Virtual Voices

In defense of the cookbook

Technology

Earlier this month, Lauren Winner, an author and assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, wrote an article for Books and Culture on why she still uses cookbooks as her primary source of culinary consultation instead of internet inspiration. She writes:

"I see the appeal of Recipe-By-Google. Indeed, I remember the first recipe I found randomly online and prepared-a raspberry almond tart, which I made for a dinner party I attended in 2002. It was great, and easy-fool-proof dough, raspberry and sugar alike supplied by Smucker's. Since then, I have made a number of tasty meals from recipes I found online. But in the last year or so, I have begun to return to cookbooks. The service a trusted cookbook supplies is vetting. I still go to the Cook's Illustrated website at least once a week. But simply typing in (as I did after Thanksgiving) "easy appetizers" or even "shrimp cups" proved overwhelming. My searches turned up three zillion recipes, and I didn't feel I had any way to sort them."

I feel her pain. I just glanced over and counted my own collection of cookbooks: I have 50, and this is a pared-down number. Yet I've still been guilty of turning to the search engines when I'm in a pinch; it seems much faster to search for a recipe this way than by pulling out a cookbook and hoping it has the answer I'm looking for. But when there are 5,000 variations on a theme (and usually there are many more than that), I want something trusted. That's when I usually default to Fannie Farmer.

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Fannie Farmer isn't perfect, no. There are two recipes with penciled X's through them so I know not to make that mistake again, but her imperfections make her all the more endearing to me-almost like she's standing beside me in the kitchen giving me cooking lessons. She taught me to make a pie crust from scratch; she taught me how to make homemade rolls; she's always there when I'm curious about a certain cut of meat and just exactly what is it I'm supposed to do with it anyway.

The extension to the rest of life is pretty easy to make. Just as I've been guilty of doing a quick search when I'm looking for some specific recipe, I've done the same with relationships, looking for friends and community on my own terms and at a time of day that's convenient for me, when I know the better thing is just a phone call or cup of coffee away. The vetting process Winner alludes to is an important one when it comes to all things internet-related-it saves us from a bad pot roast as well as potentially shallow relationships that are accessible but not necessarily healthy.

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