Noreen V the Internet

CookbooksMy revered mother in law Noreen is an excellent cook. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things culinary. When called upon to feed a small group or a large crowd, never has she disappointed. When she prepares a soup, a future fond memory is born. Her leg of lamb is legend. Her almond merengue with cream and raspberries is truly ‘to die for’. We don’t get to enjoy her culinary triumphs often enough. 

There are two schools of thought about recipes and the internet. One school believes that the Interweb is the devil’s own invention. All recipes found there can be only ill-conceived concoctions posted to trap the unwary and earn the publisher a few quid.

The other school believes that the Information Super Highway is the only road to be on. Any recipe is available, any time, anywhere. Bish, bash, bosh and you have whatever it is your heart desires.

There is a third school too. I belong to that school. In fact, I fall between two schools. For, I have a couple of yards of cookery books and I also dip into the Internet. I feel I have the better of the options. Noreen is not big into the Internet. Here are a few of her books. (You may not be able to view this on a cell phone).

Cookbooks-StackWhere do you think my mother in law sits on this?

It’s my take that she has more recipes in her collection than the combined online community. As long as she keeps cooking the way she does, I don’t think it really matters who has the most.

Where are you on this? Web or book?

Mote of gratitude: With thanks to Dave Whelan who used his editing skills to merge my photos of Noreen’s cook books into one image. 

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  • I much prefer “real” books to internet recipes. I thought my collection was extensive!! I have a bookcase full in the sitting room, and boxes of them in the attic, but I think your Mother-in-Law wins 🙂

    • Hi Colette, thanks for stopping by. I really do fall between the two. I enjoy a good book (cookery or otherwise) but the web is just so easy.

  • I, too, have a fabulous, ever-growing collection of cookbooks but I have to admit, the farther and farther and farther down I scrolled, the more in awe I was of the challenge it must have been to stack all those lovely books up and photograph them. I watched wide-eyed as the pile grew and grew. Very impressive, sir! Well done and kudos to Mr. Whelan for his assistance. I am also saddling that cookbook/internet fence because I can’t help but reach into the internet to pull out recipes from blogs the likes of yours, for instance, as well as my groaning bookcases. Perhaps your mother-in-law needs a membership to EatYourBooks (, if she doesn’t have one already. I use mine regularly.

    • Thanks Stacy, my book collection stretches from some really useless promotional stuff to Larouse Gastronimique, the daddy of them all. I can’t walk by a bargain table without at least having a look…

  • Books for browsing (a few for reference)… The Internet to compare/contrast different recipes for things I find in my book collection (over 300 last count). I love to read cookbooks while I am eating 🙂

    • That sounds like total dedication to the art. I tend to do the reading in advance…

  • Third school.

  • Oh wow!!! That’s an amazing collection – I aspire to have as many as that one day too. Cookbooks RULE.

    • They certainly do. Though, you would not want them to fall on you.

  • That is a library of cookbooks! I prefer the experience of leafing through cookbooks, and the beautiful pictures etc, however I like the internet for inspiration and also if I have a query in the kitchen it’s so easy to just google the question and see how different people approached it. While the inner food porn obsessive in me loves the on-line food community, you can’t beat a good cookbook!

    • Emma, I’ll put you in the third school so.

  • I couldn’t cope without my collection of cook books. Loved scrolling down and looking at someone else’s collection. The internet provides me with all the recipes I could ever cook and more. Sometimes the picture in the book doesn’t always turn out as the dish in your kitchen, Food blogs tell it as it is. They don’t have an editor to please. I take it you are never at a lost of what to buy your mother in law for Christmas?

    • Too true Maria, however, occasionally, I might gild the lilly just a little. Don’t believe everything you read…

  • I have a sudden urge to head to the bookstore. I’m with the third school. I love books. We have a ton of cookbooks and I also collect old cook books. I have a few from the 1800’s. But I do love checking out the blogs and pinning what I like for future reference.

    • I would love to get my hands on some very old cookbooks. The idea of trying some 200 year old recipes appeals greatly.

      • It gets a bit tricky when they talk about baking in a medium oven, or a hot oven, or a slow oven. They don’t mention temps. I’ve found some on the internet and some just poking about.

        • I think slow = 150C. medium = 190C. hot = 220C.
          Forget about adding the fan into the equation.

          • I would agree. Then you have the recipes that just say bake until done. No times. 🙂 Cooking has gotten a lot easier over the years!

          • Funny, if you practise, as I am sure you do, the timing gets more random and one gets a feel for most things. The first few goes at any recipe involve the oven timer etc. After that, it gets easy…

          • True. I like recipes that show the various photos so I know how it should look. Because no two ovens are alike!

  • Impressing pile of books! Discovered that I actually have several of the titles in my own bookcase.
    I prefere to browse the books, but Internet is great when you need to find something quickly.

    • That’s the third school for you too Meggie. I am getting the feeling that most of us are in love with the books but still want our Internet.

  • Thought provoking piece. I like both. I have my ‘go to’ books and favourite web sites, just as we all have preferred ingredients. But most of all I like improvising but using sites like yours and cookery books and recipe sites as inspiration. It’s all good and you can learn, and get ideas from almost anywhere.
    PS see if Dave can turn that tower of recipe books into a pouring shot of gourmet bibliography.

    • That would be a trick Adam. You are now in the third school with the rest of us.

  • Excellent! Love the second photo! I personally tend to use the cookbooks (decent ones) for the ‘classics’ and the internet for inspiration, including the WordPress Reader ;). So much quicker to Google a couple of ingredients than trawl though a big pile of indexes.

