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pierke

Overkill of recipes

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Hi,

I’m new to this community and glad that I found it, for there’s such a wealth of information and a lot to discover. I’m a caterer who recently has ventured into food writing. Planning my third cookbook I sometimes wonder why I’m doing this. Ok, to make a living and because I do love cooking, eating and almost everything that’s connected with food. Reason enough, but what about all those thousands and thousands of recipes already available on the web and all these wonderful cookbooks packed with tasty recipes and practical advise. Is their really a demand for still more recipes; hasn’t everything already been written down for the umpteenth time. Well, short and good here’s my question: isn’t there an overkill of recipes on this planet? Or can I confidently go on 'cooking up' cookbooks?

Pierke

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For the past few years, cookbooks have been one of the few strong growth areas in the publishing world, so at least from a certain market perspective the answer is yes, there is room for more cookbooks. There will always be a demand (if not a real "need") for books following the latest fads, trends, diets, new technologies and so on.

There is indeed a great deal of redundancy in cookbooks. Recipes that are easily found in a hundred other books probably don't need to be done again. Some redundancy is just because of repackaging of information: one person wants a book of muffin recipes, another wants a book of fruit recipes, but there's going to be some overlap. Sometimes old books go out of print and new books appear to take their place.

Another way to think of it is this: do you think that the number of possible ways to combine available ingredients into something edible and tasty is more or less than the number of existing recipes? Have all possibilities been exhausted? Probably not. Is there also more out there than anyone can make us of in their lifetime? Yes, there is.

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Gifted Gourmet: That's a hard act to follow! :wacko:

And Moopheus: I bow to your far greater experience and knowledge.

As one who makes her living working on cookbooks, among other books: I've sometimes wondered the same thing. Especially considering some of the books I've worked on. :rolleyes: And I always hear that really sexy (but cheap to produce) single-subject books are sellable.

But the fact remains that there will always be new versions of existing recipes, and maybe even some new inventions. Then too, the audience for cookbooks is not a constant: some people are just learning to cook, some are mid-level or experienced cooks, some are experienced in some foods but novices in others -- the audience is ever-expanding.

If you check out the thread on Cookbooks: how many do you own?, you'll find that even those of us with hundreds (or even, yes, thousands!) still keep buying. Granted, we are not the "typical" audience, but we do represent pretty much all levels of skill and interest.

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Welcome to eG, pierke!

It's a good point, but there's an emotional element that overrides it. Sort of like that fine old line that defines marriage (this also applies to my dog) as "the triumph of hope over experience." Somehow, no matter how many there are already, the impulses to create recipes and/or to seek them out keep overriding our common sense. It's always fun and fascinating to compare different versions of the same dish, or to consider the evolution that led to an entirely "new" one. It's also interesting to see new groupings and juxtapositions of otherwise old material. If there is nothing new under the sun, there is also nothing so old that it won't bear re-examination in a new context or from a fresh perspective. You could argue (Lewis Carroll-like) that all the books have already been written... but people keep writing new books, and other people keep wanting and buying and reading them. If you doubt that the same is true of cookbooks, I can point you to a thread on this forum where people routinely confess to cookbook acquisition even though they already possess hundreds or even thousands of volumes. (EDIT: Ah, Suzanne beat me to it and put in the link.) There is always the attraction of new insight: the Big Name chefs often have something original or wise to say even if the recipes that illustrate it are not always innovative. Not that this is limited to the Big Names - but they are the ones who can confidently command high production values and an eager readership. And as long as there's an eager readership... there will be cookbooks and food books. And vice versa, it appears.

Can't complain.


Edited by balmagowry (log)

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Two points: first, despite what Cook's Illustrated says, there really is no such thing as "the best recipe" -- that is, people's tastes vary, and for every dish, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to prepare it. So to assume that all the recipes have already been printed (not that you're saying that) is naive.

Second, people may buy cookbooks for the recipes but that's not (by far) the only reason they buy them. The author's voice is at least as important, probably more so, than the actual recipes. And again, because people's tastes vary, different voices appeal to different people.

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If you check out the thread on Cookbooks: how many do you own?, you'll find that even those of us with hundreds (or even, yes, thousands!) still keep buying. Granted, we are not the "typical" audience, but we do represent pretty much all levels of skill and interest.

As one who owns a lot of cookbooks, and continues to buy new ones and "new" old ones and odd ones, and so on, I can say that there can never be too many cookbooks. Particularly ones that include anecdotes, funny saying, insight into the author's reasons for writing the cookbook.

I have never prepared a recipe from many of the cookbooks I own, however I have read most of them with great pleasure. The stories about the people and places the author has known, amusing or other incidents that have happened to them, odd events, etc., all contribute to my enjoyment of the book.

