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What makes a good cookbook? And what are your favourites?

 
Posts: 47
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Let's see if the slow internet has sped up enough to upload... my current cookbook collection. I told myself "I need to cull 15-20 books before I let myself get one new one", but I caved and bought "The Dehydrator Bible" since I took the picture, because I couldn't resist getting a companion for my new dehydrator. ;)
IMG_2943.jpeg
cookbook collection
cookbook collection
 
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That is an impressive collection!

Thank you for posting. I've been a bit slow with replies lately because I only have internet access on the phone right now. I am thinking a lot about cookbooks and working more on mine, and will come back here with more questions and thoughts soon : )

My cookbook collection is small, but the library here is really good so I get lots of books from there. Right now I'm reading 'Local Breads' to further my sourdough skills, and I just finished 'The Hands On Home', which I got the library to order in for me based on Permies reviews.
 
Penny Oakenleaf
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Kate Downham wrote:That is an impressive collection!

Thank you for posting. I've been a bit slow with replies lately because I only have internet access on the phone right now. I am thinking a lot about cookbooks and working more on mine, and will come back here with more questions and thoughts soon : )

Our house internet is literally between dial up and antique. I usually use my phone as a hotspot to get a reliable connection if uploading or downloading anything. The unlimited cellular data plans really are worth it, even when the connection is usually metered during "peak hours".

My cookbook collection is small, but the library here is really good so I get lots of books from there. Right now I'm reading 'Local Breads' to further my sourdough skills, and I just finished 'The Hands On Home', which I got the library to order in for me based on Permies reviews.



My largest problem is, that I am pursuing a more minimalist lifestyle, but I absolutely adore the feeling of leafing through books for my information. (And please conveniently ignore the towering stacks of craft supplies and books off camera that I'm attempting to consolidate into a more reasonable collection). I have a great library system available to me, but I'm often not brave enough to run out with three toddlers and little kids to really peruse books, and can never finish the ones I do check out within the 3 week loan period, so I end up buying them used when I find them, or being gifted them off my wishlist for holidays and birthdays. I'm slowly leafing through them, saving the recipes I want, and then sending them on their way through used bookstores, or if I happen upon a local book swap, at the book swap.
 
Kate Downham
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I’ve been working a little on the book today after a busy morning planting stuff. It is exciting to be making progress. It is happening slower than I would have liked, and I’ve met some frustrations along the way, but it feels so good today to be writing about baking, and I think by doing this slowly I am creating a better book.
 
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so some suggestions if i may add my opinion.

-Having recipes for dishes which are actually really easy to make but seem like a lot of work to make when you could just buy them from a store. Example nixamalization, corn tortillas, nut butters, ketchup.
-I really appreciate when cookbooks explain things. Like for instance in sally fallons book she lists using Bulgar flour in her flaky pie crust, and i know what she is saying is to use a flour which has been soaked and dried and ground. Even tho this isn't said specifically.
-Ive read books which list ingredient in "add 6 medium beets", honestly i found this challenging because my beets are all over the place it seems. Or ingredients like use 3 fennel bulbs when my bulbs are gigantic. maybe this isn't so important, i find it more annoying to have to think about it when i am trying to make dinner after having a busy day. which doesn't end with dinner....

-to me having pictures has always been a let down, i almost always make it different than what the photos show. Or if you do use photos maybe show photos which are not perfect?
-I also always try and make recipes with what i have on hand(I make a goat curry with a chicken curry recipe), so having flexibility in your recipes. I often combine recipes from a few different books to get an idea of what i could make more suited to what ingredients i have on hand.
- i agree on the add salt as being a non-specific amount
-I really like it when the cook book suggest visual clues as to when to add things, ie when the onions are soft.  

I would recommend Kay Baxters Change of heart cookbook to you. I really like the style of it, it shows which foods are available in which season and offers foods for the season. No sweet peppers in January.

that is about it
Have loads of fun with making the cook book:D
 
Kate Downham
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jordan barton wrote:
so some suggestions if i may add my opinion.

