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Will Cookbooks Go Extinct?

How attached are you to your grease-splattered cookbooks? A new article on Slate by L.V. Anderson contends that even while cookbook sales are up 8 percent, in the future we’ll all cook from apps on tablets or our phones.  Here’s the article:

The reasoning? “…print cookbooks offer nothing that apps, e-books, and websites can’t, despite print enthusiasts’ efforts to recast them as objets d’art.”

My initial reaction is: “No! Don’t take my cookbooks away, please.” Some of my favorite cookbooks are not so much to cook from, but to page through. Sometimes I find surprises. For some reason I was storing a snapshot of an old ex boyfriend inside a copy of "Laurel's Kitchen," a hippie-style bread baking kind of cookbook. The ex boyfriend was holding a fish. My husband wasn’t especially amused.

Another surprise was inside “Dim Sum,” a gift to my mom from one of my uncles sometime in the 70s. He wrote an inscription in the front—something about this book being rescued from General Mao’s kitchen before the revolution. Can you get that in an app?

Sitting on my desk right now is an extremely ancient cookbook, “Lowney’s Cook Book Illustrated” from 1908. My boss dug this up at a garage sale. I hesitate to flip through it too much, because it’s literally disintegrating. As I gingerly begin turning pages, a Campbell's Tomato Soup ad from 1931 comes fluttering out. There's no way an app could recreate this experience! 

As soon as you crack the brown cover, directly inside you'll find fountain-pen writing. It’s someone’s recipe for "Fruit Bake"…1 and a half pounds of raisins, a pound of currants, citron (huh?), half a pound of butter, half a pound of lard…

Who wrote this? The lady, (surely a lady), took the time to write this out, and also to dog ear some pages: Rice Bavarian, Peach Filling…this lady was a baker. And what’s this? Another recipe of hers tucked away in the pages, but it’s written in first person: “I use bacon grease or butter and lard  mixed and I don’t always put in any…”  The page is ripped, gone. And at the end, she writes, “I have an awful good recipe for nut bread with dates in it. I’ll copy and send you if you want.”

This was part of a communication between two people, women, who loved “bakes” of all kinds—War Bake, Date Bake, bake bake bake. Lard, brown sugar, dried fruits, yum? Not something I will try to recreate, but what a window into a different century! Two people sharing a recipe, one of the pillars of society.

Present day, it’s the same idea as me telling a friend I’ll post my quinoa mango salad recipe on their Facebook page.

Is it really so different? A lot of the cookbooks I’ve collected are more like old friends, rather than vital tools in my kitchen. Last weekend, when I was making that quinoa salad for my little brother’s high school graduation party, the computer printout of the recipe became soaked near the sink (toddler playing in there). I threw away the paper and turned to my iPhone. I got the recipe in a matter of seconds.

However, I was more than a little cognizant of my phone not getting destroyed in the kitchen environment (especially an environment in which your 3-year-old “helps” you cook).

As a commenter to the Slate story added, “The cookbook won't die until the iPad/laptop/smart phone/whatever can be dunked in grease and flour and still be okay.”

Can you imagine your kitchen with no cookbooks?

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