A few weeks ago I read this Article, and a few days later bought Darra Goldstein’s ‘Beyond The North Wind. I am never more aware of the cultural differences between America and Britain as I am when I’m looking at American cookbooks (film and tv is so familiar I hardly notice the difference, the books I read old enough to make time more of a changing factor). Cookbooks are different.
Ingredients are not quite the same, nor are measurements - cups will never make more sense to me than grams, and the book covers speak of a different sensibility as well. As it goes I prefer the British covers, but then they’re the ones that I’m conditioned to, and whilst I think they’re objectively better designed, I don’t know if they’re better at selling books in their respective markets
However, I’m currently unemployed, have plenty of time to think about this kind of thinng, and the cover of ‘Beyond The North Wind’ has been bothering me. Especially when I compare it to Caroline Eden’s ‘Black Sea’ and Alissa Tomoshkina’s ‘Salt and Time’.
‘Black Sea’ is published by Quadrille who have done a series of really strikingly beautiful covers over the last couple of years - the sort of thing that really catches the spirit of the book. ‘Black Sea’ has a good argument for being the best cover of any I’ve seen. ‘Salt and Time’ is the most traditional cookbook of this trio, but it’s cover shows how rooted it is in a sense of place. ‘Beyond The North Wind’ looks like the most traditional cook book but isn’t.
It’s much more like ‘Black Sea’ in that it’s recipes are only half the story. The best part of both books are the essays. The recipes are great, but the writing about the stories and culture of the places they come from is what makes these books special. Once I started reading them the idea that I could cook the food felt like a bonus rather than the point.
I’m guessing that this mixing of history and travelogue with food writing is going to become ever more of a thing. Which works for me on all sorts of levels, not the least of them being that it’s a less frustrating way to read about obscure or difficult to source ingredients* because reading about them has become as interesting as cooking with them.
I’m not really convinced that books like ‘Black Sea’ or ‘Beyond The North Wind’ belong with cookery books. They defy such a simple categorisation, though imperfect as it is at least I’ll find them with food writing. I don’t spend a lot of time in the travel section. But this is also where the cover becomes so important. One of these books has a cover that tells you to expect more than food, the other doesn’t, which I think does it a disservice because it is more, much more, than that.
*Sea buckthorn for example. It’s not available in these parts, I’m not convinced it’s worth the trouble or expense of ordering online, and yet it’s become oddly ubiquitous. I dream of finding bird cherry flour.