Cookbooks: Grammatical vs. Encyclopedic

Cookbooks: Grammatical vs. Encyclopedic

Adam Gopnik’s essay on the nature of cookbooks caught my eye in this week’s New Yorker. He covers a range of topics, but the division between cookbooks which are essentially grammatical (Ratio, How to Cook Everything) and cookbooks which are encyclopedic (Mastering the Art of French Cooking) is one that is dear to my heart. What cookbooks are for, and how we use them, or don’t use them — whether we cook from them or simply read them for pleasure is one of the subjects around which I keep circling. Here’s a quote:

“However we take cookbooks— grammatically or encyclopedically, as storehouses of craft or illusions of knowledge—one can’t read them in bed for many years without feeling that there is a conspiracy between readers and writers to obscure the ultimate point. A kind of primal scene of eating hovers over every cookbook, just as a primal scene of sex lurks behind every love story. In cooking, the primal scene, or substance, is salt, sugar, and fat held in maximum solution with starch; add protein as necessary, and finish with caffeine (coffee or chocolate) as desired. That’s what, suitably disguised in some decent dimension of dressup, we always end up making. We make béarnaise sauce by whisking a stick of melted butter into a couple of eggs, and, now that we no longer make béarnaise sauce, we make salsa verde by beating a cup of olive oil into a fistful of anchovies. The herbs change; the hope does not.”

2 thoughts on “Cookbooks: Grammatical vs. Encyclopedic

  1. Pingback: Twitted by cmf406
  2. I read cookbooks to get inspired. Cooking for my family takes 10x longer than eating (and then there’s cleaning up!) so I often wonder why I bother \dressing it up,\ to use Gopnik’s phrase. Reading a cookbook will remind me how much fun the dressing-up can be.

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