As many of you know, when Gourmet Library was suddenly shuttered, there remained a scholarly collection of more than 3500 cookbooks whose fate was undetermined. Within the food community there was great concern about what was to happen. Either someone buys the collection or regrettably the collection would be broken up and each book sold for $4. The real value in keeping books together is their “curated content” (a phrase I learned yesterday at the Publishers Weekly seminar). I had the opportunity, and honor, to be the one to buy the collection and donate it to New York University in honor of my beautiful mother, Marion Gold. She was the one who encouraged me, at a time when women were anathema in professional kitchens, to pursue my passion. In 1976 I dropped out of graduate school (at New York University, no less!) and cooked in any kitchen that would have me. In 1978, I became, at age 23, the first chef to New York Mayor Ed Koch and lived in Gracie Mansion.
And yes, it all started with a cookbook. One that I carried around with me since I was five. I don’t think it was the “Joy of Cooking” but a simple “Golden Book” my mother had given me. How I long to have that book in my library at home! As I learned yesterday, cookbook sales are steady and strong, despite the millions of recipes available on the Internet. I encourage you to read the lovely comment made yesterday by “Barn” (see comments below.) It best describes the reason there will always be a market for cookbooks. For it is the experience we crave, not merely the mechanics of preparing a dish.
She says, “There isn’t anything I enjoyed more after a long day than a cookbook on my lap and a cup of tea by my side. As I flipped through the pages carefully considering each recipe, not only did I visualize myself cooking the dish when I would eventually get the time, but as I read the list of ingredients I could taste it.” Thank you, Barn, for sharing that.
So, too, are some of my happiest moments, even to this day. Curled up in bed reading a book — one of those special ones that creates a sense of longing and connects us to some ancient hunger.
I also want to thank Gerd Stern who commented on the inclusion of Neruda in my poem, for Mr. Stern is one of the great poets and multi-media artists alive today. And if that’s not enough, he was also president of the American Cheese Society. A man after my own heart.
What I learned yesterday: The average cookbook has 225 recipes. In order for cookbook publishing to thrive, publishers need to monetize recipes outside the book. E-books are definitely on their way into our kitchens but their quality must be improved. Will Schwalbe, founder and CEO of Cookstr.com, said that the real competition of cookbooks was Jet Blue, Dr. Spock, and the local gym. People don’t read on planes anymore (they watch the news); parents actually spend time with their kids (and aren’t reading), and they spend their free time at the gym (and aren’t reading.) The future? People will have very sophisticated, high-quality printers at home and will be able to print books at a moment’s notice.
Your turn: Let me know which cookbook — old or new — has brought you the most pleasure.
Dish of the day: In honor of Gerd, this is one of the most delicious cheese and fruit combinations I’ve discovered: Aged Gouda (as old as you can find it) and moist, fleshy Medjool dates.