Cookbook Etiquette

December 10, 2010

Let me preface this post by saying that it is not a rant.  I am not complaining.  I’m just somewhat confused.

Here’s the story.

In November of 2008, I received an email from a friend who’s in the food industry.  Here’s what the email said:

I’m working on a project and am asking my food savvy friends for help. I am
searching for recipes for a few specific dishes, with these caveats:

1. the recipes must be authentically Southern, although appropriate updates
and variations are fine
2. they must be from unsung cooking hero home cooks, although recipes that
wound up in restaurants and diners are fine if they originated at home
3. the cook must be willing to talk to me and share the recipe and the back
story.

I responded that I might be able to help, and she later wrote that she was working for Molly O’Neill on a “big cookbook project.”  Frankly, I didn’t even notice that comment.  I talked to my friend for about 15 minutes, and then I gave her links to two recipes on my blog, recipes that I had made many times and which were well-received.  That’s the last I heard of this; in fact, I totally forgot about it.

In early November, Andrea Weigl of the News & Observer posted this on Twitter: “Congrats to @VarmintBites, Kavanah and Gabe for their recipes appearing in @onebigtable.”  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I didn’t know what @onebigtable was.  After a couple of messages back and forth, I learned that I had two recipes prominently featured in Molly O’Neill’s new cookbook, “One Big Table.”  Needless to say, I was excited, but I had no clue what those recipes were and how they made it into Ms. O’Neill’s book.  I learned that the recipes were for my Strawberry Shortcake for a Crowd and for the Four Berry Cobbler that I’ve made many times.  Through the power of Gmail archiving, I realized then that it was through my friend, two years earlier, that these recipes made it into Ms. O’Neill’s book.  When Andrea Weigl showed me the book, and how well done it was, I was extremely proud and tickled.

But then, the lawyer part of me started thinking, and this is what this post is about.  Yes, I shared those recipes with my friend, but that’s all I did.  Ms. O’Neill never contacted me.  No one from the publisher contacted me.  No release.  No forms.  Not even a “head’s up” or a thank you.  This may simply be a type of journalism where authorization is not needed, but shouldn’t there be some approval process prior to publication?  If not, shouldn’t there at least be some form of acknowledgment?

I am not complaining, as once again, I’m very appreciative of having not one, but two, recipes included in this marvelous book (yes, I’ll be giving copies for Christmas, although Amazon only let me buy 3 copies).  It’s cool to have your name and recipes featured in such a work.  And let me be clear, this was not a case of Ms. O’Neill lifting these recipes from my blog without my permission.  I readily suggested these two recipes to my friend two years ago, but I certainly didn’t think they were worthy of publication.  Was that act on my part sufficient to move forward with publishing the recipes and my comments?

In the end, what is the appropriate process here?  If not legally required, should etiquette have demanded some follow-up from the publisher?  Help me here, those of you in the cookbook industry!

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