News & views
Why my 2014 cookbook list never got compiled - and why it doesn’t matter
i know you’re supposed to run a blog like a magazine. Schedule in topical features and run them when people are looking for that kind of content but this year my annual round-up of cookery books which should usefully have come out at the beginning of December just didn’t happen.
Are you, dear reader, poorer for it? Frankly I doubt it. I don't imagine any of you were on tenterhooks, holding back from your purchases until I had published my favourites.
How do these lists get drawn up anyway and on what basis? You may not realise there is an agenda behind any ’20 (or whatever) best cookbooks' list, boxes to be ticked and dues to be paid. Factors that can affect your selection might include:
* The book is written by a good mate, a contributor or a colleague at work. Or possibly even someone you fancy
* It’s written by someone who might write something nice about your book (not that this would have been relevant this year as I don’t have a new book out)
* It will make you look authoritative and will be well-received by your peers. This leads to a bias in favour of undiscovered authors, obscure small publishing houses and worthy tomes that not many people will read rather than best-sellers like the Hairy Bikers Diet Book or the annual Jamie.
* Unless the list is based on a specific subject - 10 best baking books or best vegetarian books, say - you need some kind of balance between the classic and the hip, the home cook and the chef, the blockbuster and the slender but charmingly illustrated volume. You can’t just recommend six books on middle-eastern cooking - though this year it would have been easy enough
* The kind of books you yourself like. So ‘Nom Nom Paleo’, however cute the cartoons, would be unlikely to make any list of mine whereas a book on grilled cheese sandwiches or marmalade* probably would
* Whether the book has staying power. I can’t help but feel books on Asian pickles and banh mi are simply going to clutter up my shelves. On the other hand I can imagine a book called One hour cheese (OK, cheese again) being permanently useful
I do also wonder how many people have actually used or even read the books they write about. True, a cursory skim will reveal the quality of the writing and whether the recipes look interesting but do they actually work? I confess I didn’t road-test all the books in my round-up last year or the piles of books I’ve waded through in the course of judging various food awards. So hats off to Sunday Telegraph cook Diana Henry and food writer Debora Robertson for basing their excellent lists on books they have actually used. You can find Diana’s list here and Debora’s here
On that basis only one book really deserves to be on my list: Honey & Co which I’ve read with delight, cooked 5 or 6 recipes from - all lovely - tweeted about, Instagrammed, and bullied friends into buying. If you haven’t got it you should buy it too especially as it's currently selling on Amazon for the ludicrously low price of £6.99.
There are books I wish I’d spent more time with. For instance David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen is, like his blog, beautifully photographed and a cracking read but I haven’t cooked from it yet. I should. I also fancy reading Jennifer McLaglan’s Bitter: a taste of the world’s most dangerous flavor which I picked up from some of the 2014 cookbook round-ups I checked out. So they do have a value, I guess.
Anyway my resolution for 2015 is to try and live with every cookbook I review long enough to be able to establish whether or not it should be a 'keeper'. Then at the end of the year maybe I will have a meaningful list.
PS Lest you think I'm loftily averse to lists I'm not. You can read my 12 best food and drink pairings of 2014 here.
Image © magdal3na - Fotolia.com
If you found this post useful and were happy to get the advice for free perhaps you'd think about donating towards the running costs of the site? You can find out how to do it here or to subscribe to our regular newsletter click here.