-Having recipes for dishes which are actually really easy to make but seem like a lot of work to make when you could just buy them from a store. Example nixamalization, corn tortillas, nut butters, ketchup.
-I really appreciate when cookbooks explain things. Like for instance in sally fallons book she lists using Bulgar flour in her flaky pie crust, and i know what she is saying is to use a flour which has been soaked and dried and ground. Even tho this isn't said specifically.
-Ive read books which list ingredient in "add 6 medium beets", honestly i found this challenging because my beets are all over the place it seems. Or ingredients like use 3 fennel bulbs when my bulbs are gigantic. maybe this isn't so important, i find it more annoying to have to think about it when i am trying to make dinner after having a busy day. which doesn't end with dinner....

-to me having pictures has always been a let down, i almost always make it different than what the photos show. Or if you do use photos maybe show photos which are not perfect?
-I also always try and make recipes with what i have on hand(I make a goat curry with a chicken curry recipe), so having flexibility in your recipes. I often combine recipes from a few different books to get an idea of what i could make more suited to what ingredients i have on hand.
- i agree on the add salt as being a non-specific amount
-I really like it when the cook book suggest visual clues as to when to add things, ie when the onions are soft.  

I would recommend Kay Baxters Change of heart cookbook to you. I really like the style of it, it shows which foods are available in which season and offers foods for the season. No sweet peppers in January.

that is about it
Have loads of fun with making the cook book:D



Thank you : ) Your thoughts are appreciated!

I can definitely relate to the frustration of trying to follow a recipe that calls for "medium" vegetables, and I think hearing this from someone else has helped me to think of giving weight measurement for this as well.
 
Kate Downham
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Thank you all for the helpful replies, you’ve given me a lot to think about! I will get a bit more organised and start looking for more recipe testers!

A couple of things I’ve been wondering about…

Meal sizes - I cook for seven active people every day and love leftovers, and often find myself making double or triple batches of recipes from other books. I would like the option of having the ingredients listed for a large batch, and I think communities and wwoof hosts might appreciate this idea too, but I also want to provide batch sizes that will work for smaller households. I am experimenting with ways to make this work in the book. My ideas so far:

1. Make these recipes a double page spread - one page has the method, and the ingredients for one batch size, the other page has a the photo, with a text box inserted in it for the ingredients list for a small batch size. This is probably the least confusing method, but it obscures my lovely photos : (

2. Not having any particular format for doing this - just fit the alternative ingredients list on the page where it best seems to fit for a particular recipe. For example, my Japanese beef curry recipe probably works best with the slow cooking ingredients for both batches listed in a column, and then the curry roux/finishing ingredients for either batch listed in bold in the method section. When a recipe is for a cake or something else with a shorter ingredients list, I could have the ingredients for both batches listed in the column, but this might lead the cook to adding the wrong amount of something.

3. Having the ingredients listed for one batch in the ingredients column, and the other batch size option listed as a variation, in a coloured text box somewhere on the page. With this approach there is also some risk that people might add things from the wrong ingredient list by mistake, but I think there is slightly less chance than the last idea.

And then comes the problem of which batch becomes the ‘normal’ one, and which the ‘variation’? Most people these days are in isolated houses, just cooking for themselves, a couple, or a small family, but maybe in the future there will be more community meals and more large households.

I am trying to be helpful to all kinds of household sizes, and also to not limit my audience, but I also don’t want the book to be annoying to use. I am beginning to understand why many cookbooks are doing a generic “serves 4” version of every recipe! It would definitely make the cookbook creation process easier, but it also makes cooking more difficult for me and other larger households, because we end up having to make calculations as we cook - it would be nice to be able to just give the book to a helper and show them the recipe, rather than having to say ‘triple the ingredients, cook the meat in batches, do this differently, do that differently, etc.’

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
 
gardener
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Please remember that Imperial and US imperial are different.  Have fallen foul of this when measuring vinegar to make chutney.  I agree that cups can be a great idea but do not always hold true for different types of flour, sugars etc.  Please let us know how you are getting on.  I love recipe books but lost so many when we were flooded, including my Grandmother's Mrs Beeton's Household Management.  Broke my heart.
 
jordan barton
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please see my responses in blue

Kate Downham wrote:Thank you all for the helpful replies, you’ve given me a lot to think about! I will get a bit more organised and start looking for more recipe testers!

