- Shelagh Clancy
Across the Board
In the specialized world of cookbook writing there are many nooks and crannies. Walk through the cookbook section of a chain bookstore and you’ll be astonished by the variety and sheer volume of new cookbooks. Their gorgeous covers and celebrity names reach out to you…. Now try to leave the bookstore without just one teensy cookbook.
Cooking has changed. Home cooking declined for many years, but lockdowns and restaurant closings during the pandemic brought many people back to the kitchen. Many of these would-be cooks were reluctant; some couldn’t boil an egg. Cookbooks full of beautiful photos offer ideas as much as recipes.
Charcuterie’s moment has arrived. The term has grown to include not just spreads of meats and meat dishes but an attractive board that may include fruits, cold salads, pickles, cheeses, dips, etc. The real beauty of it, though, is that there’s no actual cooking involved. You can make a delicious dinner or a party board and never turn on the stove. (Need ideas for tonight’s supper? Check out Pinterest or Instagram.)
Publishers Weekly recently surveyed new charcuterie cookbooks with a sampling from Spanish tapas to Korean banchan. Books reviewed include overviews of board possibilities and, more enticingly, Snacks for Dinner. Of course there are recipes too, because every board is better with a little something homemade.
Lessons from the Board
These popular volumes have lessons for the modern cookbook author:
Photography is essential. Nowadays, if someone can’t boil an egg, they google it. People no longer learn to cook from a text tome like the Joy of Cooking. Instead, they want to look at a photo of a dish and see if it looks enticing. Hire a photographer if you can, because food styling is tricky.
Time is of the essence. Cookbooks should include times, including prep time and total cooking time. And keep those times short, especially for side dishes, even if you have to adjust the recipe.
Find a niche. Don’t try to cover every eventuality in your cookbook. Take a Mediterranean or Japanese theme, or focus solely on fish, or try a vegan-Tyrolean-fondue motif. Well, not really. But a limited scope makes your cookbook stand out from the crowd. Bon appétit!