Although I seldom buy cookbooks anymore, I do subscribe to food magazines. The magazines offer loads of ideas even if I don’t follow a specific recipe. That’s also why I publish recipes on my blog, Seriously Good. It isn’t that I expect a reader to follow the recipe explicitly – in fact I post a disclaimer warning against doing so – but I hope someone may find my use of cornmeal in pancakes or the addition of juniper berries to beef stew worthwhile.
My favorite cooking magazine is Cooks Illustrated and I’ve been a subscriber since issue three. CI is the ultimate techie cook’s rag. They test every recipe six ways from Sunday, carefully track down the science behind what works and what doesn’t, and the recipes themselves are excellent: basic, dependable, and easily modified.
But my favorite food magazine is the Art of Eating. It began as a newsletter in November of 1986, when a Vermont carpenter named Edward Behr was casting about for something else to do. A friend pointed out his fascination with food and AoE was born.
AoE has no advertising and so is funded entirely by it’s 6000 or so subscribers (although it also has a limited newsstand presence). In other words, it’s still essentially a newsletter – but what a newsletter. It’s printed on heavy stock, edited with great care and skill, and beautifully illustrated with black and white photos and line drawings. Behr is still the editor/publisher and the magazine is still very much a personal work, just as The New Yorker was back in the days of Harold Ross.
Behr is fascinated by questions such as why the basil in his kitchen window tastes better than the basil in his garden (which led to a lengthy exploration of Ligurian basil) or more recently a 25 page-long exploration of southern Italian wines. Like CI it’s a magazine for those interested in fundamentals – food techies – but unlike CI it’s intended as much for serious eaters (and drinkers) as cooks.
I also subscribe to Cuisine at Home – a magazine that is, at best, uneven – as well as Fine Cooking, an – er – fine magazine. Every year or so I go back and pick up a subscription to one of the big glossies: Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, but it never lasts.
I consider the glossies more life style rags than cooking or food magazines. Perhaps I’d enjoy them more if I made regular trips to Costa del Sol, owned a “cottage” in the Hamptons, and skied at Lake Tahoe, but I don’t and for the most part I’m no longer interested in the sort of food featured in these publications (although I once was). I’m much more interested in Bacon and Egg Pastries (Cuisine at Home) than Radish, Parsley, and Lemon-butter Tea Sandwiches (Food & Wine).
I’m also interested in how wine is engineered (structured), the latest research on taste buds and umami, and how Olympia oysters are farmed. AoE has offered recent articles on each these topics.
I have a love/hate relationship with AoE, being a hard-core foodie. The long, detailed articles can require a lot of attention – something I have in short supply these days – and I’ve learned that once I begin reading an issue I’m committed until the end. And I’m always surprised to reach the end. Unlike Cooks Illustrated or Newsweek, this magazine demands focus and dedication. You read it not for pleasure, but because you care about food. You read it because you want to know more about food. You read it because the writers share your passion. You read it because, at least in my case, you feel it’s essential.