AppreciationWhy I rarely skim cookbooks (but rather read them)

Why I rarely skim cookbooks (but rather read them)

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Reading time: 3:00min | The Coronavirus crisis helped sell cookbooks in droves because what’s else to do but cooking when locked-in at home? Though they can be inspirational cookbooks can also be frustrating and overselling.

In the wake of the pandemic, there’s not only one virus changing our social fabric, society’s values, and the world’s face as we know it, other viruses are spreading around that people are contracting by the day. These viruses are spreading mentally and have distinct impacts. When in spring 2020 the first lockdown was imposed a gardening virus started spreading, even affecting people who always felt immune from gardening. In humanity’s history never have gardens experienced so much care.

But there are less favourable viruses spreading. One is the virus of the virus deniers. It’s a virus that works like a mental vaccination just without the benefits of a physical vaccination. People believe that one can’t contract the virus because it’s a hoax. Unfortunately, when people catch that particular virus, they don’t become immune to the mother virus. They can still contract it and die from it. In IT tech speak, this virus works like a sidecar file which considerably amplifies through the behaviour of the infected the virulence of the biological virus, and thus is a welcome side effect — from the virus’s perspective.

Another virus that has been emerging was the bread baking sourdough virus which is still catching people on the hop. That virus made me an avid hobby bread baker and sourdough alchemist. Like my ancient ancestors, I don’t need a baking mixture or industrial yeast from the supermarket to bake official loaves of bread anymore. I can do it all by myself. I only need flour, water, salt and some time. And it can be almost any kind of bread — as long as it is proper bread like Italian country-style wheat bread or dark Bavarian rye bread. And I don’t need a recipe for tasty bread because I finally understand how bread baking works from the inside.

Which brings me to cookbooks. The truth be told, baking is only part of a broader nutrition concept of which cooking is central and has become an essential mental soothing predicament in the pandemic. Cooking’s magic works in four stages, all effectively distracting very well from the monotony of a lockdown.

The first stage is the exciting question of what to cook. If we don’t know what’s all out there to eat, we will end up with counterproductive standard meals that add to the monotony. That’s the moment when a cookbook does wonder. Myriads of mouth-watering photos motivate us to look into the remotest cooking cultures and learn about the people and the fascinating places that come with the food.

The second stage is to select a recipe and to buy the ingredients. That can be an interesting and time-consuming endeavour because the more fabulous the photos are, the more difficult it will be to find the exotic herbs and vegetables.

The third stage is cooking itself. That is the part where the reckoning with reality kicks in. The chances are high that despite all our efforts, the result won’t look remotely like the photos on page 33. But even though we managed to achieve a similar-looking dish, we still will be forced to face reality in stage four.

In stage four, we eat. And that can be a revelation — in all possible directions.

In the end, cooking has a lot to do with how things are treated and less so with what kind of fish or vegetable is in the recipe because cooking is foremost a craft of creation and rarely like muesli a mere assembly of right ingredients.

In the case of my research of home-grown sourdough-based bread baking, I found out that it’s all about fermentation, moisture, temperature, heat and timing. As with science and art, with cooking too, I’m more inspired by the How and the Why and less so by the What. If I bought a cookbook, I would opt for the book with the most text and the least photos because shooting food is easy, thinking food is difficult. A source for cooking I regularly enjoy is the food section of The New York Times. Highly recommended.