5@5 - Why printed cookbooks still matter
May 28th, 2013
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Editor's Note: Kaitlyn Goalen is the former National Edition editor of Tasting Table and one of the driving forces behind Short Stack Editions. Follow her on Twitter @kaitgoalen.

For most of my career, I’ve been writing about food for digital publications. Twitter, Instagram, cat GIFs (pronounced “jif,” we now know) and endless e-mails are all part of my daily routine.

But when it comes to my own culinary reading list, a surprisingly heavy percentage is dedicated to cookbooks. Not apps, not e-books. Physical printed cookbooks. It was a realization that recently led me to take a break from the digital landscape and launch a printed cookbook series called Short Stack.

Why, some may ask, when you can just as easily find recipes online and for free? Here are five answers to that very question.

Five Reasons to Care About Cookbooks in a Digital Age: Kaitlyn Goalen

1. Accuracy
Like most people, I frequently turn to the internet to search for recipe inspiration when I’m cooking...and I’m frequently disappointed. It’s a sad truth that most of the recipes cluttering up the web have never been tested, so they don’t often work the way they should. (There are a few bright exceptions, like Tasting Table, my former employer, which tests every recipe it publishes.)

Overall, cookbooks tend to be safer bets. They are written by experts, either chefs or writers who have been in the business for years. And secondly, the recipes are almost always tested to ensure that they will work for readers. With cookbooks, you’re buying into the promise that you can cook at the level of the author, just by following his or her steps.

2. Gifting
Cookbooks always round out my shopping list when it comes to birthdays and holidays, because they are a permanent memento of the joy I get when I share a great meal with someone. I gave my mother Yotam Ottolenghi’s book "Jerusalem" after we took a mother-daughter trip to Israel. I gave my girlfriend a copy of "The Zuni Café Cookbook" (bookmarked to the roast chicken recipe) because we had an amazing date there.

And I give everyone Suzanne Goin’s "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" because that restaurant was pivotal in my learning to love food and the community it engenders. (I can’t wait for Suzanne’s new book!) You can’t wrap a website in a bow.

3. Cultural History
Cookbooks give great insight into a time and place. Since most recipes (even by the most innovative chefs) are referencing a recipe that came before it, cookbooks are a consistent form of creative output by which to follow different cultures. In between the lines of recipes are etchings of geography, environment, gender roles, politics and power.

Cookbooks are also records of personal identity, since they tend to be kept and passed down among family. I have all of the community cookbooks my grandmother edited for her Junior League and her church, and each is full of notes she wrote in the margins - dates that she made a certain recipe, and tweaks she made to it. Books like these are important heirlooms, and irreplaceable pieces of our food culture.

4. Design
The best contemporary cookbooks are objects that balance the beautiful with the functional. They encapsulate writing, design and photography in a series of (hopefully) artistic choices, such that it turns a list of directions into something truly inspiring. And when you’re not cooking, a cookbook offers visual and tactile satisfaction. I keep one on my coffee table (currently it’s "Vietnamese Home Cooking") and it’s always the first thing that guests reach for and flip through.

5. Voice
For me, a cookbook is still the best insight into the style of a chef or writer that I respect. It is a microcosm of a body of work where a magazine article is just snapshot. Over the course of multiple pages, patterns begin to emerge, and it’s those patterns, not the individual recipes, that make readers better cooks.

Got an cookbook you give to everyone? Share it in the comments below.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

Travel the world from your cookbook shelf
Eat This List: My 8 most stained and damaged cookbooks
This family recipe's secret? It came from a cookbook
Cookbooks that changed my life
Are cookbooks a cop-out?

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Filed under: 5@5 • Cookbooks • Culture • Think

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  9. Private personal training

    Accuracy is the most important reason. The recipes on the internet are just so inaccurate sometimes.

