Books, I can find (eventually) most recipes I want to in my collection, so I don't feel compelled to give out indexing points to cookbooks any more.  I can just focus on whether they're good recipes that are really new (plus the other 6 criteria).

There is, maybe, just one kind of book where I still feel "all in one place" has some validity.  That's the starter cookbook--the new cook's first cookbook.  Despite, or maybe even because of the abundance of online recipes, there is something to be said for having a collection of first recipes that work reliably and are nicely presented--even if they are not the most original--and can be pulled off the shelf night after night.  I'm always on the lookout for good starter cookbooks.

But as for the rest of them, show me something new!

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