I Still Use Cookbooks

Cookbook stack.JPG

I still use cookbooks because I have cookbooks. A lot of them.

I still use cookbooks because I like to write on their pages. Sometimes with a fine-tip Sharpie and sometimes with a pen. If I really love a recipe, there are notes all over it, probably with a few different writing implements. And if I really, really love a recipe, there’s only one note, probably “YES!!” or a drawing of a heart or something dippy like that.

I still use cookbooks because they make me laugh, like how all of the food styling from Better Homes & Gardens and Betty Crocker books of the 1950s to the 1980s is so impossibly unappetizing, and the recipe hednotes are so chirpy and June Cleaver-esque, with their “Gals, try tempting your hard-working hubby with this speedy noodle casserole. Canned water chestnuts make it a quick fix, and he’ll think you slaved for hours!”

I still use cookbooks because I try to image what will prompt shudders and rolling of eyes about today’s cookbooks 20 years from now.

I still use cookbooks because in the time it takes you to look up “chicken gizzard cleaning” on your iPhone, I will reach for Time-Life’s The Good Cook “Variety Meats” volume and open it up directly to the page with full-color, step-by-step photos of Richard Olney’s capable hands (or at least I like to imagine they are Olney’s hands) cleaning chicken gizzards. My cookbooks are faster than your technology.

I still use cookbooks because I am knocked down flat by how dated the font in The Silver Palate Cookbook is, and I remember when that cookbooks was, like, it, so edgy and influential, and how at my first restaurant job we used that thing to pieces. The copy I have now was a quarter at the Friends of the Library used book sale, one of the five identical copies crowding the shelf. I still love cookbooks because good ones remain relevant, despite the font.

I still use cookbooks because if a cookbook is a hand-me-down from Mom, I can tell which recipes are clunkers because she will X out the entire recipe with bold, scrawling marks if she does not like it. 

I still use cookbooks because we’re too broke to get a tablet.

I still use cookbooks because most of them stay open flat on the table when I’m eating lunch, and a lot of the paperback fiction I read won’t, and therefore I get smudges of avocado and jam all over their pulpy pages. But the cookbooks get minimal fingerprinting from me. Unless, of course, I’m using them in the kitchen.

I still use cookbooks because, months after really messy cooking days, the dried food blob residue that clings to their pages is like a cross between pressing flowers and ad-hoc scrapbooking. A whole section in my copy ofShirley Corriher’s Cookwise won’t even open, because it’s glued together with a paste of sugar, lemon zest, and egg whites from the time I was making Shirley’s overly complicated lemon meringue pie and I lost my temper and flung a giant handful of meringue across the kitchen. I still love you, though, Shirley, and I still love Cookwise, just not your lemon meringue.

I still use cookbooks because every single YouTube cooking video I’ve ever seen (or starred in) is boring, and about fifteen seconds in while the cooking expert is blabbing away doing no cooking at all, I’m wandering away from the computer looking for…a cookbook.

I still use cookbooks because I am tactile. I like to reach out and touch those big, sexy photos of funky heirloom vegetables and flaky, crusty, gushy fruit pies.

I still use cookbooks because I am a librarian, even though I don’t work at a library anymore, and I have spent thousands of hours in my life shelving books in the 641.5 Dewey Decimal range, and I understand how even just touching a cookbook gives you this osmosis-like infusion of knowledge.

I still use cookbooks because every book has its own smell, and I love the smell of books, the many smells of books.

I still use cookbooks because sometimes I use old postcards as bookmarks, and every time I use Chris Bianco’s pizza dough recipe from Artisan Baking Across America I re-read the postcard Mike McTeague sent me from Bali, and I think how long it’s been since I’ve sent Mike a postcard, and how he now has two daughters and I have one, and when he sent me that postcard he wasn’t even married yet.

I still use cookbooks because they make me hungry.

I still use cookbooks because every time I open a cookbook, I wind up learning something new I hadn’t set out to learn when I first reached for that book.

I still use cookbooks, and I will until there are no books to look at or foods to cook with.

Recipe cards, though? Yeah, I don’t use them anymore. Usually I just print recipes out from the internet.

With big thanks to Gabe Meline for inspiration on this one. I still make tapes, too.