Food52: an exercise in culinary crowdsourcing


The old community cookbook is getting a 21st century makeover.
Long a fund raising staple of Junior Leagues, churches, and historical societies, collaborative cookbooks are nothing new. But with Food52, New York Times food columnist Amanda Hesser and freelance food writer and recipe-tester Merrill Stubbs have given the concept a very modern, web 2.0 twist.

Each week over the course of a year, the pair will announce a recipe contest and ask online contributors to submit their original recipes in those categories (this week is apple cakes and potato gratins). They’ll also choose and highlight Editors’ Picks and finalists from the previous week, post slide shows of them testing the recipes in their own kitchens, and give everyone a chance to vote for the week’s winning entries that will end up in a cookbook to be published by HarperStudio at the end of the 52 weeks. The Food52 online community will choose the book’s title, cover design, and accompanying photography.

The basic idea of crowdsourcing is to tap into the collective intelligence and creativity of the public. The phrase was coined in the June 2006 issue of Wired Magazine to describe a new form of corporate outsourcing utilizing largely amateur pools of volunteer contributors. Within many of the most successful crowdsourcing enterprises, distinctions between producers and consumers tend to blur- think of EBay whose virtual shelves are stocked, shopped, and even policed by the public.

The cyber-populism of a crowdsourced cookbook makes a lot of sense. For anyone who has ever attempted a recipe from the typical chef-driven cookbook, with its multitude of steps and daunting lists of obscure ingredients and equipment, the inventive practicality of the home cook comes as relief. Food52 is far from a gimmick or publicity stunt.

Community cookbooks can be valuable artifacts chronicling the history and culture of our domestic lives.They provide insight to food choices and trends, technology and household dynamics. I look forward to learning what Food52 says about us.

While most community cookbooks sit in local libraries, forgotten and uncatalogued, the library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has assembled an online exhibit. The virtual collection is arranged chronologically, beginning with cookbooks that appeared in the aftermath of the Civil War, plus special topics like Recipes in Rhyme and Technology in the Kitchen.

Visit to purchase new and vintage community cookbooks. The selection includes regional titles from nonprofit organizations such as Junior Leagues, art museums, religious groups, historical societies, service and charity leagues and individual cookbook authors.


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6 Responses to Food52: an exercise in culinary crowdsourcing

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  5. Janice says:

    Thank you- and I’ll be checking out the new recipes that you love.

  6. Pam says:

    Congrats on the Foodie Blogroll!

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