From "Megapublishers" to Cookbook Kickstarters

Plus: wild hogs!

Howdy cookbook fans!

Hope you’re having a great Tuesday, and, if you’re in the US, are coming off a pleasant, if not terribly traditional, holiday weekend. It’s December now, which means we are in the thick of BEST COOKBOOK LISTICLES, and you will find a selection of them at the bottom of this issue for your superlative holiday shopping needs. Reminder that UK and Australian publishing schedules are different than the US and many of those titles may not be available here just yet.

I did a lot of cooking this weekend, most of it from my head, although I did make the Samin Nosrat buttermilk-brined turkey like everyone else I follow on Instagram. It was: very good. I also went old school and put the leftovers in a turkey tetrazzini recipe from The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas, a favorite of mine.

Out in the garden, yesterday was a big day because it was the first frost here in Austin. That means I did a lot of murdering: pulled the okra and the eggplant (any thoughts on what to do with a couple underripe eggplant? Email me.) and the green beans and the basil, which I buzzed with oil and froze. Tried to save a volunteer tomato plant with about three dozen romas on it and…well, let’s not speak of it again. Greens are still going strong, though. Next up: moving a couple raised beds to a sunnier spot for spring.

That’s it for now! On to the news.

There are people who were used to dining out pretty often—you go out one night for Italian, next night you go out for Thai, and two nights later, you’re in an Indian restaurant—and they’re used to a lot of variety. And unless they’re burning up the Seamless app on their phone, they’re going to have to be doing a lot more of that at home, so they’re building out their library so that they have a greater range of choices. 

—NYC cookbook shop Kitchen Arts & Letters owner Matt Sartwell on the cookbook consumer of 2020. A GoFundMe for the store raised $100,000 to keep the lights on despite a sharp decrease in foot traffic to the store. [Taste]

Penguin Random House to Buy Simon & Schuster

So the big news in publishing last week: German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, which owns Penguin Random House, plans to buy Simon & Schuster for $2.2 billion. PRH is the largest publisher in the US; S&S is third largest. It’s “a combination that could trigger antitrust concerns,” according to the NYT, so who knows what this looks like going forward, but its causing major waves through the books/publishing community. A Washington Post headline straight up called the sale “bad for readers.”

What does this mean for cookbooks? PRH is Crown, which is Ten Speed and Clarkson Potter, two of the most prolific cookbook publishers in the US, but also Knopf and Avery and others that produce culinary titles. S&S doesn’t have quite as large a food footprint, but they do publish some of the biggest food books out there, including The Joy of Cooking and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. The plan is to keep the two houses editorially distinct. More on this when there’s more!

Austin Chef Jesse Griffiths to Self-Publish Hog Book

Meanwhile, what’s more interesting to me is a continued push I’m seeing authors make into self-publishing models. Take, for example, Austin chef Jesse Griffiths, who is funding his new cookbook, The Hog Book, via Kickstarter. Funding a cookbook on Kickstarter isn’t new, but Griffiths is someone who conceivably could have gone with a traditional publishing house and chose not to. In fact, his first book, Afield, was published in 2012 by Welcome Books (now part of Rizzoli).

Why publish on Kickstarter? The subject matter of hunting, butchering, and cooking feral pigs is, um, not for the squeamish: “In order to do justice to the subject matter in an honest and unfiltered manner, we chose to self publish. This resulting control allows us to accurately and frankly portray the process of getting wild pigs from the woods to the table.” And with photos by Jody Horton, I am sure that process is captured beautifully. (Also, as a big advocate for PUT YOUR DANG PHOTOGRAPHER’S NAME ON THE COOKBOOK COVER, I am thrilled to see Horton listed on the spine here!)

I suspect we’ll see more authors going to self-publishing small print runs, especially chefs and others who value the control (and potential profit margins) self-publishing allows. And between Kickstarter and other fresh takes on cookbook publishing/crowdfunding like Somekind Press, they have options.

Best Cookbooks of 2020 Lists!

That’s all for today! I will see Friday people on Friday, have a great week.