A Vintage Cookbookery Mystery: The Death of the Cookbook


Music – “What’s Cooking” from What’s Cooking by The Wolfe Gang. Released: 2010

Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, once said, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”. Recently, I have heard a lot of “noise” on the internet that would seem to suggest that the printed cookbook is in its’ death throes, doomed to oblivion by easy access to the internet via iPad, tablets, smart phones and computers, not to mention the threat from the dwindling supply of timber for paper production around the globe.

A recent search on the internet about the fate of cookbooks turned up some interesting articles

Are apps making cookbooks obsolete?” (The New York Times)
Are cookbooks obsolete?” (Sydney Morning Herald)
Are Cookbooks a Thing of the Past”? (Unclutterer)
Are cookbooks obsolete” (Business Standard News)
Are old cookbooks obsolete? (Business Standard News)
Are cookbooks obsolete?” (Mocadeaux)
Will the internet make cookbooks obsolete? (BlogHer)
Is the smart phone killing the cookbook?” (www.delish.com)
Are tablets making old-fashioned cookbooks obsolete?” (cookbookculture.com)

Will these replace the printed cookbook? (Photo Credit: www.smartprepaidcellphones.com)

Will these replace the printed cookbook? (Photo Credit: http://www.smartprepaidcellphones.com)

But the news is not all doom and gloom. There are some people out there, like myself, that would never part with those hefty tomes packed with recipes and glossy photos:

In defense of cookbooks: why I use them over apps” (www.today.com)
Top 5 reasons cookbooks are not obsolete” (www.cookbookpeople.com)

The Cambridge English Dictionary describes “obsolete” as something “no longer used or needed, usually because something newer and better has replaced it (or by something “more fashionable”). There are many synonyms for “obsolete”, among them “antiquated”, “outmoded”, “bygone”, “dinosaur”, “has-been”, “horse & buggy”, “old hat”, “time-worn”, and “fossil”. Looking at my nearly 5,000 printed cookbooks, I never see them as “dinosaurs” or “has-beens”. Perhaps I’m just “old-hat” and “antiquated”.

“Grandma, what’s that?” “Why Billy, that’s a real cookbook you can hold in your hand!” (Photo Credit: http://www.themalaymailonline.com)

Statistics seem to indicate that between 2009 and 2014, the sale of printed cookbooks saw a 3% annual growth and netted $228 million in revenue, just in the US. This doesn’t sound like a death knoll for the printed word, to me. In Australia, printed cookbooks generated nearly $4 million in revenue in 2011, according to Nielson Bookscan 2012 overall cookbook sales.

“Why you !!##!! I was in the middle of downloading a recipe!” (Photo Credit: .canstockphoto.com)

However, it’s clear that the internet has a proliferation of recipe sites and recipes, all available at a keystroke or two, and most of them free (who can argue with free?). There are hundreds of websites filled with hundreds of thousands of recipes. There are even websites listing recipe websites.   “Virtual Quincy Directory – Cooking & Recipes” lists over 400 websites featuring recipes, cooking tips, etc.

“I found my recipe faster than you did”
“OK, but your battery just died!” (Photo Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk)

For digital recipe collecting, there are sites such as “KeepRecipes”, and software to purchase for organizing your recipes, like “MacGourmet”. In addition, many recipe sites allow you to create your own “recipe box” to file your favorites.

Old fashioned (probably “obsolete”) recipe box. (Photo Credit: corkandspoon.wordpress.com)

The “digital” recipe box (only good until the internet crashes) (Photo Credit: http://www.justfindit4u.com)

Recently, the New York Times made 17,000 recipes available online. The Food Network alone features more than 60,000 recipes available online and www.allrecipes.com has more than 46,000 on their site. Now undoubtedly, there’s a lot of duplication, but that’s still a lot of recipes floating around in the Ethernet. Oddly enough, though, more people are eating out than ever before, whether it is fast food or fine dining,yet, at the same time,they are also spending a lot of time researching recipes online and watching the plethora of cooking shows available today. An odd juxtaposition.

Spilling coffee on a cookbook is not a good idea (Photo Credit: www.thriftyfun.com)

Spilling coffee on a cookbook is not a good idea (Photo Credit: http://www.thriftyfun.com)

Spilling coffee on your laptop is even worse! (Photo Credit: www.theguardian.com)

Spilling coffee on your laptop is even worse! (Photo Credit: http://www.theguardian.com)

I cannot imagine a day, when I rid myself of my printed cookbooks and turn exclusively to the internet to see where my next meal is coming from. Snuggling up in bed with a stack of cookbooks beside me, a pen and a pad of paper is much more attractive to me than typing some keystrokes on a cold and impersonal laptop. And, when your computer or smart phone crashes (which they will), you’ll be left with nothing to use as a backup. No hefty “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, replete with thick vellum pages.

It doesn't matter if you look up a recipe online or find it in a printed cookbook. The outcome is still the same! (Photo Credit: www.kitchenstewardship.com)

It doesn’t matter if you look up a recipe online or find it in a printed cookbook. The outcome is still the same! (Photo Credit: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com)

“I’m sorry dear. The internet crashed, while I was looking at a recipe. We won’t be able to eat” (Photo Credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk)

No older cookbooks featuring recipes your mother grew up with, complete with old Kodachrome photos of a pineapple perfectly encased in a sheath of lime gelatin. No slick, glossy photos of “Lobster in Port Wine Sauce”, or “Truffles in a Casket”, both from “Masterpieces of French Cuisine”.

If terrorists pull the plug on the world-wide web (as some have threatened to do), those who rely only on the internet for cooking inspirations might as well hang up the towel and pop open a can of pork and beans. I do have to say, however, that www.eatyourbooks.com is one of the best sites I have found.   Although they do link to many online recipes, the site allows you to load your own cookbook titles, which are in their master database of cookbooks. The site is searchable for recipes at many levels, including ingredient, ethnicity, type of dish, etc. Instead of thumbing through numerous cookbooks to find what you want, you enter the parameters for recipes in your cookbooks, which are also in their master database, allowing you to easily find the book on your shelf.

Look! A real printed cookbook! (Photo Credit: www.visualphotos.com)

Look! A real printed cookbook! (Photo Credit: http://www.visualphotos.com)

Even if you prefer online recipe hunting, unless you have a photographic memory, you have to print out the recipe (more paper, same as a cookbook!), or drag your laptop or smart phone into the kitchen to access the recipe online. I have to say that flying spatters of grease and splashes of water are not good for cookbooks, but they are even worse for electronics! (which are a lot more expensive to replace)

Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll hang on to my cookbook treasures. If, in the next few years, they truly become antiques, I’ll be able to sell them as novelties from the 21st century and make a fortune!

Well, we all know what happened to this. It was declared

Well, we all know what happened to this. It was declared “obsolete” (Photo Credit: http://www.dreamstime com)

My EatYourBooks cookbook collection

About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,500. What next? More shelves?
This entry was posted in Cookbooks, Cooking, Digital Recipes, Vintage Cookbooks and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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