    January 28, 2014 at 9:15 pm |
  10. Clara Simmonds

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  12. David

    The only point I agree with about printed cookbooks is gifting. Yes, cookbooks make excellent gifts and e-versions can't be wrapped nicely. As for website recipes blogs/sites, I feel there are some reputable sites that I will turn to on occasion (e.g., Epicurious, Serious Eats, Food52). For e-books vs printed, I go either way but tend to purchase more and more on an iPad. Living in a small condo in the Northeast, we have limited space to continue growing a cookbook collection (currently more than 300+). E-cookbooks (and e-books in general) have been a true space saver. Space consideration aside, I have started purchasing cookbooks more frequently on my iPad. Many publishers are developing cookbooks for e-readers and with an iPad, many of the books look wonderful. For cooking purposes, the change in a setting keeps my iPad "live" when I frequently turn to review the recipe. I can also enlarge the text in most of the books (a huge plus with aging eyesight!). Searching for recipes or other keywords are also simple and efficient. Not all publishers have developed e-cookbooks well, but many are getting on board. In addition, some cooking apps are hugely helpful and well designed (e.g., Bittman's "How to . .. " apps). The printed cookbook lives on (and long may it live); however, I think e-cookbooks are going to gain in popularity as well as improve ease of use as more people turn to e-readers for book consumption. The biggest drawback to me is being able to share a favorite cookbook with a friend.

    May 31, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • David

      One more point about e-cookbooks: Not all titles are available. Out of print or hard to find cookbooks are . . . well . . . hard to find in e-bookstores. Then it's off to a favorite bookstore to see if it can be ordered or found second hand. Hopefully more publishers will begin to bring back out of print and older books where possible.

      May 31, 2013 at 10:10 am |
      • SB1790

        My favorite cookbook is a 1926 Good Housekeeping edition. It's fun to read the terms they have for things and the technology in those days. Evidently gelatin was in big fashion. They even go into detail about the specific nutrients in foods, which I found surprising.

        June 3, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  13. David

    My sister stole all my mother's cookbooks.

    May 30, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • Eric Holder

      Kick her Azz and blame it on someone else.....It works for me.

      May 30, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  14. mickinmd

    There are some cookbooks that have recipes hard to find elsewhere like John Shield's "Coastal Cooking" which, among other to-die-for recipes has Shirley Phillips (Phillips has long been one of Maryland's TOP crab restaurants) personal recipe for Crab Cakes, one of the best recipes for REAL Maryland crabcakes, not the garbage "Phillip's Crab Cakes" that are sold in frozen food sections of supermarkets: they're NOT real Maryland crabcakes. It's called "Miss Shirley's Eastern Shore Crabcakes."

    May 30, 2013 at 3:10 am |
  15. DesertDiva

    I love printed cookbooks, especially for when I'm going into a new phase of experimenting (like a Mexican food phase, or baking, etc.). It's just easier for me to have it on hand in the kitchen. There also tends to be more explanation of why the recipe is written a certain way, or what substitutions will work, which helps me hone my humble skills. I especially love older cookbooks with lots of illustrations. Now, when I'm looking for a single recipe of something I've never tried before, I tend to go online.

    My favorite printed cookbook right now is Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook. Very few illustrations, but it's super handy and creative.

    May 30, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  16. BeerBrewerDan

    There is one Vietnamese website I use a ton (viet kitchen) and one Thai I have started to use (rasa malaysia), but I definitey trust Cook's Illustrated as well. I use Big Oven occasionally, but oltherwise use a set of specialized cookbooks that I love. The books are more fun to look through than web pages/apps and I always am more tempted by recipes I read in them.

    May 29, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  17. are122

    Cookbooks are handy for people like my ex-wife who thought you cooked corn dogs by boiling them.

    May 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  18. ala-kat

    We don't have enough books anymore :( Old cookbooks belonging to my relatives...I may never use (recipes outdated, and amounts I can't decipher) but wouldn't trade them for the world. My mother just completed a cookbook. Only 100 copies (there will be some left over, no doubt), but it was fun to gather recipes from our family table the we enjoyed on a regular basis. There are two award winning (albeit local) recipes, and her famous camp stew recipe that goes back a number of generations. Can't get THAT on the internet :) Also taking some very old hand written recipes from my grandmother and great grandmother to frame. Will be gifts for Christmas.

    May 29, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  19. SixDegrees

    "It’s a sad truth that most of the recipes cluttering up the web have never been tested"

    Neither have a lot of recipes appearing in printed cookbooks. I can't tell you how many times I've run across gross errors, even in cookbooks produced by well-known chefs; my favorite, in a recipe for a pound of Brussels sprouts, called for adding 1 quart of salt.

    Also, a vast number of recipes on the Internet are, rather famously, stolen directly from cookbooks without modification, with many bloggers adamantly (and wrongly) believing that recipes are somehow exempt from copyright protection. Search for pretty much any recipe with enough specificity provided, and you'll turn up scores of copies of it all over the Web, cut and pasted verbatim among themselves.

