The decision to create a cookbook can excite you but it can also feel overwhelming. Where do you start? What should it look like and how should it read? Where should your ideas for recipes come from?
These questions can be answered by simply looking at other cookbooks for inspiration. Let’s look at some of these most successful cookbooks, the characteristics that made them iconic and what recipe makers can learn from them.
1. “The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks” by Toni Tipton-Martin (2015)
Written by Toni Tipton-Martin, The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks, is a culinary catalogue filled with African-American recipes that span multiple generations. It features over 150 African-American cookbooks that date back to the 1800s to more recent works published by authors such as Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor.
The arrangement of the books are chronological and each one has an illustrated photo of their covers. Many of the selected cookbooks include notes provided by Tipton-Martin about their authors, their contributions to the culinary culture, and the historical significance of each book.
Takeaways: If you want to make your own cookbook, feature recipes that come from your culture or ancestry. Consider adding notes about the creator of a recipe and not just the recipe itself. Also, elevate your cookbook design by adding illustrations to capture the past, especially if you don’t have photos of the recipes themselves.
2. “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle
Julia Child was a culinary legend with legions of adoring viewers and she made them feel as if they were cooking with her in the kitchen. Her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, puts her recipes on display – 524 of them – with highly detailed descriptions and instructive illustrations.
The book guides the cook from beginning to end, providing ideas on buying and handling raw ingredients right down to plate decor. The recipes are broken down using logical sequences that are easy to follow, and feature adapted techniques that make French cuisine easy for North Americans to prepare. The book even offers suggestions on food and drink pairings.
Takeaways: Don’t be afraid to hold your audience’s hand. Rather than posting a generic list of ingredients, your cookbook format can feature verbal and visual instructions that spell out the process from start to finish. Trust us – beginner cooks will love the guidance!
3. “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating” by Fergus Henderson
This cookbook captures a long-lost tradition – the full-body consumption of an animal. Author and chef, Fergus Henderson, brings the spirit of his London restaurant, St. John, into his cookbook by introducing his innovative take on meat dishes.
The cookbook is a carnivore’s delight, featuring recipes such as Roast Bone Marrow and Rabbit Wrapped in Fennel and Bacon. However, he does include some veggie dishes and desserts as well. The cookbook design and layout features a minimalist writing style paired with crisp photography.
Takeaways: Just like The Whole Beast’s focus on meat dishes, you can center your own cookbook around a theme. That theme could pertain to a certain diet, geographic region or even a food group. Also, if you have good photography skills or even just a folder stocked with high-quality pictures, let your visuals do most of the talking instead of the writing. If you decide to make a visually-oriented cookbook, you can take a look at our free image database to get started.
4. “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet (2011)
Cooking is both an art and a science, and few cookbooks understand this as well as “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking.” This cookbook is a 2,438 page extravaganza (divided into five books) filled with kitchen experiments, scientific explanations, and cooking models you’d be hard-pressed to find in your typical Food Network show.
Modernist Cuisine was co-created by a team of chefs, scientists, editors, and writers. It’s a publication for culinary nerds, a chef’s cookbook so-to-speak. Readers can flip through pages and pages of beautifully-rendered illustrations and the brilliant techniques they explain.
Takeaway: If you’ve been praised for the creativity/artistry, bread/depth of knowledge or a unique perspective you bring to the kitchen, consider this as you make your own cookbook. That may include adding twists on familiar recipes or interesting discoveries you’ve made while cooking your favorite cuisines.
5. “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book” by Agnes White Tizard (1950)
The name is a household one that almost everyone with a kitchen and a pantry will recognize. Even though Betty Crocker is a fictional character created by an ad agency, her influence inspired a generation of chefs and bakers and a legendary cookbook published in the 50s.
This picture cookbook, written by Agnes White Tizard, features a lighthearted mix of practical cooking tips, useful hints and color photography that brought these recipes to light.
The cookbook features just about every recipe you can think of ranging from chicken tomato aspic to steak dinners and more. It also provides insights on how to decorate cakes, tips on rationing meals, setting up kitchen equipment and cooking for parties. The Betty Crocker cookbook is a masterclass in comprehensive kitchen education.
Takeaways: When you make your own recipe book, consider how you can dish out a full-course (excuse the pun) of kitchen education to your audience. If you can prepare recipes, decorate plates, set up the kitchen and provide food storage tips, then add these insights in your cookbook.
The World’s Most Iconic Cookbooks Will Get Your Creative Juices Flowing
To make your own recipe book, you need to be creative, informative and engaging. Nevertheless, you don’t have to pull your ideas from some otherworldly realm – you just have to look at the famous cookbooks that have already been published.
Your goal shouldn’t be to steal what they say or do, but rather, to use the techniques they incorporate and use them as a jumping-off point for inspiration. By doing so, you will find it easy to build the foundation of your own cookbook and fill in its blanks with the recipes you have to offer!
Do you need help finding inspiration for your cookbook? Take a look at our resources page to find everything from new recipes to ideas for making recipe scrapbooks.