Cookbook or Nookbook?

This morning, WYPR ran the last segment of a series that examines the future of books and publishing - a very relevant topic given the growing popularity of Ebooks.

This program looked at cookbooks, which is interesting.  I'd never really thought about cookbooks when considering the publishing industry.  You can read (or listen to) the story here.

As I was listening to the program in my parked car, I also took a moment to savor the warmth check my Twitter feed. I noticed Mark Bittman, one of my favorite food writers and Runners World blogger, had posted about the conversation just a few minutes before - he has a successful app based on his How To Cook Everything, which is a go-to book in my own kitchen.  Check out his comments section, where a similar discussion is underway.

The story brings up some really interesting points.  It mentions that cookbooks are considered a mainstay of the publishing industry, although this is somewhat debateable in recent times. Lynn Neary interviews several people who point out that they're not always used for their intended purpose. 

Nigella Lawson, a sexy TV/food-network personality who can actually cook, suggests that apps are most useful for people on the go who need a resource for dinner en route to the grocery store. Neary also includes a story about a man who, despite hundreds of dollars of cookbooks in his new kitchen, pulls up recipes on the internet.

In terms of cookbooks, my ebook experience (courtesy of Kindle) has not been positive. But after some thought, I realize I do the same.  I plug in terms or ingredients into Google, at least to look for a starting point.  And then I proceed.

This must say something about how we as a society access information.  An engine like google puts a huge array of possibilities at our fingertips, quickly, and anywhere we can access the internet - mobile devices add another layer of convenience.  

The cookbooks I own are ones that I've mostly read cover-to-cover.  Sometimes several times.  I try to buy books that cover a lot of method, with pictures, so I can learn a technique rather than a specific set of recipes.  And this is how I like to do most of my cooking.  I look at my ingredients, choose what flavors will work, and apply a technique.

The NPR story also includes an interview with a woman who cooks with her iPad, in the kitchen.  Of course, the downside of this is that cooking is messy business.  I do often use my laptop as a reference, but I leave it in the other room.  Or have Matt handle it and read me the instructions, so as not to splatter an emulsion all over the keys.


The use of digital cooking aids or apps is also useful for finding very, very specific recipes. I know virtually nothing about certain cuisines or dietary requirements.  Or I might want to reproduce something I had in a restaurant (search: _____ clone recipe) or find an acceptable substitution for an ingredient.  

Even when I'm going off the cuff, recipes are very helpful for proportions and suggested cooking times.

I've always seen cooking as very personal to who I am.  I make food for the people I care about.  Sharing a meal, especially one we've made together, is very special.  And I think many people feel the same way.  Cooking is a healthy hobby, both in terms of food consumption and relationships.

So will apps replace the cookbook?  Bittman's app/cookbook is a great example for this point of discussion.  It condenses many of the main points of the book, includes a recipe search and ingredient list, and even has how-to videos.  His book, on the other hand, contains an easy, accessible store of recipes and blow-by-blow diagrams that convey the same information.

Two different means of communicating.  One common thread of information.  I guess the big difference is... do I want to cook with a book, or with my DroidX?

Given the replacement price points, the answer is pretty clear. At least in this case.

Digital publishing may change the way we get information, but the good books - the ones that still manage to move us and to inspire us through food - contain the vision of their authors. They touch that inner cook in all of us. 

Do you use apps or internet resources in your cooking?  Do you think cookbooks have a future in our changing world?  Tell me in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I discussed this very topic on Thanksgiving, when I had recipe printouts, my laptop, and my venerable Joy of Cooking all in play at once. The recipes and Joy were soon splattered with preparation detritus while the laptop beat a hasty retreat back to the living room. Although I refuse to have a newspaper subscription and am in general all "new media," the cookbook retains a tactile comfort. Further, I'm always worried about a recipe's provenance, and generally feel a little suspicious of most website recipes. I like the knowledge and voice behind and within a good cookbook, and comparing ideas across them. It's like a combined cooking lesson from Mark Bittman and the Rombauers.

    Long post short, I think cookbooks will be the last media to lose their physical form in my house.