Some books contain recipes that might be similar to others I have but with a new twist, or a new way of preparing the dish that makes it easier or more complex, or just plain better.

Many times a recipe will give me an idea for something entirely different, a new path to take to a new level of cooking knowledge. They all have worth.

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Hey, if they can make a 'Movie or Fad' X cookbook (Yes, I now have a recipie for Wookie Cookies thanks to the Star Wars Cookbook)....

I find myself looking for 'cookbooks' that lean more towards culinary theory, personally. 'The Joy of Cooking' is pretty universal, if a bit rudimentary in parts. Some recipies just contain ingredients that I would never conceivably have on hand. I own the '30 Minute Meals' and 'Desparation Dinners' cookboks also.

There are plenty of possibilities. Just keep writing, and we'll keep reading!

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As one who makes her living working on cookbooks, among other books: I've sometimes wondered the same thing. Especially considering some of the books I've worked on. :rolleyes: And I always hear that really sexy (but cheap to produce) single-subject books are sellable.

Part of the problem is that the publishing (at least trade book publishing) is basically a stupid business. Not because it employs stupid people (though it does) but because its understanding of what makes books sell, what people need or want to buy, is very crude. And the system by which books are acquired, packaged, and sold encourages that crudeness, because the amount of time available to work on each book is very very small. For instance, the salesman who sells to the bookstore buyer has only ten or fifteen seconds per title to get an order. Which definitely gives an edge to books by the chef, restaurant, or fad of the moment. One advantage that cookbooks have is that a book that does well can have a much longer life in a high-priced hardcover edition than most other types of books.

But beyond the fad books, the way people eat and cook does change over time, so there will probably always be a need for new cookbooks.

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Hey, if they can make a 'Movie or Fad' X cookbook (Yes, I now have a recipie for Wookie Cookies thanks to the Star Wars Cookbook)....

Wookie cookies. Is that like cow pies?

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And I'd add that if a cookbook contains even one great recipe that I can add to my repertoire and use more than once, I count it as money well spent. But there are some books, however lovely, that I find I never cook from, and so, alas, they have to move on to their next incarnation. Reading cookbooks is endlessly enjoyable, and buying them is tax deductible for me, and so I do. However, giving them a permanent home in my limited bookcase space, well, they have to really earn that.

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Go for it, pierke! As in any genre, a well-written book is always a joy to find and read.

There is a lot of redundancy out there, but there's a lot of bad stuff in any genre. In 2002, the top-selling book in America, and the only book of any genre to sell more than 1 million copies, was the Fix-It-And-Forget-It Cookbook: 800 Recipes for Your Slow Cooker. It went on to sell over 2.5 million copies, because the publisher, an Amish couple that previously had published only quilting books, got it into Walmart and Sam's and pushed for end aisle displays. But if you read the reviews on Amazon.com, you'll see that most people are annoyed at the disorganized presentation and the repetitive recipes for beef and beans.

And then there are cookbooks like Lisa's (aka balmagowry) Lobscouse and Spotted Dog, and I can guarantee from personal experience that it's a great read!

Good luck with your cookbook!

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don't you feel in some ways (desire to make money from intellectual copyright aside) the web has made cookbooks obsolete? i would much rather post a question about ingredients and recipes to one of egullet's cooking or regional forums and get individual recipes and feedback and suggestions from people who make them. whenever anyone--here or offline--asks me to recommend an indian cookbook i tell them to first go to the india forum here and ask.

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don't you feel in some ways (desire to make money from intellectual copyright aside) the web has made cookbooks obsolete?

Mongo-perhaps in time what you envision will happen.

However speaking personally there's warmth that comes from reading/holding the printed page that the cold comfort of cyberspace can't ever match.

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Thanks for all your positive response. Only Mungo gives vent to my suspicion that the professional recipe writer will become extinct as soon as every home on this planet has his super fast internet connection (and that point in time isn’t that far off, I’m afraid). Although I myself belong to that group of people that buys almost every food related book it can lay its hands on and love to read them cover to cover leisurely in bed, I’m not so sure about book addiction in the computer orientated generation that’s growing up at this moment.

Most of your contributions are really uplifting; it gives me food for thought. That in another thread (which in the mean time I’ve read) in this forum people confess to be compulsory cookbook buyers doesn’t mean that this is pandemic. In my own circle of acquaintances buying books is not an every day occurrence and cookbooks you only buy once or twice in a lifetime (Mostly the Dutch equivalents for your Fannie Farmer and The Joy of Cooking).

When Moopheus states that there always will be a demand for cookbooks following the latest trends and fads, I want to interrupt and shout: but I don’t want to write a book like that!! (Although once on commission I did a book about the Montignac diet) Why are there so many bookshops on the internet that sell overstock and why is a big part of the books they sell cookery books?

