Rules to use before buying a cookbook

Question marks

Over at the blog, The Cookbook Man, there’s a very interesting entry called The Cookbook MANifesto.  Basically, it a series of rules about cookbooks – buying, using, and writing them. It’s presented as a cloud series, and you can print  a PDF of the entire collection, but here are some rules in the buying category that hit home:

  • Don’t buy a cookbook because everyone else has it.
  • Just because someone can act or sing, doesn’t mean they can write a cookbook.
  • If there are tons of ingredients you cannot pronounce, move along.
  • You should love the images.
  • If it makes you drool, that’s a good sign.
  • You should be able to actually make the recipes inside.
  • As a rule, you may make 6 – 8 recipes out of any given book, so see if you can find those first.

Some of these may seem a little obvious, but we have to admit we’re guilty of breaking some of them and regretting the purchase.

Photo courtesy of Terry Freedman

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  • TippyCanoe  on  September 10, 2013

    Some of these are a bit simplistic for the more serious home cook. Give me a break about not buying books if they contain ingredients that you cannot pronounce. Are we only to explore our own regional dishes? Also, the pretty pictures that "make you drool" are often beautifully styled but badly written recipes from popular heavily marketed cookbooks. I am a heavy user of our local library and will often check out a cookbook that I am interested in. When I had renewed Ottelenghi's "Plenty" four times, I knew that it was time to buy it. Otherwise, I simply read through the recipes and see if they speak to me.

  • Christine  on  September 10, 2013

    I have to say another line from the original article that resonates with me is "complicated is OK, provided it's not maddening." I like to be adventurous & try new things, but there is a definitely a line — when I cross over into maddening territory, I know it's not the book/recipe for me because I want to enjoy the learning process, not feel like ripping my hair out in frustration! I think the mark of a great cookbook author is their ability to teach and explain new things to readers in a way that makes it seem clear and achieveable with practice. Oftentimes, things seem difficult simply because I've never tried them before. If an expert in his/her field can teach me a new skill through their book/recipes then that is one less thing that seemed complicated at first, but is now just a matter of course. Also, I think complicated and time-consuming are often confused — just because a recipe has a lot of steps or takes a lot of time doesn't mean it's truly complicated. I don't find these kinds of recipes maddening, but I do know to only attempt them when I have adequate time to commit to the project.

  • TheSpicedLife  on  September 10, 2013

    I agree strongly with Tippy Canoe and am really annoyed at the idea that we should not by cookbooks from places where, frankly, English is not the predominant language.

  • imaluckyducky  on  September 10, 2013

    I think ultimately the guidelines are highly subjective to wherever an individual is at in regards to skill, knowledge, and desires; quite honestly this is a good thing. I'm an experienced home cook and am quite good at what I do… but I haven't always been where I am now in my development. I started off with easily-accessible cookbooks and recipes that I was familiar with, and I've slowly branched into ingredients cannot pronounce, regions, and traditions to my skill set as I've gotten more curious and adept. A book geared towards a more experienced cook wouldn't appeal to me – nor would I be able to enjoy it – when I first started cooking, much like some of the initial cookbooks that got me INTO cooking have sort of lost their appeal (they've almost become "fluff"). -shrug-

  • wester  on  September 11, 2013

    I think many of those rules have been given before, and in a more usable way. For instance "You should be able to actually make the recipes inside" and "As a rule, you may make 6 – 8 recipes out of any given book, so see if you can find those first" combine nicely into: "Find one recipe that you are going to cook tonight".
    And why should I love the images? Many of my favorite cookbooks hardly have any images at all, and in most cookbooks they are just decoration anyway.

  • Christine  on  September 11, 2013

    I have to agree with imaluckyducky that ultimately, the guidelines are subjective. And I also agree with wester, that some of my favorite cookbooks have no images at all, but if a book DOES have images, I do want them to be appealing. Nothing makes me pass a recipe by faster than a photo of unappetizing-looking food — in that case, I'd rather the book have no pictures at all!

  • nicolepellegrini  on  September 11, 2013

    Some of my most essential and well-used cookbooks have NO photographs or images whatsoever, or very few, within their pages. They are more about substance than style and food photography. Indeed, I've found some of the books that look the "prettiest" end up being the least used and practical in my kitchen. Nice coffee table books, maybe, not not useful for the serious chef…

  • MelKettle  on  September 22, 2013

    I have far too many cookbooks I've bought on a whim and never looked at again. Now if there is one I think I want (as opposed to one I know I definitely want!), I try and get it from the library. Then if I love it, I buy it. While it has saved me from some duds, I've also bought a few books I didn't expect to.

  • amyrinco  on  September 26, 2013

    I agree – the library is a Godsend. Those I don't want to return are purchased. Surprising how many I still buy!

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