On a trip to Paris a while back, I stopped in a bookshop on a quest for cookbooks. There were many fine volumes, but one in particular stood out as a must-have.
Les Conserves is a glossy, photo-packed soft-cover (Produced by a French division of Reader’s Digest! Why don’t they make such lovely books for English readers?) is ideal for a French neophyte like me. Just look at this recipe for grape preserves.
You can see for yourself that the recipes in Les Conserves are supporting players to the photography. An interested cook can look over these images and gain insights on preparation, presentation and usage information in just a few seconds before deciding whether to invest a number of minutes processing the written details.
As much as I love words (I do make my living from them), I wonder if more cookbooks shouldn’t handle instructions visually.
There’s already been so much said about how we eat with our eyes, but the great majority of serious cookbooks contain little more than a centerfold of finished dishes in limited-utility glamour shots (if they contain photographs at all).
The cookbooks that do contain lots of photography and illustration seem to aim more at the coffee-table book audience than the folks who really want to learn to cook. So where, I ask, are the genre of serious instructional cookbooks that embrace the visual presentation of the useful as well as the lovely?
Well, perhaps they’re in France. Perhaps they’re made by Reader’s Digest.
Have a look at the way the ingredients for the Grape Preserves are laid out for prospective cooks here. It’s as if they really do want to instruct and inspire.
For those who read even less French than I, I’ll offer a translation of the recipe in question:
Grape Preserves AKA -Confiture de Raisins (Makes 1.25 liters/5.3 cups)
1 kg (2 lb) green or red grapes, plucked
2 lemons, cut in halves and sliced thin
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup pecans, lightly toasted
1/2 cup cognac brandy
- Put the grapes, lemons and sugar in a saucepan. Mix well, cover and let sit for a few hours to let the fruit macerate.
- Bring to a boil, then cook on medium heat 1 hour to 1 hour, 30 minutes, stirring frequently so that the bottom does not stick.
- It is unnecessary to test the degree of gelatin for this jam; it is ready when a wooden spoon pulled over the surface leaves a wake.
- Remove the pot from heat and let the jam stand for a few minutes before putting it in jars (this prevents the fruit from falling to the bottom). Add, in turn, pecans and cognac. Ladle the mixture into sterilized hot jars, then seal with lids.
I’m going to spend the rest of the week focusing on preserves of one type or another. Thrift and handmade charm seem to make them an appropriate topic for this year.