    Overall, there's no difference in accuracy between recipes on the Web or in printed form. The problem is more one of proofreading and accurate measurement to begin with, not the medium involved.

    May 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  20. Sandy

    I collect cookbooks. My oldest is a booklet on temperature baking (ovens didn't used to be calibrated). I have a booklet from the 20's explaining how successful women hold their men with moist cakes, and a collection of Victory recipes clipped by my mother-in-law during WWII. These books are absolutely fascinating reading, and some of the old recipes are excellent. The internet doesn't lend itself to this kind of social history. (I sometimes use online recipes, but they are far less reliable, and number of stars ups the odds, but is no guarantee of success.)

    May 29, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  21. Me

    I'm sorry, but this article just seems like a self-promoting article. I agree, with the explosion of Pinterest and blogging sites, it's easy to fall into the trap of using recipes of people who have never tested them. However, like you would with buying a cookbook, just be smart about where you pull recipes.
    I personally use allrecipes.com and tend to only use recipes that have had high star ratings by thousands of people. I even take the time to read people's reviews to see what kind of changes people have made to improve from the original posting. I love the collaboration of cooks from around the world on recipes.
    I think chefs, like writers, need to adjust to the changing times.

    May 29, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  22. Jeanne Fuchs

    If cookbooks didn't contain recipes, they would still be enjoyable for the text iself. My current favorite is from the A-16, in San Francisco. It not only has wonderful recipes from their wonderful chef & kitchen, but it's a delight to read in itself. A lot of the book is about the ingredients and where they're grown, the wines that complement the finished dish, bits about the area in Italy where the A-16 runs, (Puglia) and so on. A marvelous gift – and the photographs!

    May 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
  23. modern

    By far the best recipes Ive made were from blogs. NOT recipe sites, those are just horrible, they let any unqualified n00b post a recipe on those sites, I tried making ranch dressing from a recipe site and almost puked it was so bad. Recipe sites are like the american idol tryouts of cooking, 99% of the people submitting recipes are horrible cooks but think they are amazing and want to share their ipecac with the world.

    Some of the bloggers are amazing (especially when it comes to baking) and give recipes good enough for professional bakeries, they also always post a lot of photos. Pro chef recipes from cookbooks suck, dont kid yourself, they never give you the real recipe they use in the restaurant, that is a closely guarded secret, they give some generic recipe and fancy it up with weird ingredients.

    May 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  24. alr

    My favorite cookbooks are the ones with spilled vegetable oil on the pages and handwritten notes. I'm a little neater now when I bake but those stained pages let me know which recipes are the best. You can't spill vegetable oil on an iPad (okay, you can but you can only do it once).

    May 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Toad

      Exactly. My digital equivalent is the paper print-outs I actually use for shopping and cooking, once I've found the recipe online. I keep them in a folder in categories, making my own plagiarized cookbook of keepers. The best ones are covered in oil stains, you're right. Some of them have eliminated all competition in their particular category, and I'm on my third or fourth printout after they get too gunked up and I have to print a new one. They're as trusted as some others from cookbooks.

      One of those, off the top of my head, is called West Texas Cornbread, and a search can't miss it, I'm just saying. YMMV, but I don't think so!

      May 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  25. Norkio

    Recipe cards all the way. I prefer the handwritten ones. Cookbooks seem so...sterile to me. I have lots of them but the one I use the most is the one my mother put together of all the recipe cards she had gotten from friends and family over 30 or 40 years. I made a website for my recipe cards: http://GramsRecipeBox.com. The more messy the card, the better the recipe.

    May 29, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  26. Susan

    Cookbooks are so much better than many of the online recipe sites. But cookbooks from actual chefs or those that have a long history of cooking/food writing. The current state of cookbooks...those written by food bloggers is just short of horrific. Many of those recipes have NOT been tested, since the small amount of $$ paid by the publisher, to the writer, get kept by most of the blogger/writers rather than spent on actual recipe testers. So the recipes don't work. I can't tell you how many times I've received one of these books, randomly picked a recipe, and it didn't work.

    May 29, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Toad

      I have thirty cookbooks, maybe, and I haven't found a single recipe in one of them that isn't online, exactly the same as in the cookbook. Plus, online recipes include reader comments, which often include tweaks and suggestions that are very useful. Plus, you can consult online recipes on your phone while you're in the store and thinking about what you need.

      Online recipes are the same recipes as cookbooks, but better.

      I'm dumping my cookbooks on a second-hand bookstore, while those still exist.

