Chef and cookery writer Diana Henry on the relevance of cookbooks in a digital age
The idea that online recipes are a threat to cookbooks, as is often suggested, is to miss the point of cooking. Cooking is not just about ingredients lists and methods; it’s about making connections. Cooking takes you on a journey, it opens you up to things you might never have thought to look for. People who enjoy cooking tend to enjoy physicality—feeling the ingredients with their hands—and you will only ever get that from books.
Right now, we are in a golden age of cookbook publishing. The availability of recipes online has meant that publishers are having to put more time and money into producing books that also work as objects, with great paper, a beautiful cover, lovely photography, and I don’t think sharing recipes online has had an impact on sales at all.
A book is a collection—it is put together as carefully as an exhibition, say, or a line of clothing. You just don’t get that experience from a single recipe. Buying a book is like picking up an album rather than downloading a song.
A good, reliable source
The trouble with online recipes is that there are such a lot of them and you’ve no idea which ones actually work. I worry that people are more likely to have disasters, which will subsequently put them off. So, if you are going to use online recipes, be sure to use a good, reliable source.
Every so often I do take my laptop over to the counter and I always end up thinking, am I nuts? It gets messy and I worry I’ll get water in it. The kitchen is not a place for that kind of equipment. Besides, we spend so many hours looking at a screen, when you get home from work it’s nice to look at something else.
I have a massive collection of cookbooks and even the ones that I don’t read any more, I would find hard to give away. Cookbooks are a record of your life. I don’t think they’re going anywhere.