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Guest blog: A refreshingly old-fashioned angle on cookbooks

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When I got a yen for lentil soup last week, I understood more viscerally why I keep hearing the old-fashioned cookbook is dead. Instead of turning to one of my packed kitchen bookshelves, I searched online until I found a likely soup contender (the recipe at 101cookbooks.com, if you’re also in a soup mood. Try it with some extra vinegar and chiles.)

That casual dinner made it clear why recipes are so often published now in other forms, in memoirs or other narratives. Cooking directions alone have become easy to find.

The same week, though, I saw room for a different kind of challenge to that fading old cookbook model. It came in the form of  “Jam Today: A Diary Of Cooking With What You’ve Got,” one of the first releases by a new Oregon-based small press. The book’s point is creating meals without recipes, via a mix of stories and loose, casual cooking instructions. The tone is so conversational it could have been transcribed from a cooking show.

The truly unconventional part for me, though, was seeing the choice of a front cover blurb. It’s from the author/publisher’s husband: “The best food I ever ate.” Sweet, but most would have gone instead with one of the big-name raves relegated to the back cover, which bookstore browsers only see if the front has already piqued their interest. (One back-cover quote is courtesy of Deborah Madison, praising the book as “a complete pleasure to read,” one is from John Thorne, comparing author Tod Davies to quintessential food writer M.F.K. Fisher.)

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