      May 29, 2013 at 11:45 am |
      • Toad

        By the way, the post asked what cookbooks we love and would recommend. Here are three, off the top of my head, that are pretty darn good.

        Mark Bittman: How To Cook Anything (Everybody knows this one, probably, but anyway. I've found it very helpful for experimenting with new-to-me ingredients that I don't really know how to treat.)

        Jessica B Harris: Sky Juice and Flying Fish: Traditional Caribbean Cooking (A small book that I've found helpful in spite of the fact that many of the listed ingredients are a little esoteric. Learned banana soup from this book, which is go-to for me to compliment a spicy, tiki-style evening, which is how I roll.)

        James Villas: The Glory of Southern Cooking (I cook soul food, y'all, and this is chock-full of good stuff.)

        May 29, 2013 at 12:08 pm |
        • Toad

          *complement*, not compliment, oops.

          May 29, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • alf

      The problem with recipes from chefs that own famous restaurants is that you arent getting the same recipe they use in the restaurant that they are famous for, youre getting a half assed substitute that is usually no different than the standard recipe everyone posts online. Everyone is so paranoid of recipe stealing that the ones who make money on that recipe never give it out.

      May 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
  27. Peanut M&M

    I appreciate e-books for their portability. Cook books don't really need to be portable. Plus, the screen is always turning off on my phone or laptop. I could print out the recipe, but then you just have a bunch of loose sheets. There is just something so nice about a well-edited cookbook, regardless of photos (though I do like good photos).

    May 29, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  28. Belinda

    Pick up community cookbooks at swap meets, second hand stores, etc. Then look for the pages with the most grime! Those are the best recipes.

    May 29, 2013 at 9:07 am |
  29. sarahsudar

    A few years ago I heard a great piece of advice from a coworker involving cookbooks: Every time she made a particular recipe, she jotted down the date she made it and possible even the occasion title. So throughout the years, she could see how many times she made a particular dish, for what occasion, and if she altered the recipe in any way. Now that would be a great gift to pass along through generations.

    May 29, 2013 at 8:47 am |
  30. applpy

    Reblogged this on Thought + Food and commented:
    Do you prefer real cookbooks or the e- version? I must confess to cherishing the real ones that I have but do look up lots of stuff online!

    May 29, 2013 at 8:41 am |
  31. Pam Rauber

    I once downloaded a cookbook to Kindle. Don't. Take my advice. The pictures aren't pretty and the columns aren't included.
    I guess I need to stop blogging altogether. The only testing done on my recipes are by me and my family.

    May 29, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  32. Family Foodie

    There is something so special about a cookbook that has been imprinted over the years with everything from thumbprints to butter stains... it tells a story all in itself before you even try a recipe. And the notes written on the pages of the recipes are just priceless. The recipes become 100% accurate to our taste because of the notes we have written over the years adjusting the recipes to be just how our family loves them.
    This is something that we will never see on a laptop or ipad... cookbooks become a part of who we are.

    May 29, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  33. julielac

    Love this. We are currently cooking our way through three shelves of cookbooks – most of which we've received as gifts. The big winner so far? Anything from America's Test Kitchen – especially the 30 minute meals book. It's pretty flawless. http://www.cookingourbooks.com

    May 29, 2013 at 1:17 am |
    • Lisa

      Agreed! Love America's Test Kitchen recipes. They always turn out fabulous.

      May 29, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  34. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    I love printed cook books! My family home has MILLIONS! I love to look at all the pictures and the creative combinations! You can read books on eReaders all you want, but cook books in hand are a necessity!

    May 28, 2013 at 11:07 pm |
  35. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Always shall remain GIF not JIF!!111!!1!

    May 28, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Frank Gifford

      Your turn to be married to this B@ich!!!!!--Kathy Lee.

      May 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Linda Lovelace

      GAG........Grab it and Growl....a New Cook Book Not co written by Anthony Bourdain.

      May 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  36. RichardHead

    I always thought that Everything on the InterNets was True??? Nawwwww--I Always enjoy reading my Mothers Cook Books with her hand written substitutions or from MY Grandma ( who I never got to meet but could substitute Lard for a lot of things ) and the recipe would turn out Fantastic. We need more of this,just like a verbal collection of WWII Veterans....We MUST Remember our Ethnic History and Family.

    May 28, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • RichardHead

      Moderated by some AzzHat CyberCook.

      May 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  37. Truth™


    May 28, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
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