Friday, October 27, 2023

On Reading Cookbooks

As a young child, I'd page through the Philadelphia Cream Cheese cookbook, gazing at the photographs of creamy cheesecakes with longing. I'd happily pore over the themed crafts and recipes of the American Girl party book. Sometimes, I would even peek at the diagrams and detailed instructions of The Joy of Cooking with amazement. 

I loved reading cookbooks as a kid. 

Years later, when I got married and began setting up a home with my husband, I found myself scrolling through recipe websites as I planned our meals. As convenient as this was, however, it was not the same experience as my cookbook-filled childhood. So, I began to drift to the cookbook section of the library.  Eventually, one of my children even went through a phase as a toddler of always selecting a cookbook at the library each week. We'd spend great lengths of time on the couch oohing and aahing over photographs of food. 

There's something special about rifling through cookbooks; of looking at the glossy photographs and imagining that very dish sitting on my table. Of calling my children near to look at this! Of walking into the room and seeing my children curled up on the couch with a cookbook spread across their small laps. 

I really love food, so I think it's fitting that I enjoy reading through cookbooks. However, I've begun to wonder if my appreciation for these books goes even deeper than this.  

When I read cookbooks, I am swept out of the chaos of the world, and I am embraced by a deep sense of order. Although I may improvise in the kitchen, the original recipes follow a specific format and order: a list of ingredients, a list of required materials, and a method to prepare the dish. All of these ordered recipes are then arranged in the cookbook in a specific manner. They may be sorted by type (appetizers, main dish, side dishes, drinks), season of the year (fall recipes), ingredients, or another designation. No matter what label is assigned to them, these recipes are not randomly thrown into most cookbooks; they are purposefully placed. Even if the world is collapsing in wars and housework is teetering on the brink of disaster, I can collapse behind a cookbook and become immersed in a sense of peaceful order. 

Furthermore, these cookbooks infuse my day with beauty. While there are some unattractive (or, at least, mediocre) cookbooks out there--I find it hard to comprehend a cookbook with no pictures or photographs--a hallmark of many cookbooks is beautiful art. Whether it is stunning photographs, intricate drawings, or lovely script, countless cookbooks offer a glimpse of beauty. Even if I don't anticipate the meals I make looking anything like the ones I see pictured in cookbooks, I can still enjoy and appreciate the gorgeous images I see. 

In fact, the plethora of interesting recipes and beautiful pictures prods me to think of the food that I prepare for my family. At times, when I look through these cookbooks, I feel energized and inspired, ready to tackle meal planning and meal prep. Even if my enthusiasm is short-lived, this inspirational boost is helpful while it lasts. 

When I graduated from college, a former neighbor gifted me 
with that biscuit cookbook. I needed simple recipes in that period  
of transitioning to a new life routine, so I used the
biscuit cookbook ALL THE TIME. 

If anything, reading cookbooks is one small way to regain a small amount of unproductive rest and calm in the chaos of family life. I am often productive all day long as I wipe bottoms, prepare meals, nurse a baby, console crying children, or read out loud to my little ones. When I snatch breaks here and there, I try to rest--yet, this restfulness is often productive, too. My times of rest may end with a visible product like an article or several hundred words in a book manuscript. Even if I do something as simple as pick up something from my reading stack, I am still being productive: while I read the book, I'm going to deeply ponder it, and eventually, I'll review it on my blog, and perhaps even write an in-depth article. These activities are restful and energizing for me, but I still crave unproductive rest; leisure that restores my spirit without necessarily resulting in visible productivity. And reading cookbooks is one small way I experience this rest. 

I page through the recipes, admire the pictures, and read about different ingredients or recipe techniques. Yet, I don't often make recipes from cookbooks; I prefer to use recipes I find online, where I can read reviews and find cooking tips in the comments section. Sometimes, reading a cookbook does prompt me to try a recipe I see, or find a similar one. However, quite often, this is an activity I do for purely because it is fun. I don't read the cookbook cover-to-cover (except on rare occasions), and I don't have any pressing need to read the cookbook. I just pick it up and enjoy reading through it for a few moments before I charge headlong into whatever pressing issue has arisen in my home. 

I'm learning that even when I actively strive for a slow lifestyle and peaceful environment at home, unexpected events always spring up. That's just life, particularly when several young children are involved. So, as I grasp for order and beauty, I keep coming back to cookbooks. Reading cookbooks may not solve the world's problems, but this practice is one small way I can infuse my life with joy, peace, and fun. 


  1. Fellow cookbook reader here! I have a collection of Taste of Home ones and they have such vivid color and a home-y feel to them!

    1. Oooh, that sounds awesome! Thanks for mentioning those. I know I've seen them at the library before, but I don't think I've actually picked them up.

    2. I have several Taste of Home ones, as well, and I love them. I also use their website. In fact, I'm pretty sure all of the recipes in the books are also on the website, yet I still look through the books.
      My kids love looking through my cookbooks, too. We often get kids cookbooks, cookie cookbooks, etc. from the library and they love the pictures and choosing a couple things to make. It's a great way to get them involved in the kitchen.

    3. Shannon, I love that idea of getting kids cookbooks! I forget about those. I bet those recipes would be a lot easier for the kids and I to tackle, since they'd be simpler than some of the cookbooks that we usually go through. Thanks for sharing that tip!