A couple of things I’ve been wondering about…

Meal sizes - I cook for seven active people every day and love leftovers, and often find myself making double or triple batches of recipes from other books. I would like the option of having the ingredients listed for a large batch, and I think communities and wwoof hosts might appreciate this idea too, but I also want to provide batch sizes that will work for smaller households. I am experimenting with ways to make this work in the book. My ideas so far:

1. Make these recipes a double page spread - one page has the method, and the ingredients for one batch size, the other page has a the photo, with a text box inserted in it for the ingredients list for a small batch size. This is probably the least confusing method, but it obscures my lovely photos :(
so i imagine having the two different batches to be quite confusing. I am curious if there is a way to possibly colour coat the book. It would be a central theme and for every batch for 2 the page could be green and for every page which has the double batch could be purple. (just a suggestion)

2. Not having any particular format for doing this - just fit the alternative ingredients list on the page where it best seems to fit for a particular recipe. For example, my Japanese beef curry recipe probably works best with the slow cooking ingredients for both batches listed in a column, and then the curry roux/finishing ingredients for either batch listed in bold in the method section. When a recipe is for a cake or something else with a shorter ingredients list, I could have the ingredients for both batches listed in the column, but this might lead the cook to adding the wrong amount of something.
 I could see the different amounts being listed in the same column being a problem yes.
.
3. Having the ingredients listed for one batch in the ingredients column, and the other batch size option listed as a variation, in a coloured text box somewhere on the page. With this approach there is also some risk that people might add things from the wrong ingredient list by mistake, but I think there is slightly less chance than the last idea.
 Now this is an interesting idea, Sally fallons cook book does this when her recipes call for using chicken stock, and at the bottom it shows it having variations like duck broth or turkey broth.

And then comes the problem of which batch becomes the ‘normal’ one, and which the ‘variation’? Most people these days are in isolated houses, just cooking for themselves, a couple, or a small family, but maybe in the future there will be more community meals and more large households.
 Is there any chance you would be willing to create a survey and try and get a clear answer to this from your peers. i would fill it out.
i live with my partner and we would normally cook a recipe for 4 and would easily have left overs for one more person.


I am trying to be helpful to all kinds of household sizes, and also to not limit my audience, but I also don’t want the book to be annoying to use. I am beginning to understand why many cookbooks are doing a generic “serves 4” version of every recipe! It would definitely make the cookbook creation process easier, but it also makes cooking more difficult for me and other larger households, because we end up having to make calculations as we cook - it would be nice to be able to just give the book to a helper and show them the recipe, rather than having to say ‘triple the ingredients, cook the meat in batches, do this differently, do that differently, etc.’

I have a suggestion, is having the double batch or what have you in the back of the book an option. Say something like (if you are wanting to cook for 8 people please see page 465)Than you go to page 465 and it shows the ingredients without having the picture and all the rest of the info you would be filling in.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

 
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A few thoughts:
- Make sure recipes are completely on one page (or two pages side-by-side) when possible. I hate having to turn pages to go back and forth between the ingredient list and instructions.
- I love having photos of the completed dish. Shouldn't be too close up, or it's hard to actually get a sense for the whole dish.
- Depending on the level of skill of the audience and how "exotic" the recipes are, I like a small listing of special ingredients, how to replace them, where to find them.
- Index: I LOVE a good index that's thorough and lets you find recipes in multiple ways, e.g. by type of dish, main ingredients...
- I like reading cookbooks, so some surrounding text (about the author, cultural context, why this cookbook) is nice.
- I prefer organization by type of dish/course or main ingredient, rather than by other criteria. Seasonality can be useful for vegetable-heavy recipes, but for the most part, I go looking for "what can I make for breakfast this morning?" or "I need a new pasta recipe."
- Please make sure the ingredient list is complete, especially for baking recipes. It's frustrating to have to guess at the right amounts of something.

Good luck!
 
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My current fave cookbook is E. Bone’s Kitchen Ecosystem. The recipes are appealing, tell you what to make, something to put aside while you’re doing that, and a use for the scraps frequently. Book is set up by ingredient.

I realized a few years ago that almost all my keeps cookbooks have to do with “less,” less time, less money, or fewer ingredients.

I like it when people tell me up front if the ingredients list and quantities can be used as a guide or things won’t work if altered. Baking and canning are basically formulas and have to be strictly followed, but that’s true of a few other recipes too.
 
