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home grown harvest


Tea with Bea

Cookbooks are, for many of us, very personal things. They can bring back wonderful memories or inspire us to new journeys.

And naturally, cookbook authors take great pride in their work. Especially great pride.

A fiction writer can just sit and write, plausibility be damned. A nonfiction author can do much of his research now on the web or just browse library stacks, a fairly passive activity.

A cookbook author has to create those recipes [implausible recipes are bad], then physically concoct them, and then perfect them. It’s a very different “writing” experience requiring time, patience and thoughtfulness. Plus all that physical activity.

That’s why when a cookbook author called me recently and said, “I need help,” I was happy to assist. She had written a wonderful book [which I will review] and someone on Amazon dinged her all over the place. She needed a good review on Amazon and I was happy to reply. Here is the start of the bashing she took:

“The book is unnecessarily large and heavy because it features many full page photographs and the font is quite large. I know everyone likes to look at pretty pictures of perfectly prepared food, but it is ultimately useless. This book could have been half the size, saving shelf and counter space.”

Now, I am not a psychiatrist, although I play one in my marriage, but I know one thing about this reviewer and strongly suspect another.

I know he lacks taste and imagination. Those photos help us and inspire us. In the case of this particular cookbook he disliked, the photos are often essential to let you understand the elegant way the dish can be plated and presented. As for the large font issue, well, the man has yet to turn 40. Just wait.

Now I can only suspect the following is true, but I believe the critic lives in New York City with a very small kitchen. My solution? Learn to live to with hallways and rooms containing a lot of books. Treat them as assets and not obstacles.

Although, I must, in fairness, say that there sometimes are strong reasons to favor smaller books. Maybe your apartment is already bursting. Maybe you want fifty recipes for some specific area and don’t have time to filter through five hundred. Maybe you are going by plane to visit the grandchildren and make cupcakes, and you don’t want to tote a five pound book through security.

There actually is a definite place for books that are smallish but outstanding. Where can you find those kinds of cookbooks? I recommend checking out the very strong line of books from the publisher Ryland, Peters & Small [www.rylandpeters.com]. Their books are typically about 100 pages, are primarily by British authors, and are both beautiful and substantive.

I have several of them now and I have begun blogging them. Look for more posts in the coming weeks. I began yesterday with a red bell pepper dip from Home-Grown Harvest, an exciting collection of recipes organized by the primary vegetable or fruit ingredient. Suzen just prepared half a dinner party out of this excellent book.

The publisher’s baking books, like Making Cupcakes with Lola and Tea with Bea, are delights. The recipes are stylish and distinctive. The photography, by Kate Whitaker in both those books, is breathtaking and inspiring.

I don’t think the typeface is too large, either.

In fact, these Ryland, Peters, & Small books represent just what we want: a perfect presentation of the art of the cookbook writer. Look for the upcoming blogs or try to find these books ahead of time and begin sampling.