Friday, June 27, 2008

Labor of Love

Ever had a cookbook which while not that compelling is impossible to throw away? Perhaps, it's the book you learnt from, or a book so heavily annotated with your notes that there's no replacing it? There are even cookbooks which you absorb completely but are completely unable to discard for sentimental reasons.

The strangest category must be cookbooks that are clearly labors of love. They may be far from perfect; they are almost certainly filled with historical nonsense; they may even be variations on a single theme that could easily be condensed into far fewer pages. And yet, try as you might to get rid of them, you can't help holding on to them.

Maybe next time.

And next time comes and goes, and then the next, and the next, and you know in your heart of hearts you're never going to discard this tatty old book but you keep putting it on the discard pile, and just as impulsively removing it before the cull.

The CC has an Iraqi cookbook. Horribly edited, and endlessly repetitious, this is clearly the work of an amateur. And yet, it has all the hallmarks of a life lived. Flipping through the pages, you get the sense that this is nothing more than a notebook of a truly excellent cook, hurriedly edited and published, quite possibly with private funding.

Another is a book on Indian breads. What little there is to know about the variety of Indian breads can be taught in an extended afternoon or two. Perhaps three. What matters is the stuffings, and one doesn't need to list the basic technique repetitiously just the elaborate insides. Also, clearly, a modest personal notebook but badly edited, this time by an editor trying to expand modest material into a whole book.

Strange beings these works.

What makes these books so compelling? They are not failures; far from it. Perhaps they are reminders of a journey of knowledge that we once embarked upon, that we too were stupid and naïve once.

Or the strange leap of the heart when you flip through one and an old favorite reappears. Haven't made that in years, must do that someday soon, and look here's the one we made back then when ...

Most likely, it's the realization that cooking for all its flairs and fancies is ultimately rooted in the physical reality of people cooking for other people. And what could be more lovely than that?

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