While today’s publishing industry continues to struggle beneath the increasing weight of e- books and the Internet, cookbook sales remain remarkably robust; contemporary consumers clearly still have an appetite for the printed recipe. This thesis contends that the continued popularity of cookbooks lies in the stories, memories, and vivid imagery that accompany the culinary instructions of ‘narrative’ cookbooks—those that feature descriptive and narrative prose alongside their recipes—and make reading their recipes pleasurable as well as practical.
Storied Palates identifies three key narrative elements—sequence, description, and voice—in a selection of 23 narrative cookbooks published in Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) between 1950 and 2010. Drawing on narrative theory, reader reception theory, and life writing, and the wider context of today’s publishing industry and culinary trends, the thesis analyses how the authors of these cookbooks use sequence, description, and voice to frame their recipes and make their texts both entertaining and educative. Each chapter explores selected cookbooks according to broad thematic similarities: memory and recollection, sense of place, the feminine and domestic ideal, ideology, and history. While the visual appeal of these narrative cookbooks is an undeniable part of their narrativity, this thesis concentrates on the texts’ textual and verbal elements, and how their written style and use of language demonstrates their narrative power.
Cognitive narratology recognises the narrative quality and potential of non-fiction and non- traditional texts, and the interplay between an author’s intentions and a reader’s ideas and expectations. As Susan Leonardi observes, a recipe is an ‘embedded discourse’ (342): it requires a context. Recipes represent an exchange of information that is tied to their readers’ personal history, perception of self, and wider food culture; consequently, the narratives constructed from particular cookbooks create an interplay between public/private and inspiration/aspiration.
Ultimately, the enduring popularity of narrative cookbooks—despite figures suggesting that Western readers now spend less and less time cooking and preparing food—suggests that their primary value lies in their narrative power rather than their instructive capacity.