It seems in this forum I ran into several people connected with writing and publishing cookbooks. And although in the US this maybe is a ‘stupid’ business, I think the approach to cookery writing in your country is much more professional than in Holland. There even are books written about how to write cookbooks. Amazing!! Over here, when I tell somebody that I earn my living with writing cookbooks and food related articles, I usually get a rather condescending: ‘Oh, how nice.” for an answer.

The philosophy behind why I’m writing in the first place is that I think there’s a lot of crap out there. The Dutch market is flooded with bad translations of cookbooks by English TV cooking celebrities, full of recipes in which the use of unobtainable ingredients is one of the major irritations. I want to write a cookbook with recipes that really work, that are tasteful and inventive and make use of ingredients that are available in the average Dutch supermarket and typical of Dutch cuisine. My biggest worry is that after a lot of trial and error I’ve come up with a novel way to combine a few ingredients into a flavourful recipe and that the next morning at the breakfast table, I see that the food writer in the morning paper decided to publish almost the same concept and gives it away for free. :shock:

Thanks for your support,

Pierke

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In my own circle of acquaintances buying books is not an every day occurrence and cookbooks you only buy once or twice in a lifetime (Mostly the Dutch equivalents for your Fannie Farmer and The Joy of Cooking).

I'm surprised to hear that, actually; Holland is (statistically speaking) one of the most literate nations, with a very high per capita rate of book buying.

but I don’t want to write a book like that!! (Although once on commission I did a book about the Montignac diet) Why are there so many bookshops on the internet that sell overstock and why is a big part of the books they sell cookery books?

Obviousy, interesting and good cookbooks can and do get published.

I'd guess the overstock dealers want cookbooks for the same reason bookstores do: people buy them. Especially considering that the list price of many cookbooks these days is in the $35-40 category.

Over here, when I tell somebody that I earn my living with writing cookbooks and food related articles, I usually get a rather condescending: ‘Oh, how nice.” for an answer.

That's a common experience of writers everywhere.

As for the internet replacing cookbooks, I guess it depends on what you buy cookbooks for, which can be more than just the recipe. Books have an efficiency and ease-of-use that the Internet basically still does not have. And vast amounts of information doesn't exist on the net yet. These things may change over time (so far, few people have been interested in electronic books), but for now the biggest threat to book publishing is book publishers.

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don't you feel in some ways (desire to make money from intellectual copyright aside) the web has made cookbooks obsolete? i would much rather post a question about ingredients and recipes to one of egullet's cooking or regional forums and get individual recipes and feedback and suggestions from people who make them. whenever anyone--here or offline--asks me to recommend an indian cookbook i tell them to first go to the india forum here and ask.

This is right on the money. ANY sort of first-hand cooking advice is always preferable to a cookbook. Not to say that cookbooks don't serve their purpose -- I have a shelf full of 'em, like most of y'all. But when I wanted to learn to make lasagna, I went to my MIL's house because she's an expert. Any time somebody gives me a recipe and says "this is a very good recipe for XYZ", that information is golden. Unless the said recipe-giver is a lousy cook. :wink:

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Hi Moopheus,

Don’t feel slighted by my ignorance of the book trade, for I’m a relative newcomer to this business. First of all I think I have the wrong friends! :smile: Since the coming of the Euro there’s a steady decline in book purchasing. I live near the university town of Groningen, which can boast of several good bookstores, but some of them are reorganizing and firing half of their personnel. Most of my life I’ve squandered a big part of my income on book (not alone cookbooks), but lately this has become too expensive, so now I only buy at closeouts and sales (and second hand). I think this goes for a lot of my countrymen.

Secondly I thought that bookshops selling overstocks, were selling those books that had disappointing sales figures and thus literally speaking are business fiascos. I’m not saying that those books are not well written, on the contrary! Maybe that’s what you mean by: the biggest threat to book publishing is book publishers.

Pierke


Edited by pierke (log)

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Pierke, do you think there would be a market for translations of some of the better cookbooks into Dutch? Granted, it is not as creative for you, but it would be a great service to cooks there.

(I will admit, though, that I make this suggestion in total ignorance of international publication rights.)

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(I will admit, though, that I make this suggestion in total ignorance of international publication rights.)

That's something that varies from one book to another. There will generally be clauses in the original publication contract specifying whether the author retains international rights or whether they're part of the package granted to the publisher (and if so under what conditions). So you'd start by contacting the publisher; if they hold the rights you deal with them; if they don't they should refer you to the author's agent, who will be able to tell you whether the rights have been sold, and if so to whom. And you take it from there.

