Cookbooks in the internet age

I love them probably more than I should. I really don’t seek recipes though; I seek tips tricks and theories. I have been awondering: Have cookbooks lost their usefulness in the age of the internet? Let’s face it, you can conjure up a menu and find all the recipes on the net within minutes. I had just read the Julia Child book, ‘My Life in France’. This book encompasses her ever-important first cook book era of her life, and how she came to writing it, covering the trials and tribulations of writing ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. I can fully understand the need for such a tome in the 60s to mid-90s, but do they hold the same value today? Most of Julia’s recipes can be found on the net (I am only using her as an example). If not, why have them? Cookbook collecting instead of utilitarian usage?

It has not stopped me from buying though, so I have my own answer, since I have in my Amazon shopping cart the 40th anniversary edition of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’.

Good question, although I think you answer it early on in your post in what you say you most enjoy about cookbooks. Cookbooks are going to need to use their pages for something other than laying out recipes, which frankly is easier done on the internet. But telling stories, explaining techniques and tips along with the history of how such techniques and skills were developed/acquired will need to be woven into the book. I actually think the proliferation of cooking sites on the internet takes a bit of the burden off of the modern day cookbook writer as it allows them to focus on something other than recipe recitation. I actually just got an argentinian grilling cookbook called Seven Fires that, while it has plenty of recipes, does a really good job talking about all of these different ways of cooking/grilling that I wasn’t even aware of. It would not translate very well to the internet.

I still feel there is a place for cookbooks. If I’m planning a big menu, I’ll sit down on the couch with a stack of cookbooks and browse the pages looking for inspiration. The internet is great for finding specific recipes, but I find it hard to just browse and find unexpected gems. I also write notes in my cookbooks for future reference. I suppose there are some sites where you can add notes, but I haven’t found just one site that works for me.

Great topic, Mike, and one I’ve thought about a lot. I love cookbooks, especially if they’re well illustrated and include lots of info about equipment and technique. Most of mine sit untouched on the shelf these days, though. Between my favorite shows (American’s Test Kitchen, Good Eats) and websites (cooksillustrated, epicurious, cooking for engineers, food network) I don’t find cookbooks to be a necessity.

Still use them, just not as much as I used to.

A lot more than my set of Brittanica’s, that’s for sure.

Ray, interesting off-topic: Encyclopedias.
I grew up win a time when EVERY household had a set. Now if you used them or not was a totally different thing…

I bet there is not many sets sold these days.

I did a quick search and it looks like the only current release is a “Collector’s set”

I remember in grade school having my teachers ring my bell every summer trying to sell them door to door.

Sorry for the thread drift - Back to Cookbooks !


Me too.

I also know I can trust the recipes in the cook books I use regularly. There are some pretty off recipes out there on the net.

Good point.

True dat. Sometimes it seems that half of them were written by Sandra Lee.

Recipes are like anything else on the internet. There is a ton of bad information out there on pretty much everything, so the key is to use sites you trust. I trust, for example… and I like that both epicurious and foodnetwork feature recipes published/tested elsewhere and allow user reviews. I have not noticed a higher failure rate with these recipes than with recipes from cookbooks.

That’s 'cause you’re only using recipes from GOOD sites. I’m a fan of epicurious. Some of the ones I’ve seen elsewhere (, for example) are dreadful.

'Zactly my point. The same can be said of cookbooks, by the way. One of the least reliable I’ve ever used is “Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs” by Gale Gand. Some of the recipes are outstanding, and others seem like they were never tested or proofed by an editor. My very first pumpkin pie was already in the oven when I noticed that the book had NO guidelines for how long to bake the thing.

Bad instructions in cookbooks is a huge pet peeve of my sister. She had a great blog (" onclick=";return false;) reviewing cookbooks. Unfortunately she had to stop when her MS got bad, but the archives are still around.

I use epicurious and foodnetwork too, but I still end up reading a dozen or more recipes before I find one that “looks right”. The user reviews help - if there are enough reviews- but I think it may actually be faster to look through my books because if I find a recipe that looks interesting, I can trust the recipe. Using web sites, finding an interesting recipe is just the beginning. I always look for other recipes for the same dish to make sure the recipe passes a smoke test.

I do have some cook books I don’t find very reliable, but I just don’t use them anymore.

Exactly. I got the Gourmet cookbook recently and I love browsing it and being struck by something that I would have never thought of doing. And I have a reasonably high confidence level that those recipes (like those in the Cooks Illustrated books) have been thoroughly tested.