The Beauty of Cookbooks

Text and photography by Elodie Bellegarde

Dusty, forgotten, heavy, illustrated, instructive, scribbled, stained, tarnished, textured, worded. Not one adjective can describe the tangible beauty of a cookbook. Its many sizes, cuisines and designs make a cookery book an object of wonder and delight.

A new acquisition at the local bookstore or from the hand of the deliveryman is like an early birthday present to oneself. It holds the promise of renewal in the kitchen. It also implies a near future trip to the grocery store or local market. Reading it, we are transported to foreign lands or into the author’s kitchen, devouring with our eyes his or her concoctions. A cookbook is more than just a compilation of culinary instructions. The whole experience suggests a return to food basics and an appreciation of old things. Flicking through the pages of an old edition of a classic feels like being in possession of a gem. The distinctive smell of the tarnished pages adds a dusty olfactive note to the cooking experience. Being in possession of an overused old classic brings out the historical and cultural nature of the book. Whether this acquisition will become a staple in our kitchen life or be sent to archive, its tangible self will peacefully await on the bookshelves.

I collect cookbooks. I like the feel of holding, looking and smelling a cookbook. My favourite ones are at arm’s reach, ostentatiously displayed on my kitchen bookshelves. They sometimes spend days on the kitchen or bedside table. When resting on the kitchen table, they become a companion and an inspiration. Flicking through the pages for recipes gives me ideas for evening meals or friends’ gatherings. I would not necessarily follow them to the letter, instead using the title and list of ingredients more as a base to create something of my own. For those cookbooks that lay on the bedside table, their usage has a different purpose. Commonly known as coffee table cookbooks, I take delight in their images, using them to dream a little about a dish or how its authors have managed to recreate and convey such beauty into one image. I comfort myself at the idea that those cookbooks are always nearby and no matter how many times I’ve turned their pages, there will always be an enchanting surprise awaiting me within their contents.

Read more in The U Press N˚9 (Singapore edition).