Would Julia Child Tweet?

by moderndomestic on April 23, 2009

Cookbooks

Twitter ain't got nothin' on these babies.

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.

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On the Recipe Glut « ModernDomestic
May 7, 2009 at 8:13 am

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Rebecca April 24, 2009 at 8:49 am

I agree with you. Something is lost when you are only given 140 characters. I recently read an article that I can’t find now because I don’t even remember the publication. But anyways, I read an article discussing how people use their Facebook status and Twitter to tell the world fairly personal stuff, but then if someone follows up with questions, people don’t wish to elaborate. Why put something out there if not to elaborate and incite further discussion? Just with a recipe which of course I and you also i believe view as a starting off point. A place to begin with the end result being something you create with the ingredients you had, or the ones that came at the right price, or that just taste better.

Not much room to argue with 140 characters.

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moderndomestic April 24, 2009 at 9:23 am

Interesting – I would like to see that article. I know that part of the point of Twitter is that it allows a “conversation” amongst participants, and it does – but that’s the part that I find really hard to keep up. To really make social media work I feel like you have to be fully engaged in the medium – and I don’t have the time to Twitter AND blog AND be on Facebook all day.

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Maureen April 27, 2009 at 10:52 am

My web-wandering partner pointed out your post to me, and I thought I’d offer my two beans’ worth.

I agree that full-text cookbooks are full of soul and story. I love reading the “real things”, and have carried cookbooks all over the world with me. But ‘a’ does not preclude ‘b’. There’s room and purpose for both in our world. Let me explain what I see as the purpose of @cookbook.

You ask, “Where is the soul? Where is the voice? And where are the detailed instructions?” In the case of @cookbook, these are in the mind and hands of the reader. The recipes are irreducible process maps, and like all maps, they guide people to innumerable experiences.

Minimal instructions permit a variety of implementations — culturally and experientially relative interpretations — which renders ‘perfection’ irrelevant. In short, a lot of people find @cookbook’s brevity encouraging, which in turn makes them crack open more cookbooks at home.

Encouragement is what @cookbook is all about — it’s definitely not about improving upon full cookbooks!

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foodietots May 2, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Julia Child actually *does* Tweet (@Julia_Child), so you can ask her yourself. Yes, obviously an impersonator but there’s nothing like getting an email announcing, “Julia Child is now following you on Twitter!” :)

But seriously, I’ve been on twitter for a while and while I can’t say I’ve ever made a recipe from @cookbook, I do frequently find it a source of inspiration. It’s also a great resource — there are so many food pros and bloggers who are willing to answer questions or give advice. So Julia Child may not have tweeted her recipes, but she could’ve clarified them or given helpful tips to her fans.

(@foodietot)

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Patrick May 2, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Taking on the title’s question directly, I think Julia would totally tweet. She was cognizant of her own raw and amused reactions to food and cooking, and I think she knew those reactions were at the core of what attracted her to the experience and craft.

I’m not a cook, but I do like food writing; and what works on Twitter for me with food is those kinds of raw reactions. Recipes, whatever, people will try to squeeze whatever into 140 characters. But if they can express a moment of their surprise or happiness or anger with food into that space and catch my attention, I’ll absolutely follow them to wherever that reaction began. Child knew that about people, I think. Like everyone, her public persona was indulging her core to some degree, but you have to figure she saw the effects and they enabled and helped direct her.

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