Cookbooks have been on my mind lately. It started with a few readers contacting me to ask about my favourite cookbooks. Then for my Masters subject last semester, I wrote and delivered a presentation on the future of cookbooks, which involved many hours of research into sales, trends and the differences between print and digital offerings. I made a few optimistic predictions, and now I’m wondering if they were a little premature.
Last week the food publishing scene in Australia suffered a huge loss with the news that Penguin’s well-known food and lifestyle imprint, Lantern, will scale back its publications. Lantern’s publisher, the delightful Julie Gibbs, is set to depart by the end of the year. In other sad news, ABC shops will also disappear from Australian shopping centres as they move to a purely online retail presence. Ugh – it’s left me a little depressed.
It’s clear that the food publishing industry is experiencing challenging times, particularly in Australia where our bookselling landscape is still recovering from the demise of Red Group (Borders) and Angus & Robertson. Another major Australian publisher, Murdoch Books, was swallowed by Allen & Unwin back in 2012. Finding a way to commercialise digital cookbook content is another big issue.
Despite all my research this year, I feel uncertain of what the future holds for cookbook publishing in Australia. Simon Thomsen, a well-known Australian food writer, writes on Business Insider that, “cutbacks at Lantern essentially herald the end of the golden era of cookbook publishing.” Say it isn’t so!
I do know that there are a lot of people out there who, like me, love and treasure print cookbooks. So I thought I’d introduce a monthly post about cookbooks as well as an Instagram hashtag # cookbookchat for cookbook lovers to share our favourites. You can find me on Instagram @salwilsonwords. Let’s spread the cookbook love!
The theme for July is: what cookbooks are you cooking from at the moment? These are the books with recipes you’ve tried; the pages probably have a spatter here or there. Whether the books are new releases or well-loved classics, I’d love to see and read about the dishes you’ve been whipping up.
I’ll go first. Here are my July cookbook favourites:
Made in Italy by Silvia Colloca
I was given this gorgeous cookbook last Christmas after providing a few not-so-subtle hints to my husband. I’d enjoyed reading Silvia’s blog, Silvia’s Cucina, and I was intrigued by the book’s focus on lesser known Italian regions like Abruzzo, Molise, and Marche. Most of the recipes come with a substantial, well written headnote describing the provenance of the dish. I also love the book’s paper stock and the stunning photography by Carla Coulson and Chris Chen, two of the best in the business (and it’s published by Lantern). Recipes I’ve made include the torta di mele, broken pasta and lentil soup, noodles with zucchini blossom, and the apricot and olive oil cake. If you love Italian food, I highly recommend it.
One Dish, Two Ways by Jane Kennedy
I love the premise for this cookbook: cook one meal for the whole family, but adapt it so the kids and adults have slightly different versions. Not only are the recipes practical (Jane is a mother of five, after all), but you’ll laugh out loud at her keeping-it-real commentary. Some of our favourite dishes include the zucchini and carrot fritters, Vietnamese pork meatballs, grilled BLT salad, and Pad Thai. Oh and it also contains the recipe for Mamasita’s corn on the cob (which you MUST try if you’re in Melbourne). One for busy parents (and that’s all of us, right?!)
The Feast Goes On by Monday Morning Club
You know you’ve found a good cookbook when it looks like the picture below. I absolutely love the story of the Monday Morning Cooking Club (read about it on their website) and the work they do in preserving treasured recipes from the Jewish community and beyond. The book weaves recipes, history and personal recollections in a way that leaves a powerful impression on the reader. And most importantly, every dish I’ve made has been delicious: zucchine marinate, pollo con salsa, salmon crumble, and the prune and chocolate cake to name a few. It’s a great gift for family members who love to cook.
Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson
I’m an unabashed fan of Nigella and I’ve cooked so many dishes from this book since I bought it about eight years ago. It’s packed with simple recipes with headnotes written in Nigella’s signature tone, and I can just imagine her nibbling on leftovers at the fridge while I read them. Dishes that regularly feature on our weeknight repertoire include the mirin-glazed salmon, sesame and peanut noodles, and the noodle soup for needy people (love this recipe title!). Perfect for fuss-free family dinners and impromptu entertaining.