***Meet guest blogger Tiesha Lewis, a kick-ass woman getting her gastronomy degree at Boston University. Enjoy her writing–I know I do!************
It was the red velvet cake with cream cheese icing recipe that really hooked me on my latest cookbook crack: Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes with Wendy Kromer. As a matter of fact, that recipe is the reason why I’ve started using buttermilk in a lot of my cake recipes (it makes them super moist!).I checked the book out from the library so much, I eventually ordered it from Amazon (but still waiting for it…).
I love this cookbook for a few reasons. First, it brings me into a fantasy world of cakes. I imagine what my wedding would be like. The pictures are so beautiful, and a piece of me wants to try my hand at being a wedding cake designer among other things in the food world. (The other part of me wants to be a contestant on Iron Chef America or Hell’s Kitchen…but that’s a whole other blog post). I also love it because Martha makes it seem as though creating these elaborate cakes is attainable, even for the lowly home baker like myself. (I’ve tried, but am in need of a hell of a lot more practice…). But I know I’m not alone with my cookbook habit, because as a September 5, 2005 New Yorker article pointed out, “Some fifteen hundred cookbooks are published in America each year, and Americans buy them by the millions.”
What is it about cookbooks? The recession hasn’t slowed sales down one bit. I read them, as a matter of fact I’m addicted to them (thank God I’m not the only one), but why? It seems that cookbooks are no longer functional items to be confined to household kitchens, and aspiring domestics. They’ve moved from kitchen countertops to coffee tables and nightstands, and people have moved from actually cooking, to only fantasizing about it. Over half of the cookbooks purchased are never actually cooked from, so again, I ask why? Aside from their tantalizing pictures, glossy pages, and endless recipes, what is the attraction to cookbooks both old and new?
It’s been said that to a great degree, food, like sexuality, is inseparable from imagination. Adam Gopnik, author of Our Insatiable Appetite For Cookbooks states that, “the space between what the cookbook promises, what the recipe promises, and what home cooks like us can achieve is always so enormous that you end up with a kind of aching sense of the dissolution of the actual.” So cookbooks + homecooks = a fantasy world of food.
I whole heartedly agree, and I think this is one of the main reasons cookbooks are so damn irresistible. Just take Food Network’s Iron Chef America program for instance. Shows like these play on our emotions, our fantasies to be what we’ve always dreamed of, even if for the moment. We see images of our favorite, often idolized chefs like Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Cat Cora battling it out in Kitchen Stadium, creating five course meals from secret ingredients. Like magic, racing against a 60 minute clock, chefs not only manage to finish and garnish each course, but find the time to write a note of thanks to the judges. Pure perfection! And so, what do we do? We rush to our favorite book store and snatch their cookbooks, how-to DVDs, cooking show series, and anything else we can get our hands on off the shelves. Why? In my opinion, these items, cookbooks especially, promise to transform us, make us into amazing chefs without us ever having to attend the top culinary arts schools, or work our way up through some of the toughest kitchens. Who wouldn’t be addicted?
How about the endless supply of cookbooks which present us with a world of cuisine at our fingertips? You can walk into any bookstore, or search the internet, and there like a ripe tomato or fresh banana, are the published cuisines of Asia, South America, Germany and Europe! Lucky for us, we get to experience various types of cuisines without leaving the comfort of our homes, or our country for that matter. So, in a way, these cookbooks allow us to become more “cultured” without actually interacting with that culture. Many people enjoy this, because, according to author Jeremy Iggers, the more food transformed in the lives of Americans, the more our attitudes changed, and the more food became a marker for personal identity. Authenticity is measured by foreignness, something “other” than the consumer’s usual experience, and cookbooks are a gateway to other cultures and food.
I’m sure the list of why cookbooks are so popular goes on and on, but the fact that they draw us into a fantasy world of ultimate culinary perfection, and allow us to become “cultured” almost effortlessly explains a few of the reasons why they continue to dominate the publishing industry and sales market.
Cookbooks have earned their new place on living room coffee tables, nightstands, and home display cases across America. What’s your favorite cookbook and where do you keep it???