Love to eat

Thinking About Going eCookbook

Posted: June 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cooking | No Comments »

One hundred and five cookbooks and counting

Cookbook Shelf

I just ordered At Elizabeth David’s Table while looking at my latest addition Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch sitting lonesome away from the rest of the collection, because the bookshelf is full. I have 105 cookbooks … just counted! And with another one on its way and a growing number scattered about the house, I’m considering the eCookbooks.

My immediate reaction is “eww, I don’t like it.” Ironic, given I spent several months helping select recipes for a series of eCookbooks for work. Not to mention I can’t stand the little ‘e’ big ‘B’ (I also detest the little ‘i’ big ‘iNsertGadgetNameHere’). But what am I suppose to do? My obsession with cookbooks isn’t going away anytime soon and there are only so many bookshelves I can fit in the house, so I’ve decided to give the e-thingy a try.

I don’t own an e-reader device (aside from my cookbook collection, I try to keep collecting “stuff” to a minimum). So I installed the Kindle app for my Mac and purchased Andrea Reusing’s Cooking in the Moment.

Screenshot of Cooking in the Moment Kindle edition on MacMy first problem with the format is that there is no 2-page spread. You can attempt to mimic the 2-page spread by turning on the 2-column layout, but that just doesn’t work for content that wasn’t formatted for columns. For example, the photo accompanying “wilted ramps” is the photo for “campfire bacon and eggs” which appears on the proceeding “page.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter when you’re in the woods, staring at the laptop (right?), reading the recipe, and getting ready to cook up some bacon and eggs in a bag over some hot coals. You already know you want to make those bacon and eggs and we’re all smart enough to do the mental mapping that tells us: “Hey dummy, the photo is BEFORE the recipe. Get over it.”

Which makes me think about what cookbooks are to me. Sam Sifton in the NY Times recently nailed it. In a recent Sunday Book Review, Sifton says: “They’re mostly lifestyle catalogs, aspirational instruction manuals for lives we’d like to live.” I can’t see eCookbooks sparking that aspirational excitement that makes me dream about making those delectable dishes. I want to see the wilted ramps gleaming with oil and dotted with char along side the text that tells me all about how to recreate that moment in my kitchen. The Luddite in me wants the 2-page spread with the photo and text paired gawdammit.

However, the second part to Sifton’s assessment is that cookbooks are instructional. I guess that’s where an eCookbook can excel. It can relay textual information. I can add notes and highlight and see what others have highlighted. I can do text searches! Now, if I could do a text search across all of the eCookbooks in my “library” I’d be laughing.

So what I’m seeing here is an expensive proposition (or the evil genius of capitalism): I want both formats to address those dual needs. I want the rich and thread-bound pages to peruse on a Sunday morning while I sip coffee and think about Sunday dinner. And then, when I’m in the thick of preparing Sunday dinner, I want to be able to quickly click across recipes and see that note I made last time about adding more salt.

Or I’m just going to have to wait until focus groups have been conducted, data synthesized, design rejiggered, and developers develop and a product that can excite and instruct is born. In the meantime, it’s time for another bookshelf.