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First off I don't use books anymore though I do have a small collection from my departed mother I could not part with. I refer to them from time to time for ideas. That said, I use a recipe manager called Gourmet. Price is right -- free. So here is my suggestions for cookbooks these days....

Meal Master form. Even if you have a your cookbook in printed form, provide a copy of the recipes as a MMF file somewhere. I can take that information and scale it up or down about quantities using software.

Group Ingredients. Group the ingredients in the position of which they will be deployed.  Ex. recipe has three steps and 12 ingredients. List the first 3 items to be mixed. Then the next 5 items to be added. Finally the 4 items mixed then added to the first and second steps. Doing it that way I don't have to hunt up and down the list for each group of ingredients. Use a typographical divider to make it obvious as well. Just a simple spacing or bar between the groups is sufficient.

History. If there is something useful to how or why the recipe was derived its probably of interest to others. Ex. I always noted than Mom cut a roast in half and in two pots the pieces went. One for the oven the other the stovetop. Odd, my grandmother told me she did not have pans big enough for one large chunk of meat starting out. So she cut it in half and cooked it in two pots! Its just the way it is done in our house [to be fair, I cheat these days and cook a large roast in a slow cooker. Its easier.]

Location A subtle idea but most recipes have country of origin written all over them. It is sometimes entertaining to assemble an entire meal from a single country. Greece, italy, Spain. Especially if you are working a theme for a party.

The problem with all these ideas is the it is nearly impossible to incorporate them in a printed form. Software makes that entirely possible.

Some don'ts as well:

* An index, do not forget one.
* Critical appliance required. List it.
* Don't select a hard to read font. If its on a web site, treat color combinations with a critical eye. [By God Almighty don't place light grey text on a white background!]
---------------------------------------------------

A computer in the kitchen, won't it get destroyed? Maybe, maybe not. Here is my set up in the kitchen.

* buy a laptop second hand. You can get a 5-6yo one for $100 or less. Look up ewaste recyclers. Many sell working equipment very cheaply. They won't have an OS on them. I use linux, free. I only intend to run 2 programs on it, a browser and a recipe manager so any unit with say 200Gb hard drive is more than enough. That is enough space to hold 2-3 million recipes. That I should have so much time.

* Put a screen protector on the display. Then put a layer of saran wrap on the keyboard. Elevate the PC about an inch off the counter. I use a piece of plywood smaller than the pc case and affix it with double faced tape.  I can be as messy as I want and have not fried the pc yet.  When the keyboard gets too messy just lift off the wrap and put a new layer down.

* Put it somewhere you will use it. Treat it like any other small appliance in your kitchen and it will get used. Add a music player software and listen to your selection of tunes while you are rattling the pots and pans.

Four years of use and still growing strong. I no longer get sidetracked looking for X out of cookbook Y or was it Z? I can search it quickly. I can assemble a shopping list in no time flat. A whole week of meals can be designed in less than 30 mins. Find a deal at the market? Redesign the whole menu structure around it. Now there is a caution. If you are the type just just like to cook on a whim well this might not be of much use. Order may not be your thing and that's quite alright; do your thing.

For me I have noticed: I waste less. Little gets thrown away as I can size portions directly. I pay less because it provides me the structure to only purchase what is on the list. Cuts down in impulse buys. I save time. Knowing what is coming I can preprep foods downsteam from what I am cooking today.
 
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I like a recipe book that I can learn from.
Don’t just tell me to do something, tell me WHY I should.
Lose the trend to use the latest greatest ingredients. I remember when pine nuts came on the scene EVERY recipe included them!

Regarding amounts.
Grams are consistent
Ounces are not
Tablespoons are not
Quarts are not.

If using American measures, put that on the cover.
I am no longer interested in American only books.
Grams are universal.
In the same vein, do not use Imperial only measures either.
 
pollinator
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If it is to be a favorite then:
Spiral bound
Ingredients in bold and in order of use
Relatively simple ingredients and tools
Healthy (not full of sugar and flour or processed ingredients)
Good pictures, half to full page.
An index by title and main ingredient.
Substitution options.
 
pollinator
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For me.
Simple short ingredient list!
Simple instructions.
This is my favourite book.
I generally prefer the older books 1950 or earlier.
Before ingredients got complicated.
Although I love spending 2-3 hours slaving over a curry I've made from scratch with all the different spices.
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master pollinator
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Hi Penny

We have 2 book cases filled.  We still go back to Fanny Farmer  and Joy  as our go to books.  For a new book I would suggest that is the ingredients must go in in a certain order to clearly say so.
 
