Guest blog: Old-fashioned cookbooks or online recipe sites?

Why one cook prefers to work with old-style cookbooks.

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One of the advantages of online recipe sites, as Publishers Weekly notes, is the vast ghostly army of reviewers who rate given recipes and give advice on how to tweak them.

It’s an advantage that printed cookbooks don’t have – hence a new social networking site, Cookbooker.com, trying to encourage users to list the cookbooks they own and rate individual recipes. It’s an interesting, inside-out twist on the tension between print and online.

If you are thinking about buying "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics," for instance, one of the books most owned by Cookbooker members, you can see reviews of four recipes, all given four or five stars (out of five). Eight people weighed in with reviews of recipes from "The Moosewood Cookbook," all four or five stars except for the 3-star stuffed squash with apple filling (where the reviewer did honestly note that, “Truth is, I don't like stuffed squash very much, and this only seemed average to me.”)

Recommended: Books

PW noted that that the site has a few hundred registered members so far, and that its success “will, like most of the Web, [depend] largely on the masses joining in.”

"Mark Bittman’s "How to Cook Everything" features some 2,000 recipes, but only 23 of them appear on Cookbooker. There are no recipes reviewed from the new and popular "Gourmet Today," "Momofuku," or "The Pioneer Woman Cooks"; other timely titles, such as "So Easy" by Ellie Krieger and "My New Orleans" by John Besh aren’t even listed (though it’s easy for users to add them)," said the article.

Even as the site grows, though, I’m not sure it’ll be one for me. What I’ve found with my cookbooks over time is that most are either keepers or they’re not, the authors either match my tastes pretty well or they don’t. A review of the whole book – which is already readily available – is more useful to me than a recipe-by-recipe critique.

It’s possible that I’ve made a dud recipe from "Joy of Cooking" (although if I have I don’t remember it), but I’d already be inclined to give its cranberry sauce or banana bread a test run based on its overall good record in my kitchen. The fact that two Cookbooker reviewers gave those recipes a thumbs-up doesn’t change my feelings one way or another. It also seems unlikely that any single recipe, given the hundreds of options in most cookbooks, would accumulate the critical mass of reviews that makes the recipes on online sites so valuable. If 25 people loved a particular cranberry sauce, or felt it wasn’t up to the book’s usual standards, that might sway me.

But overall, Cookbooker just convinces me that published cookbooks have a place all their own, apart from recipe sites. Even when they’re collections of recipes, without lengthy narratives or teaching tools, they have a collective weight that makes them something more.

Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com.

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