Top 5 Lessons Learned Writing Cookbooks – Lessons 4 & 5

This a segment from Top 5 Lessons Learned Writing Cookbooks – a piece that I wrote and read aloud at Litquake 2011 at San Francisco’s Mission Cheese.


Lesson 4:
“Cookbook” is now one word, but back in the day it used to be two: I’ve given up on finding out when this change transpired and why. “Kosher” salt is not capitalized. There are at least six variations on the spelling of “kim chee”.

‘Nuff said.

Lesson 5:
Learn to love your own books, their quirks, their flaws, and their errors, and the fact that you can’t change their lame analog nature after the fact.

The digital world has made me very impatient. I can change a word, a font, or an ingredient with a fast click. But for now, old school analog held-in-your-hands cookbooks are still King – though some in the publishing world are predicting their eventual dethroning – and I constantly struggle with the limitations of the printed word.

I know of one mistake in my first book, Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It, and of two errors in Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It. There’s one photo in one book that I absolutely despise, and a number of tiny details that I wish I had had the foresight to make different. There are numerous recipes from both books that I wish I could revise, but I can’t, because the trees have been chopped, the ink has been laid, and the books are in print, as they are, and that’s how they are going to stay. I constantly have to remind myself that writing a cookbook is just a snapshot of a moment in time, and that a recipe is just a single utterance and point of view in a wonderful and continuously evolving conversation about food. And while I may think of a thousand different ways to have done it better, said it better, or make it taste better, it’s a conversation that I hope to continue to stir and to mix.

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