Let’s start with the facts: I am not anti Twitter. In fact I signed up for Twitter a couple of weeks ago, on the advice of DeborahDawn and countless social networking articles (you can follow me at Modern_Domestic).
I may have joined the bandwagon, but I’m still not sure how I feel about Twitter. I’d still rather read a good news web site, or blog, or even (*gasp*) book, than my Twitter feed.
Which is why I felt especially conflicted when the New York Times reported that Twitter is taking on one of my favorite, time-honored food media sources: the cookbook.
The Times featured twitterer (tweeter?) Maureen Evans, who tweets recipes in 140 characters or less at twitter.com/cookbook. Amazingly, the recipes aren’t just standard fare (if I were tweeting recipes, I wouldn’t get further than buttered noodles).
Take this April 5th tweet:
Darjeeling Soup: fry leek&onion/T butter. Simmer15m+2c cauliflr/1tater&celery/4c Darj tea/s+p/bay. Rmv bay; puree+6T milk. Srv w nutmeg&pep.
It’s sophisticated (tea as entree), exotic, complicated, and not something you’d expect could be communicated via tweet. And, once you parse through the abbreviations, it’s easy to follow.
But, with all due respect to Maureen Evans, who seems like an ambitious and thoughtful home cook after my own heart, her tweets leave me cold. As a technical achievement, tweeting complicated recipes in 140 characters is impressive. But where is the soul? Where is the voice? And where are the detailed instructions?
I not only find cookbooks easier to follow, especially for tricky techniques (I’d never be able to follow a tweeted recipe for, say, pat a choux, or caramel sauce), but the bare bones tweets are missing the human and dynamic element that make cookbooks worth reading.
Take Nigella Lawson – what would her cookbooks be without her soulful, decadent, descriptive prose? When Nigella advises me to not color lime curd with food coloring, because the off-putting fake green color “prove[s] in one characteristically rash act that food is better left to its own devices,” I’m not just being warned off chemical dyes. Her breezy tone tells me not to worry about being perfect and to take my mistakes in stride. At the end of the day, she seems to say, my love for food will shine through my cooking.
And would “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” have become a seminal text for the home cook without the no-nonsense, yet deeply sympathetic writing of Julia Child? How can you not fall in love with the book when she declares, in the beginning of the chapter on eggs “wine and eggs have no great sympathy for each other?” Her straightforward writing calms me, making even the most complicated dish approachable. Reading it today, I completely understand why her writing was such a revelation to home cooks in the 1950s.
This probably makes me old fashioned. And maybe this means I’m weird – maybe normal people don’t sit down and read cookbooks cover to cover. But I’m a firm believer that cookbooks are more than just the sum of their recipes. A good cookbook should introduce you to a cook’s world view on food, eating, and cooking. Trying a new recipe is more than just following instructions – it’s an opportunity to inhabit someone else’s kitchen. I don’t think it’s possible to do that in 140 characters.
All the same, I still plan on linking to this post on my Twitter feed.