I recently received a cookbook to review, Maggie's Harvest by Australian cook Maggie Beer. It's an extraordinarily beautiful book, with a padded linen cover embroidered with leaves and oranges, and stuffed full of lush photographs and brightly colored ribbons. And at 736 pages it's a hefty one, too.
Maggie's Harvest is clearly a labor of love and I have a lot of respect and admiration for that. But between the upholstered cover and the $125 price tag, I find myself a little reluctant to bring it into the kitchen. I wonder, is it OK for a cookbook to be this high-maintenance and expensive?
The short answer is no, it's not OK for a cookbook to be so precious that you're afraid to bring it into the kitchen. This is especially true if you view cookbooks as utilitarian objects whose sole purpose is to convey recipes. And the answer is still probably no, even if you're not that pragmatic and instead you're someone like me, a passionate cook who gets a lot of joy from well-used and bedraggled cookbooks, worn and falling apart and speckled with love like the Velveteen Rabbit.
But cookbooks can also excite and inspire us. They can tell a story or speak to a place or a person or a period in time. They are records of how we live has human beings, engaging in one of our most fundamental activities: feeding each other. So there is a place, I believe, for a cookbook that is more than a simple listing of ingredients and instructions. There might even be a place for a beautiful and impractical cookbook, too.
I suspect that the secret to enjoying Maggie's Harvest is to not approach it solely as a cookbook and then proceed to judge it on the ways it thwarts the utilitarian function of a cookbook. With it's beautiful photographs and pages of text detailing the history of Maggie Beer's various food related endeavors, it really is a ode to the author's life, a woman who has devoted herself to delicious, seasonal food long before it was the fashionable thing to do.
So I am willing to give this book the benefit of the doubt and not judge it solely on its cover. I think it might be worth finding out if Ms. Beer's recipes are functional, if she has anything unique or inspiring to contribute. As a citizen of the northern hemisphere, I'm curious about the differences in ingredients, and what it's like to celebrate Christmas in summer. (I have to confess, I'm also really intrigued by the Kangaroo chapter!) One thing is for sure, if the recipes don't stack up, then I will banish it to the living room where I suspect it would make a nice ottoman. Stay tuned for my full review!
What do you think, dear readers? Is there room in your collection for a beautiful, if impractical, cookbook?
Related: In Praise of a Well-Used Cookbook
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Amazon and Syrup and Tang)