John F Dean
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Concept wise, there was a cook book put out by Life Mag in the 50s.  The format still fascinates me.  First the was the bound book full of fantastic pictures, recipes, and stories.  Then there was the second volume. It was a paper back work book version of volume 1with all of the recipes on punch out index cards.
 
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I love Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions for its lengthy background introduction at the start of the book as well as before every section in her book.  Those introductions 15 years ago made a real food convert of me.  Even more, I love the sidebars on every page of her recipes - they are from multiple sources that explain everything from historical background of a particular ingredient to philosophical insights regarding food to surprising results of food science experiments.  It was my first and still favorite go-to cookbook since 2005 for everything traditional real food based.
 
pollinator
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John F Dean wrote:Concept wise, there was a cook book put out by Life Mag in the 50s.  The format still fascinates me.  First the was the bound book full of fantastic pictures, recipes, and stories.  Then there was the second volume. It was a paper back work book version of volume 1with all of the recipes on punch out index cards.



I love these too! They did a whole series of these of world cuisines; I have both parts (photo/culture book and recipe book) for Middle Eastern Cuisine, which includes regions from Greece to Iran and Egypt, and just the recipes for Japan and Russia.
 
Kate Downham
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Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses.

I've been making more progress on my cookbook and it's really exciting.

I'd been wondering how many pages the book would end up being - less than 250 and I can easily do it with the same printer I used for my goat book, more than this and I might have to try and find a publisher....

So I started gathering my recipes into a word document, leaving blank pages where I think there should be pictures, and trying to get an idea about how it would look in book form. It's been really exciting to see it come together - there are still quite a few gaps to finish up at the moment and editing to do, but there is around 54,000 words now.

The next stage, after I polish up some of the recipes and writing, will be to put it into InDesign or a similar program and start working on the final layout and putting it all together with photos.

I don't really have a deadline to finish it, but I am hoping to publish it this year. I'd like to do a Kickstarter for this, and want to wait until it is very close to being ready to print before I start this, as I can remember from my last one that even though I thought the editing process would be quite simple, there ended up being a lot of delays.

I'm also thinking of finding recipe testers soon too.
 
pollinator
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Congratulations on your book coming together, Kate!

In a slightly different direction of what makes a cookbook good for me, I really like learning about how to put things together.  I'm part way through Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat (ok, was listening to the audiobook at the gym and am not going to the gym during lockdown) and it's teaching me tons about these fundamentals.  

My latest cookbook is Rasika: Flavors of India by Ashok Bajaj and I love it.  He starts with a quick history of his restaurants - helpful as the namesake one is explicitly more Indian fusion than "pure" like his previous ones, and sweet as he also includes glowing bios of his key employees.  Then he has a full glossary of Indian ingredients, describing what they add to the dishes, and what he uses in the US as more readily available if needed.  Then he has a chapter on sauces that will be used in the recipes, including how many recipes will use them later - and how to store them so they can be made in advance!  Finally recipes, and then a bunch of chutneys that some of the preceding recipes used.  Again, his recipes are from all over India and he includes local US trends and ingredients, which he's very clear about within the recipes themselves, so I can learn a bit about the various original cuisines as well as how they've diverged from original recipes and why.  All nicely cross-referenced plus a good index at the end.

This has maybe 30 recipes, while the Joy of Cooking has hundreds of recipes, but I think I'm learning more rather than just following a set of directions, as I do with JoC.  Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said for "do x y and z and you will feed your family something tasty"!
 
Kate Downham
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This cookbook is really coming along now. Over 60,000 words, and 200 pages now.

There's still quite a few bits that need editing, testing, photos, or proper measurements, but I'm getting it done bit by bit and it's exciting to see it taking shape.

I guess I should look for testers for the recipes that are 100% finished. This makes me a bit nervous though as it's the start of unveiling this book to the public. Friends have tested some recipes, and I have made them all many times, so they're not completely untested, it just seems like a big step to be at this stage.

