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Culinary Indexing SIG

A Special Interest Group of the American Society for Indexing

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Letters to The Indexer

The following letters were printed in The Indexer, 13(1):49, April 1982.

There must be indexers who can do a fine index for any book that "comes in the door." But, in general, a good knowledge of the subject is necessary to provide a useful index for a book. No one is born knowing, and it may be unfair to an author and to the work being indexed for the indexer to learn the concepts and vocabulary on the job.

Nowhere is this clearer than in Cookery Book indexing. A cook can tell almost immediately if the book was indexed by someone who "thinks like a cook." Why would braised beef or braised vegetables be listed under "braised" (even though it is the proper title of the recipe)? No cook thinks, "It is a gloomy night; I think I'll braise something." The only useful entry is under the food being braised (chicken, veal, etc.). Anyone can pop out a mindless index on an unfamiliar subject, noting the word or concept each time it appears. But that kind of consistency should not be the aim of a thoughtful indexer who knows that a fine book deserves an excellent index, a mediocre book needs it, and sometimes it can even save a poor work.

It might be an interesting topic for a future meeting of the Society for Indexing to discuss whether indexers should be specialists or generalists.

Rose Grant, Oregon


How I do agree with Rose Grant about the dreadful standard of cookery book indexes. In the cookery sections of bookshops I browse through indexes with horrified fascination. Where are all those gourmet indexers who must surely exist? The love of good food cannot be incompatible with respect for alphabetical order.

Rose Grant mentions one kind of fault (my own favourites in that category are "chilled lemon flan" under "chilled" and—in a book on blender cookery—"blended avocado mousse" under "blended"). There are other kinds, apart from mere inaccuracies in page references, which, on my own shelves, I find most glaringly represented in the lavishly-produced, first-save-up-to-buy-your-truffle type of book. One paperback has an index in which the excellence of the content is spoiled by such dreadful typography that when you open it you cannot at a glance tell in which letter of the alphabet you find yourself—a damning fault, it seems to me (though probably not the indexer's). Several others fall into the trap of confusing the contents list with the index: a whole column under "soups" when soups have a chapter of their own, for example.

Of course it is easy to pick holes, and there are honourable exceptions (Elizabeth David, to name but one). Besides, what I should really like is not just individual indexes to individual books but one magnificent and comprehensive index to my collection of fifty-plus cookery books. It would tell me which cheese soufflé it was (since so many of those books seem to have recipes for cheese soufflé) my family liked so much last time. And it would tell me what I can make that will use up the three egg whites, one slice of ham and bowl of tomatoes past their best which I happen to have in my fridge.

Nevertheless, I wish that all those cook-indexers we must have among our members would come out of hiding and answer our Registrar's plea for cookery specialists.

Lucy Pollard, London