I’m addicted to cookbooks. And books about food in general. Don’t know why. A love of food and cooking is part of it, and an infatuation with books in any form exacerbates the condition. But there it is; no excuses, no rationalisations. As mentioned, I’m studying food writing, so having this problem helps. But here I’m more interested in finding out what my readers think about cookbooks.
Curiosity about what food writers themselves get excited about in a cookbook prompted the UK online magazine, Red Online, to do a survey on just this subject. The results are interesting, a blend of classics and more recent offerings. Maybe there are a couple of your favourites in here.
Here’s what they selected:
- Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers
- The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert
- The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
- A Year in my Kitchen by Skye Gyngell
- Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters
- Charlie Trotter’s by Charlie Trotter
- Thai Street Food by David Thompson
- Italian Food by Elizabeth David
- Food in Vogue by Maxime de la Falaise
How you read a cookbook may be an indication of the kind of cook you are. For instance, I sort of dip into mine now and again or rifle through the day before a dinner party frantically looking for ideas, (i.e. low concentration span, poor planning skills). Very rarely do I sit down and read a cookbook cover to cover. But I did just that not long ago with a book I’d have to nominate as one of my all time favourites. It’s the Blue Ribbon Cookbook by Liz Harfull.
Published in 2008, it’s about South Australian country shows and the women who enter their cookery competitions. Reading the recipes was like a journey back to childhood for me. It’s full of creations I haven’t seen for years but recall devouring greedily at my grandmother’s table. Things like Jubilee Cake, Ginger Fluff, Raspberry Jam Roll or the benchmark of country cooks, boiled fruit cake. If you’re inspired by these examples to start working on your entries for the next show, there are judges’ tips included as well.
Show cooking is a demanding discipline with very stringent rules; a culture I’ve always associated with previous generations. My mother, for instance, was an enthusiastic show competitor and regularly entered elaborate creations in the Royal Adelaide Show Cake Decorating competitions. She slaved for months over these, turning the kitchen and dining room at home into a production line of tiny, intricately constructed objects so fragile, you hardly dared breathe on them. Woe betide anyone who bumped the table and sent a rack of royal icing roses crashing to the floor.
Far from being a thing of the past, show cooking is still alive and well. You only have to visit the Royal Adelaide Show cookery section to see how popular it is, and increasingly so with the younger generation. Last year’s show boasted a record number of entries in the various younger age categories.
Liz Harfull’s book however concentrates on country shows. As well as being a virtual guide to South Australia’s country show circuits, rich with fascinating glimpses of the past, it traces this State’s culinary history and introduces the reader to many of those stalwart country women who managed to feed big families, whip up morning and afternoon teas, cater for hungry shearers and at the same time, devote hours to coming up with the perfect sponge to enter in the local show. Liz’s book is an absolute delight, filled with historic photos and illustrations, recipes and intriguing facts about the many generations who worked so hard to establish the shows and make them popular. Not surprisingly, it became a bestseller and was named runner-up at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris in 2009. Liz has followed it up with two more books, which I’ve yet to read, Almost an Island: the Story of Robe and The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook (due out this month).
Here are a couple of glowing reviews for The Blue Ribbon Cookbook, which really capture its spirit.
“The spirit of the Australian country show permeates the pages of this marvelously nostalgic collection of show recipes, judges’ hints and vintage images” – Australian Gourmet Traveler
“[Here is] a harvest of thanks made with flour, measured out in an old cup without a handle, kept in the kitchen dresser. The secret ingredient is love” – Peter Goers, The Sunday Mail
You can find out more about Liz at her website.
There’s been much speculation about print cookbooks in recent times; whether they’re the lone survivor in a war of attrition that’s taken out many other genres, or whether they too are on the way out, conquered by the ebook revolution, food blogs, and the usual litany of technology related enemies. They seem pretty healthy to me, but it would be interesting to have a closer look, and I’ll be doing that in a future post, so stay tuned.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY! (drum roll please…)
I want to know what you think about cookbooks.
Take My Cookbook Survey and Win!
[box type=”info”] I’ve put together a little survey and would love it if you filled it out. It’s quite painless and, what’s more, you can win! Anyone who enters will go in the draw to win a brand-new 258 page cookbook “Asian Recipes” by the Asian food company Chang’s (see picture). In pristine condition, untainted by my sticky fingers, it contains 300+ delicious recipes, lots of gorgeous photos, and challenges the reader to “give your wok a workout”. FOR DETAILS OF THE SURVEY SEE BELOW AND IN THE SIDEBAR[/box]
Go here to fill in the survey. It will run until 30th March, so you’ve got plenty of time. All you need to do is enter your first name and email address, and if you’re the lucky winner, I’ll contact you and arrange delivery.
What’s in it for me? I’m interested in using the information I gather as research for a magazine article, (which would not of course include anything identifying respondees).
by Anne Green