    • Hi Phil, You qualify as a ‘considered’ third school. Nobody has come down in favour of the Internet just yet. Interesting…

  • Whoa!!! Great stitching shot. I have quite a few cookbooks, or so I thought – roughly 40% of what Noreen let you borrow by my count. Of course, that doesn’t count all of my cooking magazines and videos I have collected over the years and still use. I also found it very interesting that of all her cookbooks vis-a-vis mine, we only share about a dozen in common. That says something for variety in cooking and cookbooks.
    Insofar as your inquiry about where I sit on the fence, I thoroughly enjoy reading cookbooks and get great inspirations from them as well as Saveur, Bon Appetit and old copies of Gourmet. The printed word takes many forms. I also scour the internet for ideas and inspiration simply because it’s quicker. It’s the same reason we watch cooking shows. Some things I have never tried. Other things I have never seen or heard of. Sometimes technique is easier seeing it done on the internet or cooking shows than trying to figure it out alone. To me, information is information no matter where it is obtained and one should use all tools available to enhance one’s life, education and skills.

    • Well put Richard. You look like a guy who has been to all three schools and has moved on to broaden your education even more.

  • There is nothing nicer than sitting down on a Sunday morning with a cup of tea and a pile of cookbooks to decide what to spend the day making. But when I have to urgently use up those quinces, or the butterflied leg of lamb I got on special from the butchers the other day….the internet wins. I guess that makes me number 3 too. (I reckon I could challenge Noreen on the cookbook front though!)

    • Hi Christina, I missed a good number of Noreen’s books when getting this picture. It’s some collection. Good to have you in school number three.

  • Consider me impressed—both with the MIL’s cookbook collection and with the photo! I fall, just barely, into the third camp. I adore cookbooks, old and new, have a huge collection and that’s where I go most. The Internet is great, too. And I often go there to come up with inspiration and confirmation of what I already know. Or think I know. 🙂 But, I distrust what I find there, and unless I know somebody’s voice and taste and skill by reputation or from longtime reading, I’m unlikely to try a recipe directly off the Web. Of course, that’s part of the fun of getting to “know” people through blogs.

    • Too true indeed Michelle. I have a post about a closely related subject coming up very soon.

  • Wow, what a great photo! I am humbled by Noreen’s cook book collection, and a smidge jealous. I think I’m of the third camp – books and the Interweb give me the best of both worlds. But, the Internet can’t compete with flipping through a good book, especially one that has some history. I’m also a fan of old recipe clippings and index card, like the ones you’d find in an old recipe box. I could look through those for hours. Anyway, truly great stuff, as always.

    • Thanks Tommy, we had fun putting it together.

  • Oh boy, have I just had fun comparing!! Immense thanks 🙂 ! With about 600 books on my shelves, I am more into the books than the Net, but reading so many blogs these days, matters are also tending towards No 3 ! Was glad to see Claudia Rodan and my alltime fave Marcella Hazan, notice Ken Hom and Antonio Carluccio ][showing my venerable age methinks 😀 !], but agree with her on all of Jamie and our own Bill Granger!! Thank you for the unexpected joy and laughter 🙂 !

  • Conor, did you tell them about the book you are publishing? 🙂 Go on…

  • Great post, Conor, and that’s one heckuva cookbook shot. Noreen sounds like a wonderful cook and I’m sure more dishes than just her lamb are legend. Although I use both web & cookbook, I probably use cookbooks more for recipes and the internet for verification and substitutions. I’ve neither the space nor the inclination to keep dozens of rarely used spices. Finding worthy substitutes works for me!

    • Thanks for the kind comment John. You join the majority in school three. I suppose, asking the question of food bloggers via the internet will skew the stats somewhat. Fun all the same.

  • I am a LOVER of books and therefore I say books! Wish your mum-in-law lived next door to me so we could do a book swap… although I have an extensive cookbook collection, just over 100, I notice that she has many that I don`t and would love to spend a few hours with! I was just about to sk how you got all those books in one pic. Amazing!

    • Dave did his magic. There were 17 pictures originally. All good fun.

  • Definitely 3rd school. Looking at somebody’s cookbook collection is an act of intimacy–you’re being given a glimpse of (usually) private taste–and it always provokes the question, “Why don’t I see…?” Makes you wonder, why this–and not that? No Julia Child, no Waverly Root, no Claudia Roden, no funky/hippy cookbooks from the ’70s – Moosewood or Tassajara. No criticism implied, just interesting, and makes me wonder about inspiration on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Jane Grigson, for example, is known here, but really only among cognoscenti. I have no idea who James Martin or Simon Hopkinson are. Very interesting post and photo. Thanks. Ken

    • Thanks Ken, that is only the kitchen collection. There is the spare room, the sitting room and the entire house in Spain collections too.

  • That photo really is great – I can only imagine it was quite a trick to load it into wordpress. As for books v internet – I find recipes on the internet are drudge unless you know exactly what you are looking for – books are better for sparking inspiration.

    • I’ll put you down as school one with occasional visits to school three.

  • Books, web, magazines…where ever I find something that strikes my fancy!

    • That puts you in school three with the rest of them Barb. However, the addition of the magazines puts you to the top of your grade.

      • I have a stack of mags in front of me right now!

  • WOW! very impressive! I am slowly collecting cookbooks, but I try to limit myself as they’re hard to move since they’re so heavy at times! I do have a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated and Bon Appetit. also, most of the time I am hungry and looking for a recipe I am at work at my computer away from the books 🙂 what does she think about Ramsay’s cookbooks? I like watching his shows, he’s such a character!

    • We have discussed many, never those. A future topic, hopefully.

  • And there was me visualising you lying on your side with the wide-angle lens…

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