In praise of recipe books (yes they are a thing)

I do love a recipe book.

I know of course that the Internet has a recipe for every single dish ever made by a human being anywhere. And I hunt for the perfect way to roast peppers, just like everyone else.

But I can’t be the only person who starts to feel a little frazzled on reading the 20th set of instructions telling me how to make pork crackling.

At times like these, I put down my phone and reach for one of two trusty companions: How to be a Domestic Goddess, and How to Eat, both by Nigella Lawson.

It’s my view that this wonderful woman writes the best recipes of all time. She writes beautifully about what food means to her, and the instructions in the recipes are written with a home cook in mind. She tells you what something is supposed to look like or feel like, rather than assuming you have an advanced diploma in home economics.

Nigella notes that her only real activity as a mother has been cooking with her children. In Domestic Goddess she says:
“… even though I’m lucky enough to work at home, I’m hopelessly negligent and never actually do much with my children other than cook”.

I spent a lot of time baking with my son and am proud to say that he can make a batch of cupcakes from scratch, by himself. He is so expert in cupcakes, in fact, that he has started annotating the page in our battered copy of Domestic Goddess.

Family notes in our copy of Domestic Goddess

It’s hard to describe how good I felt, looking at that page. There’s a note from me in 2013, and a note from him written in 2021. This is something that no Internet recipe can provide: a sense of continuity.

I’ve written about this before, the fondness people have for old recipe books:

Why are we all so fond of these books? Partly they come from a quieter time, when there was no Google and no millions of choices about what to do with trendy ingredients. No celebrity chefs. No foodie blogs. What you had was just an authoritative collection of recipes that really do work, the contents of your pantry and some common sense.
But mostly what these old books represent is continuity. Through the handing down of these familiar companions, our mothers were handing on memories and connecting generations over the love of what is both a daily chore and a source of life.

And now, through the medium of our household’s baking bible, I am handing on memories too.

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Main picture: Mathilde Langevin on Unsplash

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