Web has all the ingredients to be greatest recipe book

Net results: many of us increasingly turn to the web for cooking ideas

Sales of celebrity cookbooks in Britain rose 250 per cent in 2012, with Jamie Oliver the second biggest selling author ever in any genre in the UK, trailing only JK Rowling, according to research by Ocado.

Sales of celebrity cookbooks in Britain rose 250 per cent in 2012, with Jamie Oliver the second biggest selling author ever in any genre in the UK, trailing only JK Rowling, according to research by Ocado.

 

The last of the considerable strawberries in the garden were shouting to be picked, and the destination of choice for them became the largest pot in the kitchen – for jam.

But how to make it? The process itself isn’t a mystery. I’ve made jam on and off for years; taught on summer holidays by my grandmother, in her little Wisconsin kitchen, how to melt paraffin wax to form a seal before adding the screw top lid to that US canning favourite, the Mason jar.

No one uses paraffin anymore. It’s the cooking equivalent of the floppy disk.

Anyway, there I was with about five litres of strawberries, some rhubarb, and a need for a little creative input.

So I went to the world’s greatest recipe book: the web.

All you need to do is type in your prospective ingredients, and back comes a range of choices from a plethora of sources – cookery sites, online magazines, big name celebrity chefs, adventurous food blogs.

I could do strawberry rhubarb jam with lemon, or orange, or vanilla. I could use honey rather than sugar.

Maybe add some other type of berries (we are swamped with loganberries too). How about poshing things up with a dollop of Grand Marnier?

Meanwhile on the shelves nearby sat my much-loved collection of cookbooks, well thumbed and food-splattered. But they are not my go-to resource for quick recipe ideas any longer.

Yet I love cookbooks; always have. I must have half-learned to read from my mother’s broken-spined, 1950s edition of the Joy of Cooking, the thick volume that has graced generations of American kitchen shelves.

What 10-year-old wouldn’t devour this book? Not only were the peanut butter cookies the best ever (and easy to make), but Joy had explanations on how to prepare and cook terrapin and squirrel, sadly missing from later editions. The bits on opening the terrapin shells or skinning squirrels were satisfyingly horrific.


Cooking ideas
I still can easily spend an evening lost in a cookbook. But like many of us, increasingly I turn to the web for cooking ideas. When the cupboard is bare and only an unlikely mix of possible ingredients is available for dinner, throw them all in a search engine and there’s always something to make.

The only comparably efficient tool is my chef brother, who can magic up a tasty supper after staring into the refrigerator for a few minutes.

Yet the print cookbook continues to hold its own in publishing. Despite the growth of the tablet market – a seemingly attractive display device for a recipe – cookery remains a weak category in ebooks, according to publishers at an ebook conference I attended last year in Dublin.

Yet cookery has been one of the strongest categories for print books. In the US this sector actually grew during the recession, up a modest 2.2 per cent between 2006-11 as consumers splurged on cookbooks to eat and entertain at home instead of going out.

“Although external competition from online recipe sources is escalating, consumer demand for printed cookbooks continues to rise,” according to
analyst IBISWorld.

The UK book industry bible The Bookseller says the UK cookbook market had bumper years in 2010 and 2011. In 2011 sales were worth £87 million, up £20 million on 2006.


Celebrity cookbooks
Sales of celebrity cookbooks in Britain rose 250 per cent in 2012, with Jamie Oliver the second biggest selling author ever in any genre in the UK, trailing only JK Rowling, according to research by Ocado.

Yet the same survey found only one in 10 people actually opened and used those celeb cookbooks. And maybe that’s where the truth lies, as well as the threat for the future of the print cookbook.

Perhaps most of us increasingly like print cookbooks as attractive aesthetic items, while preferring the ease of the web for sourcing ideas on what to cook right now.

If so, then ironically we are slowly moving to a place where we were told we would be (and never quite got to) in the early 1980s.

Back then the first home PCs were sold as handy tools for cataloguing recipes, as well as doing home finances and playing games.

It always seemed a dubious use of a desktop PC to me, given that you had to type in the recipes, then print out whatever you wanted to use, as not many people kept a clunky desktop computer on the kitchen counter.

Yet here I sit in a new century, googling up thousands of strawberry rhubarb jam recipes in a nanosecond, on a device smaller than the Joy of Cooking but which sits just as easily in my cookbook holder.

I have to be more wary of food splatters, of course. But in time the future of the recipe and the cookbook is surely going to be digital.