I've also been looking at book design. I think 8.25x10.75" would be a good size for this book. I'm testing layout ideas and seeing if the longest recipes I have will fit in different layouts.

I'm also contemplating notes to put at the top of recipes - it might be helpful to have symbols for gluten-free, paleo-friendly - are there any other good things to have at the top of a recipe? Or allergies/diets to think of?

Do you have any ideas for cookbook design?

I am also trying to figure out what I need to include in the introduction section. I have information about kitchen gear - what I use, why I use it, and how to look after it. I also have some stuff about cooking on a wood stove, living without a fridge, and strategies for making cooking from scratch work all the time. I've also written a basic introduction to real food/traditional food, for anyone new to this.

What else do you like to see in a cookbook introduction?
 
Morfydd St. Clair
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Sorry I didn't see this before!

If you have symbols for paleo and gluten-free, maybe also add vegetarian and vegan?  Also, here's a list of common food allergies:  https://www.webmd.com/allergies/food-triggers

All of this on the top might get kind of cluttered... It would be pretty cool to have, running down the outer margins of pages:
-- Time required
-- Other recipes needed to complete (w/page #) (like, Basic Cream Sauce, see page 23)
-- Allergy warnings
-- Special diets this satisfied
-- Maybe recipes to serve with for a full meal? (w/page #)

Then you could flip through with your thumb marking what you're interested in and find things quickly.

I'm not really a cookbook connoisseur but I've been buying too many lately.

My friend and I cook together over Skype every Sunday, alternating who chooses the recipe.  Which means we could test recipes for you at least every 2 weeks, every week if she also chooses recipes of yours.  Please feel free to PM me.
 
Kate Downham
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Recipe testing is officially open!

If you'd like to be a recipe tester, see this post here: https://permies.com/t/145184/experiences/Recipe-testers-wanted-cookbook

The book is now at the stage where I'm working on the final layout in a publishing program, and putting everything in place as it will be printed. There's a lot of editing and fiddly stuff still to do, but I'm pleased that it's coming together in its final form now, and I can see clearly if I need to take any new photos, or if there's anything missing.
 
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For me, if it says permaculture on it then I'm looking for a heavy percentage of the recipes to contain ingredients from perennial plants.  In order to help make the transition from annual ag to perennial edible landscapes we need many more great recipes to get everyone to crave changing over their landscape.  Annuals are great too....but I have piles of cookbooks for that.  I'm hunting for cookbooks that support perennials and I haven't found nearly as much as I think we need to have to support the cause.
 
Kate Downham
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Greg Martin wrote:For me, if it says permaculture on it then I'm looking for a heavy percentage of the recipes to contain ingredients from perennial plants.  In order to help make the transition from annual ag to perennial edible landscapes we need many more great recipes to get everyone to crave changing over their landscape.  Annuals are great too....but I have piles of cookbooks for that.  I'm hunting for cookbooks that support perennials and I haven't found nearly as much as I think we need to have to support the cause.



This is one of the reasons I decided against putting 'permaculture' in the title. Maybe in the future once I have more perennials yielding I could write a permaculture cookbook with lots of perennial plants. I don't think there is enough information out there about this and it would be inspiring to see recipes from a food forest.

Fortunately animals can easily be fed on perennial polyculture, so including animal foods can increase the perennial-ness of the recipes.

I think this cookbook has a lot to do with permaculture as far as local homestead-produced foods goes, and I find my approach of minimum effort maximum results in the kitchen has similarities with lazy gardening permaculture, but I was reluctant to call it permaculture because I am cooking with lots of annual plants at this point in time.
 
Greg Martin
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Oooh Kate, wouldn't that be a great title for a cookbook  "Recipes from a Food Forest".
 
Greg Martin
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Kate Downham wrote:
Fortunately animals can easily be fed on perennial polyculture, so including animal foods can increase the perennial-ness of the recipes.

I think this cookbook has a lot to do with permaculture as far as local homestead-produced foods goes, and I find my approach of minimum effort maximum results in the kitchen has similarities with lazy gardening permaculture, but I was reluctant to call it permaculture because I am cooking with lots of annual plants at this point in time.



I'm very much looking forward to your cookbook Kate, it looks like it's going to be excellent!
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