At some point in the last year, my teenager said that I was no longer allowed to buy cookbooks. We had run out of space in the kitchen, even after a showdown session that eliminated some old titles (exotic mid-century Jell-O recipes I won’t be back, and I probably won’t be cooking dinner for dozens). And let me reassure you, my collection is modest compared to many amateur cooks, maybe a few dozen titles in all.
You’re not ready for my jelly, are you pic.twitter.com/vJZRbrIf1t
— 70s dinner party (@70s_party) March 1, 2017
But I still run into the cookbook conundrum: finding a recipe involves keeping a mental model in my head of which books contain my favorite recipes, and when that fails, I have to leaf through multiple volumes. Even though my library is small, the books are stored in different available corners of my kitchen, so I also have to remember where each one is. (And are they organized in a sensible way? No. Have you met me?)
So, like many people, I often turn to a recipe search on Google. It’s fine, if often overwhelming, but I feel like I’m cheating with my cookbooks, which I bought because they’re beautiful, informative, and usually tell a story about chefs or the cuisines they offer. I love cookbooks!
Then I found out eat your booksa website that combines the search and discovery capability of modern technology with the richness (and usually the best quality) of printed cookbooks.
Disclosure: You don’t eat any books
The heart of Eat Your Books is an extensive content reference database of over 160,000 cookbooks and food magazines. It won’t show you any actual recipes because, according to the company, it would violate copyrights. (It’s not exactly true; ingredient lists and simple instructions are not copyrighted. However, recipe introductions and creative instructions may be copyrighted. I suspect the company is trying to both support the authors and avoid potential litigation.) Instead, you can search for the name of a dish or ingredient and see matching recipes from the books that you own.
For example, let’s say I have spinach that I need to cook before it wilts. At Eat Your Books, I can click on My Bookshelf > Recipes in the toolbar at the top, type “spinach” in the search field, and view all of my cookbook recipes that include spinach. Since spinach is such a common ingredient, I can also filter the results, for example narrowing it down to Indian recipes only.
When I click on a recipe that looks good, Eat Your Books shows me the cookbook and the page number it appears on, along with a list of ingredients so I can make sure I have them all under the hand. I can add the items to a simple Shopping List view that I can print or view in Safari on my iPhone while at the store.
A free Eat Your Books account lets you add up to five books or magazines and unlimited online recipe sources. A Premium subscription, which removes these limitations, costs $3 per month or $30 per year.
Adding a book to your library is quick. Using the search box under Library > Books, I found almost all of my cookbooks by typing in only partial book titles. You can also enter an ISBN. I was going to make a joke about how I misplaced my CueCatand how great would it be to scan barcodes if you have a large library…and then I found out that the Import books function does exactly that.
Seeing great book covers as icons is a big help, like when I had to point out that I owned the 1997 edition of joy of cookingnot earlier or later editions.
Not all books in the Eat Your Books library have been indexed. You can still add one to your library, but you won’t see search results. This happens with “books that are unlikely to be indexed by EYB because they are not sufficiently [numbers of] Libraries. In this case, you can click on the Request Index link and ask Eat Your Books to add it to their indexing to-do listor you can ask to index the book yourself.
Support Sources of revenue
Books are the main course, but you can also add food magazines and blogs to your library. With magazines, you need to add each issue as it becomes available, and the format is the same: recipe names, ingredients, and page numbers for that issue.
The indexed blogs are in some ways the coolest part of Eat Your Books because they include a Recipe Online link that takes you to the actual recipe posted on the site. Being able to search through an organized set of food blogs is a huge win. There must be hundreds of thousands of them (most tell you at length what Hubby and Precious Child think of their recipes), making the results of a general Google search overwhelming. With Eat Your Books, however, you can narrow your search to food bloggers whose taste and expertise you enjoy.
You can also add ratings and reviews to recipes in your library, which can be shared with the large Eat Your Books community or saved privately in your account. Public Notes can be useful for finding recipes you haven’t made before, although they still sometimes suffer from comments from people who have made many drastic substitutions but are irritated that the recipe isn’t good. Of course, you can bookmark your favorite recipes to help you quickly come back to them, or at least to their page numbers.
If you come across a recipe online that you like, you can use a bookmarklet to add it to your library. It attempts to retrieve information from the site and displays a window allowing you to add other information that has not been entered. However, the recipe must be approved by Eat Your Books before being submitted to the library. I have been using the service for a long time AnyList to save recipes, which does a great job.
Feed your cookbook appetite
You can also search for cookbooks that you don’t have. The Eat Your Books homepage highlights food-related books, ingredients and news, such as an article on cookbooks that celebrate Ukrainian cuisine and people. Eat Your Books also offers reviews of new titles and lists of best-selling titles from many independent booksellers, including my favorite local cookbook store, Seattle’s Pantry.
When browsing a cookbook, you can also see how many people have it in their library, which is a great way to see which titles are popular. The list also reveals how many books the members own or at least have added to their shelves. It’s not uncommon to see people with thousands of titles!
Some cookbooks in Eat Your Books include EYB Previews, which are PDF-like selections with a few pages to give you an idea of recipes and appearance. As you can see, the site also looks great on an iPad.
Unsurprisingly, if you find a book you like, you can purchase it using affiliate links that support the site.
Some burnt edges, but overall good cooking
I only have a few reviews on Eat Your Books. Some older recipes (before 2015) do not include page numbers, only cookbook titles. This isn’t a major issue, since you can still check the table of contents or index when you actually open the book.
It would also be useful if Eat Your Books had the ability to add all issues of a magazine between certain dates, for example. Those who have a large collection of Illustrated Cook Where enjoy your food will have to do a lot of clicks to add them to My Library.
My last trivial annoyance is navigation. It would be nice if the homepage showed a search box for My Library > Recipes when you are logged in. But it’s pretty easy to create and use a bookmark to the My Library page, which has the default search field Recipes.
These are minor complaints. Although Eat Your Books is a database at its core, its heart is the love of cookbooks shared by its members. The site tries to make a cook’s life easier and more integrated with the real world, without supplanting the beauty and storytelling qualities of good cookbooks. It also helps me out of ruts where I cook the same handful of dishes from the few cookbooks I can remember and manage to reach.