When a cookbook doesn't live up to expectations

Oh, the thrill of a new cookbook: cracking open the cover, leafing through the pages, and marking the pages of the recipes you want to try first. You gather all of the ingredients and proceed on the maiden voyage. And the results? Eh, it wasn't what you were expecting. You shrug it off, thinking 'not every recipe can be a superstar'.

open books

You shrug off the less-than-wonderful dish and move on to the next recipe. It, too, doesn't live up to your expectations. Maybe you begin to doubt yourself - did you follow the instructions correctly? Did you miss anything in the ingredients list? I can't tell you how many times I have overlooked a prep bowl. But no, that's not it. 

Now, the question is, do you give up after two or three disappointing recipes? How many tries before you give up on a book? And if you do give up on it, do you cull it from your library or do you hang on to it just in case a different recipe redeems the book? 

I have had a cookbook where the first three recipes were not that great. I was about to give up on it but decided to give it one more chance and the recipe was so wonderful that it completely changed my mind. I won't keep you in suspense - the book was Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker. The recipe that changed my mind was the Miniature Tartlet Pastry. After finding that recipe, I went on to discover several more winners and the book will never be leaving my bookshelf.

That experience changed my approach to evaluate new books. When I get a new cookbook that doesn't instantly live up to expectations, I give it a few more tries before I give up on it. So far, I haven't found many books where my perseverance hasn't paid off. How many attempts do you give a cookbook before you call it quits?  

11 Comments

  • ccav  on  9/10/2018 at 2:54 PM

    There have been times that I may not be attracted to many recipes but I really liked the writing in the book. Or, I really enjoyed the book design/drawings/photographs more than the recipes. Only a handful of times did I feel extremely disappointed by cookbooks and these are usually ones purchased online which I could not find easily in a local bookstore or library to peruse before purchasing. This is why I much prefer buying from a real bookstore when possible!

  • sir_ken_g  on  9/10/2018 at 8:31 PM

    Well all my books go into the EYB database - so they have plenty of chances. If they never pop up they eventually get exiled to the attic.

  • kprovost  on  9/11/2018 at 3:24 PM

    I love all of my 175 cookbooks, but I just could not get into Prune. It was a gift, so not something I pondered over purchasing like I do the rest. There was just nothing in it that I wanted to make. I ended up selling it to the Strand for like $5.

  • mjes  on  9/17/2018 at 5:10 PM

    I rarely follow recipes precisely. Rather I take several related recipes, pick out what appeals to me in each of them, and forge ahead with my own hybrid ... which I proceed to modify until I get what I like. Therefore, when I get a new cookbook, I am looking for new combinations, new techniques, new tweaks that sound interesting. There may be nothing exceptional in a particular cookbook but it may lead me back through history and influence to something that is of interest; or it my propel me forward into a rethinking of a dish that never occurred to me before; or it may simply leave me musing about the variety of food fads I've lived through and cooks who have influenced me.

  • Wsn104  on  10/7/2018 at 9:22 PM

    I own over 700 cookbooks, so clearly I don’t banish any of them. 🤣 I hang on to them with the thought that my tastes and my families tastes are always changing. You never know when the cookbook you don’t like at first will become your favorite.

  • anightowl  on  10/8/2018 at 8:46 PM

    The last few years my decision on to keep/get rid of a cookbook is weighted a bit on the number of people on EYB that own it and the index status. If very few people have it, and it's not indexed, is it any good? Maybe. I have some that I am the only person with a book, but I'm not getting rid of them because I like them, but sometimes the low number means it's a dud and I made a bad purchase. Usually my culling occurs when I am trying to decide what to index next. Do I care enough about the book to index it? Sometimes it's just too complicated of an index (way too many variations or something), but if it's a straightforward one, am I willing to take it on now or in the future? If not, then clearly I don't care about it that much and maybe it doesn't deserve a spot on my shelf. These aren't the only factors of course, but it's part of my process if I'm on the fence about keeping a book or culling it out. If I haven't used a book in a long time (or never) it may still get the heave-ho from my shelves even if it's popular and indexed, but that is rarer. I have built-in bookcases in my home, and those are my only bookcases. That's it. If I bring books in, some have to leave. I do have some spare space now, but that's because I sent several boxes to Delicious Chapters fire relief earlier this year. That was a serious cull, and I rewarded myself by getting a few new books. :)

  • GiselleMarie  on  10/9/2018 at 8:27 AM

    I am occasionally disappointed by a cookbook but I keep it on my shelf. It often turns out that the first several recipes I try in a book are only average, but when I keep cooking from it, I eventually find it does have some great recipes. I like a cookbook that has a combination of recipes ranging from simple and rustic to fancy and complicated. When a book contains nothing but the latter (and most of its recipes call for unusual and expensive ingredients), I don’t use it very much. EYB has helped me use more of my collection, but many of my cookbooks were published in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and are not in the EYB database. I don’t own many of the newer, flashier cookbooks that everyone else seems to own. Basically, I have to make a point of grabbing off the shelf my lesser used volumes and cooking from them. It takes a lot for me to get rid of a book.

  • MarciK  on  10/17/2018 at 9:30 AM

    I don't mind if a recipe doesn't wow me, but I've had some that just had terrible flaws, like an oven temperature that said Fahrenheit but didn't actually get converted, cookies missing sugar, drastically wrong measurements.

  • LDGourmet  on  10/30/2018 at 4:52 PM

    I’m frustrated when it becomes clear that a cookbook from a reputable source and author was clearly rushed to market without recipe testing or editing. I find it particularly egregious when the cover photo is gorgeous but the recipe produces nothing like that. In this case, Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant, the two most glaring problems were the cover photo (beautiful but recipe produced awful result) and the cheesecake (photo clearly done by food stylists with no regard to actual recipe.) I have kept the cookbook because other recipes work. I just hate that they had such little regard for their consumers. And that long list of the team it took...one wonders what they were doing. Having gorgeous photos that don’t match the recipes (some of which just don’t work) is a bait and switch. It makes me doubt any future recipe from this team. PS don’t tell me try this I might work “good luck!” Take the time to test and give me a recipe that WILL work.

  • lkgrover  on  11/1/2018 at 1:20 PM

    The books that I have given away were either 1) gifts that I did not request; or 2) books purchased several years ago, when I had less experience cooking & evaluating books from Amazon. When I purchase a book in a bookstore, I examine it thoroughly. These remain on my shelves forever. My criteria for books from Amazon are if 1) I already like other books by this author; or 2) it is indexed in EYB and has recipes that interest me; or 3) the table of contents, page views of recipes, and reviews in Amazon look good. EYB member notes on recipes also influence book purchases. I usually wait a few months after publication to purchase books from Amazon, so that it has time be indexed (and get recipe notes) in EYB and/or be reviewed multiple times.

  • Esylvia  on  11/2/2018 at 11:48 AM

    We have a great library system where I live, so I always check books out from the library before buying them. I've gotten over my crushes on quite a few books that way!

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