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Pierke, do you think there would be a market for translations of some of the better cookbooks into Dutch?  Granted, it is not as creative for you, but it would be a great service to cooks there.

Suzanne,

About 90% of cookbooks published in Holland are translations from English, American, Australian and German!!!

I think most translations are done under a lot of time pressure, so even translations of books by such celebrities as Delia Smith would be more accurate if the translator did have sufficient time. In addition I think that most cookbooks aren’t translated by cooks, but I could be awfully wrong on this point. Dutch cuisine of course differs from English (and American) cuisine, so when you translate an English language cookbook verbatim problems arise that could only be overcome by editing. And I don’t think persons like Delia Smith or Nigella Lawson want there books being ‘tampered’ with. For instance, English authors make use of double cream, which is not obtainable in Holland. Translators either translate this with ‘slagroom’ (whipping cream), which definitely is not the same thing and makes the outcome of the recipe fail dismally. The more dedicated translator will state in a footnote that double cream isn’t available in Holland and that you’d better not try the recipe.

That’s one part of my complaint; the other half has nothing to do with the translation but with the scarcity of recipes in translated cookbooks that use normal everyday Dutch produce. This way certain legumes and vegetables that are typical for Holland don’t get the attention they deserve.

Pierke

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i always feel cheated if there isn't a story in the cookbook.

I remember the last time I bought a book without really looking at it, HIghly recommended by an article in the paper. I drove to the only store in the city that had a copy during a blinding snow storm (just had to have it) I had to park in a no parking zone, and walk about two blocks in this blinding snow storm and almost froze to death before I got into the store. I called the store from my cell phone (wonderful invention-no)after driving around searching for a parking spot - to have a copy at the front because of my parking situation, so I finally made it into the store, paid for the book and drove home thinking "how stupid am I" and "wouldn't it be a shame to smash up my vehicle all for a book" and "this better be worth it".

Well the book was OK sort of, but the article in the paper had more insight into the author-chef-restaurant owner, than the book did. No story about the restaurant, no story about the recipies, no story about the author, felt cheated.

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I think most translations are done under a lot of time pressure, so even translations of books by such celebrities as Delia Smith would be more accurate if the translator did have sufficient time. In addition I think that most cookbooks aren’t translated by cooks, but I could be awfully wrong on this point. Dutch cuisine of course differs from English (and American) cuisine, so when you translate an English language cookbook verbatim problems arise that could only be overcome by editing. And I don’t think persons like Delia Smith or Nigella Lawson want there books being ‘tampered’ with. For instance, English authors make use of double cream, which is not obtainable in Holland. Translators either translate this with ‘slagroom’ (whipping cream), which definitely is not the same thing and makes the outcome of the recipe fail dismally. The more dedicated translator will state in a footnote that double cream isn’t available in Holland and that you’d better not try the recipe.

That’s one part of my complaint; the other half has nothing to do with the translation but with the scarcity of recipes in translated cookbooks that use normal everyday Dutch produce. This way certain legumes and vegetables that are typical for Holland don’t get the attention they deserve.

Pierke

I asked not only to see if that might be something for you, but because of my experiences "translating" English and Australian cookbooks into American, and copyediting one by a Colombian author who supposedly wrote it in American English. :unsure: So I understand what you're getting at.

And I'm curious: what are some of those typically Dutch ingredients? Could they be substituted successfully for others in those books? (Most of what I know about Dutch food is cheese-- mmmmm, roomkaas :rolleyes: , peasoup, and hutspot met klapstuck (forgive my spelling, please).

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I hate googling recipes. The majority of recipes posted out there are trash because most people have no idea how to cook. (I'm talking about these no name sites where anyone can post a recipe.) The internet recipes I get are off Epicurious, Food Network, Egullet, and two bulletin boards where people that love to cook share their tried and true recipes. Most of my recipes come from cookbooks. I love looking through cookbooks. One of my favorite activities is going to Barnes and Noble to sip coffee and flip through more cookbooks. I can whip up meals without a recipe. I like cookbooks that give me lots of pictures and new ideas for entrees, salads, soups, desserts. I will also admit that I like well know chefs too...like Nigella, Barefoot Contessa, The Two Fat Ladys... I love reading about other peoples approaches to food and their comfort foods. I like to browse B&N before I buy so I know that the book contains recipes that I will use. I also like cookbooks from other cultures. I can't say that I know anything about Dutch cuisine. A Dutch cookbook would be very intriguing. You should have a website, Pierke. I love reading about interesting new foods. I'm now on the hunt for Maldon salt and caldoons. :biggrin: Give me some things from Holland that I must try! When I go to Europe, I'll be stopping in Amsterdam to see the Van Gogh collection.

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and hutspot met klapstuck (forgive my spelling, please).

that's not the beginning of an ethnic joke then

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