Faced with shelves of recipe books in almost any bookshop how do you choose which one to buy anyway?
Herewith my golden rule -NEVER buy a recipe book which doesn’t have a good index regardless of the other attributes it may possess.Recipes are usually arranged into ‘chapters’ perhaps grouped around seasonal produce (spring, summer, autumn, winter or perhaps even Easter and Christmas), around specific ingredients (chapters on figs, eggplant, potatoes etc) or around types of dishes (soups, main meals, desserts, salads). The problem arises when you want to find say spinach salad – is it in ‘summer’ or with ‘salad’ or in the chapter on ‘spinach’? Always check the standard of the index. Is the ‘Cauliflower soup with Gorgonzola and pickled pear relish listed in the index under ‘soups’, ‘cauliflower’, ‘pears’ and ‘Gorgonzola’? (In fact in Skye Gyngell’s A year in my kitchen this recipe is listed under all of these headings – well not ‘Gorgonzola’ but ‘cheese’ which is fair enough). My pet hate is knowing that a recipe is in the book somewhere but not being able to crack the code in the index. I have more than one book on the shelves which indexes the recipes by the title of the dish – so ‘Warm chicken salad’ is indexed under ‘w’ and ‘Fresh tuna salad’ is indexed under ‘f’. (Is anyone at the Women's Weekly listening?) This might rate as quirky but really it is just infuriating.
Even when they get the index right one of my gripes with many recipe books is that the method is always very concerned with what to do but not often with why. How will the end result be affected if the directions aren’t followed to the letter? What are the really critical stages in the process? This is especially useful information if you are making something for the first time. Not every writer can devote their time to testing recipes a la Julia Child nor indeed does every recipe book need to include the detail of Mastering the Art of French Cooking but a little more description like "heat the butter until its foam begins to subside" and "beat the hot sauce into the egg yolks by driblets" and less reliance on convention and 'recipe speak' not only gives the book a bit of personality but also helps to make the recipes more accessible.