Would You Buy A Cookbook With No Pictures?

This month’s book of choice has created some interesting conversations away from The Cookbook Guru about the way that cookbooks are created in this day and age and the purpose that they have in our kitchens. In particular Lady Red Specs and I debated recently the validity of cookbooks.  The old text based versions from professional food writers and experts of food versus the new being almost a glorified brochure of the personality behind them, rather than a reference to assist you in the kitchen.

It has not been a deliberate selection, but many of the books we have explored so far as part of The Cookbook Guru, and those that we have planned to come in the next few months, fit squarely into the definition of text based references.  Many of them have been recommended as worthy of our groups perusal and have revealed themselves to have great appeal and wonderful depth to the content and the recipes contained within.

We started The Cookbook Guru last year with Jane Grigson and her book of English Food and this month Claudia Roden’s New Book of Middle Eastern Food.   In the coming month’s we will be cooking our way through Mrs Beeton’s Book of Cookery and Good Housekeeping and Elizabeth David English Bread and Yeast Cookery.  Each of these books have found me approaching them like a novel to begin with. I’ve literally read the books cover to cover and meandered through the recipes as a part of the story. I then dip back into the books as I need to based on the recipes that have appealed to me based on ingredients and the descriptions given.

There is something to be said for the power of these books. The flavours that they evoke from the descriptions given by the author are clear by necessity. Without images to compare what I am cooking I am free to create the recipe as my instincts desire. I’m also less likely to have a sense of failure if the resulting dish does not resemble the professional version.

Do Pictures Help Someone Just Starting Out In The Kitchen?

In times past you would learn your cooking skills from sharing the kitchen with your Mum and perhaps other relatives. These days as geography and travel separate our opportunities as adults we tend to rely more heavily on YouTube, blogs and websites for our cooking knowledge. If the technique is tricky then a visual aid may give me confidence to be able to attempt the recipe. Perhaps though this is lazy.  As I explore text based cookbooks I am starting to find descriptions to be just as helpful as a visual explanation. It must be written well and clearly but it is not a disadvantage that an image is missing. I consider myself to be a reasonably intuitive cook though with a number of years in the kitchen which means I would give anything a go.  Would this work for someone starting out in a kitchen?

My thoughts would be for the generations that are growing up with visual guidance for everything, a book that is missing images is unlikely to appeal when it sits side by side with something highly visual. Even the books themselves may become obsolete over time as people can subscribe to their favourite chefs online and have everything visually guided by video or slide show. Is this a good or a bad thing in the cooking world?

Would I choose to buy a cookbook without pictures?

My answer is a resounding yes at this stage of my cooking experience. I respect the value that exists in these books and trust my experience to be able to execute the recipe. I do tend to choose the cookbooks that I own that are illustration free based on recommendations and reputation of the authors though and would be perhaps a little more hesitant to buy a random cookbook that lacked any kind of illustration. Having said that though it was less than 12 months ago that I took a punt on a cookbook named Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson. I loved the tone of the book when I dipped into a few pages and it inspired me to want to read more.

By necessity the authors of these books must execute a higher level of writing skill and refine their process further. They cannot rely on the glossy pictures of beautiful food to distract us nor to compensate for a lack of effective communication.

The Inspiration That Comes From an Image

I still believe photographs and great food styling do have a place in the food world.  The photographs of beautiful food are often my first source of inspiration when I open a cookbook or read a food blog.  The photographs will be the hook that leads me to read the content.  Some of my most treasured cookbooks are equally as fabulous as visual inspiration as they are well written.  The focus is far more on the food and the recipe rather than the context, experience or culture around the dish.  They tend to not illustrate every last dish though, only highlight the possibilities and mix up the pages to keep you flicking through.   The quality of the paper changes with a book that includes photography, becoming much more magazine like in appearance and weight.

What are your thoughts about cookbooks in today’s world? Do they have a place in your kitchen?  How do you use them?

Next Month We’ll talk a bit more about the authority and purpose behind cookbooks….

My Valued Cookbooks That Are Image Free (or almost)

  • The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander
  • English Food by Jane Grigson
  • English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David
  • The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
  • Fresh: The Seasonal  Produce Cookbook by Allan Campion and Michele Curtis

Do you have any favourites that are not on this list that I should know about?