Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Food and Gardening Porn Collide! [A Guest Post]

Note: Vegetarian food writer Lisa Morrison (who is also my wife, and thus the one who has to worry about where all the books I bring into the house are actually going to go) knows her food books. She recently dropped $125 on a cookbook, and I was able to persuade her to write this piece about its very attractive design. For all images, click for much bigger versions.

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Australian cookbook design is out of control: mainly in a good way. Every second one tries to out-beautify the others. This must be what people want, as I know many individuals who wouldn’t even consider a cookbook unless it was awash with sumptuous colour photos of every dish.

As a person for whom my most favourite cookbooks contain no photography (or at least none of the actual dishes) such views shock—that is until I’m in a bookstore embracing a new cookbook so gorgeous I almost cry at the thought of not taking it home. So publishers are definitely onto something by peddling high-class food porn.



Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion is, however, in a different league. The tangelo-hued ‘dustjacket’ made from tea-towel cloth draws the eye and compels one to touch and stroke it. This tactile attraction is useful, as it slightly distracts potential readers from the sheer heaviness of the book when held. (It literally hurts my pubic bone as I rest it there when I read on the couch.) Like her earlier The Cook’s Companion, this is one hefty tome.

The cover design is simple but striking: a stylised print of a tomato half against an orange background and with an irregular, hand-drawn title. The wide spine bears a similar motif but of a rolling pin. Together they sum up the book’s ethos: growing your own produce and then delighting in simple, honest ‘cooking from scratch’ meals. The book was designed and illustrated by John Canty.




 


The barcode has been stitched onto the dustjacket, and each page that doesn’t contain an appealing full-bleed colour photo by Simon Griffiths or Mark Crew is imbued with a background suggestive of fabric. It is as though the recipes have been printed directly onto a table cloth. I’m getting the sense that Lantern (an imprint of Penguin Books) decided cost was no issue.

Stephanie Alexander is an absolute Australian food legend, growing home produce is reportedly on the rise in Australia, and it’s almost Christmas. People will LOVE this book, including its nifty design. It’s going to sell.

There are so many nice design touches. A single stylised vegetable or fruit adorns each section. As on the cover, it looks as though someone has sliced the produce in half, slopped it in paint and pressed it neatly to the page. This smart, unpretentious artwork complements the authentic, down-to-earth advice offered by Alexander in the book.




 

Diagrams are used sparingly but appear to be incredibly helpful. While containing hundreds of recipes, this truly is a gardening book too. The diagram and detailed instructions (so like a recipe for cooking but on a grand scale) for ‘no-dig gardening’ finally made me think: “Yes, I could do this”.

Two ribbon bookmarks (one red, the other green) give readers the option to use one for reading in bed and the second to mark the section they’re gardening or cooking from. Very thoughtful!

While it’s a BIG book, the stitching seems robust enough to hold it together long term. The pages open nicely on the kitchen-top, and the whole work has a sense of abundance and goodness. I feel as though I am holding top quality, but nothing so lavish that I should feel guilty about it. While handsome, this is also a workaday book that’s going to spend time outdoors and on my kitchen counter.



 
 

Kitchen Garden Companion is going to be a discovery of years, and I can feel it’s made to last and enjoy.



For scale: Alexander's two huge books looming over a delicate Hungarian.

12 comments:

Derek said...

Wow. They've really gont to town on that one. All it needs now is a scratch'n'sniff feature!

Deb said...

It's a lovely book, but when I think of how my cook books look after about six months--the splotches, the stains, the dog-eared pages--it breaks my heart to think of that happening to this book.

Vintage Reading said...

That is one handsome book. Love that dull red colour. All I ask from a cookbook is that the recipes have been tested and that they work! Can't stand beautiful cookbooks with duff recipes.

BookieMonster said...

I saw this for the first time in a store just this weekend and thought it looked absolutely beautiful. And the fabric cover almost blends with the idea that in a few months of cooking from this you'll have a few splotches and stains on it.
Now I just want it even more! Great post. :)

Tulkinghorn said...

Recommend an online Australian bookstore?

My wife would probably like to be the first in Los Angeles to use this one....

JRSM said...

I'd try either QBD (http://www.qbd.com.au/) or Fishpond (http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books). The ISBN for the book is 9781920989989.

To see who's cheapest for Australian books, http://www.booko.com.au/books/isbn/9781920989989 is a useful tool.

Bob Fingerman said...

My wife would love this book. Shame it likely won't come out in the USA, let alone in this format.

JRSM said...

It's worth it, if you can get a copy somehow. Hell, when the apocalypse comes, you could hollow it out and use it as a bunker.

info said...

Stephanie here. Fantastic to see all the positive responses to my new book. I'd suggest visiting the shop at www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au in order to purchase the book. I'll sign your copy. Expect hefty postage charges (POA) for international sales.

JRSM said...

Hey, Stephanie! Thanks for stopping by--my wife is now swooning! With any luck, some copies will soon be on their way to the US.

jem said...

Glad to read this and to confirm my suspicion that Australian cookbooks are so much tastier looking than others. We stumbled upon Murdoch books a few years back and can't get enough of them now. I think a good looking cookbook makes you want to cook from it more than a plain one.

I also love the approach of 'Vegetable Heaven' which illustrates with vegetable based painted images!

JRSM said...

Murdoch do produce some beautiful cookbooks--our house is full of them! I'm actually relieved every time Lisa buys a big, gorgeous, expensive food book, as that temporarily makes my own demented book-buying look more sane.

'Vegetable Heaven' is really nicely done, isn't it?