Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Recipe for the Perfect Christmas Gift

Still  looking  for  a  little  Christmas  gift  inspiration?  Then  read  this lovely  guest  post  by  my  good  friend,  Ellen  Dean...

Credit: Ideal Bookshelf 506, Cooking by Jane Mount

1. The  Cooking  revolution

As I rush around like a maniac completing my Christmas shopping last minute, I grudgingly access advice from some smug YouTube ‘5th dan’ shopper. Yes shopper, we all know CD sales are falling and most people, like me, find their entertainment online; all things considered, who has time for books these days? However one type of book apparently remains an acceptable, albeit traditional gift. Among mass online migration, the plucky little cookbook is standing strong; sales are on the rise and have been ever since 2001. ‘Today, if we cook, we Google it”, says writer and cook school owner Prue Leith, be we don’t simply stick to the screen: “New cookbooks lie on the coffee table and we drool over Tuscan landscapes and rustic ovens. Before ordering in a pizza”. Prue may not quite have that 'bake off buzz' but social media is literally bursting with bloggers, instagrammers and jam-packed with youtubers, sharing pics of mouth-watering morsels they have whipped up in an afternoon, all spurred on by their latest recipe book purchase, and although this should all be taken with a pinch of salt (excuse the pun), we have seemingly become a nation of pretty decent chefs.

The epitome of a celebrity chef? Nigella. Her not-so-private life being spread across the media like THAT recipe for avocado on toast! William Sitwell writes, “As she encouraged women to get baking, she claimed to feel liberated by the feel of dough in her hands.” The sensual way, in which she describes each and every ingredient provides entertainment across the nation; we may love to mick her sultry tones but 2.3 million of us still managed to tune in for Simply Nigella last year and nearly as many have bought the book! Isabella Beeton would be turning in her grave. I mean she doesn’t even wear an apron! SO, what’s changed form Beeton’s day? And what is so appealing about these personality chefs’ smiling at us from the glossy pages of magazines and cookbooks? The language of the recipe book draws us in, Nigella’s lush lexis translating to higher sales.

2.  What’s Changed?

Since the premier of ‘Nigella Bites’, her pioneer book in 1999, Ms Lawson has been a household name, the sort of recognition usually reserved for pop giants and footballing heroes. Seventeen years later and she’s still going strong, the embodiment of brand ‘Nigella’, known not only for her mouth watering recipes but also her creative use of language to convey her obvious passion. We may expect all women to use a more descriptive voice but in actuality, theory would contradict us; Robin Lakoff, renowned language expert, suggested women use more empty adjectives, describing words that simply don’t describe; how lovely, nice, fab, divine… This certainly seems to be true for Nigella, recent studies showing she uses up to twice as many as Beeton. But is this just a modern phenomenon? Or is it just evocative of the genre? Beeton’s inspiration, Elizabeth Acton (no I hadn’t heard of her either) would never have described the pleasures of cooking quite as emotively; to her it was simply a task that needed doing, making her writing more formal and let's face it, boring. No match for wordsmith Nigella: “feeling good, wafting along in the warm, sweet-smelling air”.

3.  Why so popular?

The scene is always the same, bookshelves lined with recipe books, which do little more than impress our friends, whilst we sit on our trusty phone or tablet. Blogging is big! Rising to fame through the medium of the internet, bloggers are taking over the kitchen. ‘Deliciously Ella’ (her first) was one of the highest selling cookbooks when it was published, simplifying kale…er, I mean healthy food for the masses. And it all started with a blog! Food writing is one of the few areas where writers can move against the tide from online to print. Even the most inexperienced home cook can relate to the pleasures gained from picking up a cookbook, thumbing through its pages until they are sticky and smudged from looking for their next culinary undertaking. But what is it that facilitates this huge jump? Without prior recognition can any chef make it big in the cookbook world?
Acclaimed linguist, Spittle (2002), writes; “A celebrity cookbook or cooking tool has a known and recognised personality behind it”. We’d all recognise that battered Good Housekeeping Guide festering at the back of the cupboard with its basic egg-boiling instructions, but where’s the ‘star’ in that? So then there’s the descriptive writing of culinary superwoman Nigella, who refers to cooking as “reclaiming our lost Eden”. Hellish hyperbole or perfect pun? Whatever … we go back and buy her books every time; perhaps it is the use of her highly creative metaphors as suggested by Lakoff or maybe the wide range of adjectives employed or more simply we enjoy being tempted with new and exciting recipes whilst drooling over glossy pictures. It was theories by Anne L. Bower (1997) that: “people read cookbooks as fictions because they have settings, characters, and plot - all the necessary components of literature.” Cookbooks provide the perfect getaway without leaving the house; you can escape to the sun soaked beaches of Italy or the crisp air of Scandinavia. Commissioning “the metaphoric use of word” (Lakoff and Johnson) writers transport us.
So, maybe it's time to put down our phones and take a trip through our favourite cookbook. And that’s exactly what I plan to do, starting by consigning my YouTube shopper to the bottom of my basket, under a large pile of gift-wrapped cookbooks ready to simmer under the tree.

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