Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka

I am in love with cookbooks. There, I said it. They bring me immense amounts of joy, although I am well aware that I have too many. They have over-spilled from the kitchen into the dining room and now into my bedroom… But, as I always rationalise to my now-defeated Mum, at least I cook from them! As long as Mum keeps eating the results, surely she has no right to complain.

The second I step into the cookbook section of Waterstones, I’m in heaven. The popularisation of cookbooks has led to an explosion in their availability. Indeed, it’s rare that a bookshop does not have a celebrity chef’s new work in their window – even charity shops often have a shelf dedicated to these tomes. Cookbooks used to be nothing more than simple instruction manuals occasionally accessorised with the odd photo. Modern cookbooks, on the other hand, are truly works of art. Their design is intricate, detailed, and beautiful; they go beyond food… and this is why I love them.

The best cookbooks tell a story. It could be of a particular place, of a life, of a home. They allow the reader to enter into the world of the writing, transporting them to another land. Cooking the food yourself completes this journey. Cookbooks are so brilliant because they engage all the senses. Imagination is key, both in envisioning the dish and, ultimately, in presenting it too. The best cookbooks are guidelines, not regulations. Mixing and matching dishes, collating menus, and presenting a table can be inspired, but they should never be prescribed. Cookbooks enlighten, rather than determine. Like all good art, they encourage the reader to engage and develop, because, after all, a reader’s creativity is just as important as the author’s.

My favourite cookbook has to be Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley. It was released just at the start of the March 2020 lockdown, providing an escape from the confines of my kitchen. I made silky-smooth hummus every day, guided by the secrets of the cookbook. My attempts at ka’ak bread were somewhat less successful, however. I am an impatient cook, so the required resting of the bread for multiple hours was infuriating. My ka’ak came out misshapen and wonky, but making them is always the fun part. Either way, I don’t think I’ll be setting up a cart to sell my bread, as is the norm in Jerusalem. Falastin also immersed me in Palestinian culture with its vivid photos and beautiful descriptions that both enlighten and educate.

Cookbooks can open up new worlds. I learnt the basics of cooking from my Tata: watching her cook enabled me to glean the essential techniques. But cookbooks were what taught me to love cooking. The first cookbook I bought was Ottolenghi Simple. I was aware of the jokes surrounding the chef, whose recipes required an entirely new spice cupboard and access to artisan grocers. But Simple was a brilliant introduction to cooking. I learnt the importance of flavour combinations, be they sweet or sour, sharp or umami. I discovered shortcuts: nifty ways to speed up cooking which are essential in order to keep pace with my brother’s appetite! That sense of fulfilment, of satisfaction, and of accomplishment is incredible. Being able to put the food I have chosen on the table is a luxury, and I appreciate it every day.

Ultimately, cookbooks have opened my eyes to new worlds and allowed me to love cooking. They truly are works of art in their own right that inspire me every day. So, find a good cookbook, and prepare to explore.

Bea Munro

Hi! I'm Bea (she/her) a first-year Law student at Hertford. I'll be writing a food column this term, which is the excuse to talk about food that I have always dreamt of! In reality, I need no excuse, and you may spot me scribbling restaurant reviews on the back of receipts or persuading friends to take me to different college brunches. When not writing about food I am often talking about it whilst running around Oxford with the Cross Country Club.