Kerrville’s best-selling cookbook authors Emily Cale and Linda Coffee are taking their popular series of Four Ingredient Cookbooks from the printed page to PDFs and pixels.
Their backstory is epic in the publishing industry. The young mothers and career women met at a school function in Kerrville back in 1990. Discovering their common interest in cooking, they got together to share simple recipes that were quick and easy to make.

“We wanted to see how many recipes we could come up with that only used four ingredients,” Emily said. They gathered 200 recipes, and decided to put them in a cookbook. On a whim, they sent a letter to the food editor at the San Antonio newspaper, describing their idea. The editor interviewed them and ran a front page story. The day the article ran, they took orders for 500 cookbooks.

And they didn’t even have the book printed.

After scrambling, they filled those first orders, along with 2 million more over the years, from their series of Four Ingredient cookbooks.

Their publishing journey has taken them from manning booths at weekend peddler shows to being featured in Sam’s stores and all the large retail bookstore chains.

Ease in publishing and the advent of electronic or “ebooks” has opened up a new marketing avenue for the authors. Gone are the grueling weekends sitting in windblown booths at tent shows and flea markets.

“We had a lot of fun doing that, but we were younger,” Emily said. “We both worked full time, yet would drive to Dallas for a show on the weekend, then drive back to be at work on Monday morning. I don’t know how we did it, actually.”

Linda has a theory about why their partnership has endured as the book has moved from an idea to typed pages to photocopies to published books and now to ebooks.

“Neither one of us ever had money as our focus,” Linda explained. “First was the building of our friendship, and then it became the challenge of ‘can we do this?’ We were not trying to build an empire; we just enjoyed the camaraderie and fun of seeing it grow.”

Now the books have been converted into PDF files that can be downloaded and printed out by the reader, and ebooks that can be read on Amazon’s Kindle reader.

Then there is social media. In a short time, they have gained a thousand fans who follow their Facebook page www.facebook.com/FourIngredientCookbook. Orders come in from as far away as Australia.

While the media format has changed, the type of person who loves the Four Ingredient Cookbooks has not. The books are bought by and for everyone from kids going off to college and newlyweds, to seniors who no longer have to cook for large families, and RVers who have limited pantry space.

“When we were doing shows, a lot of young men would come up and tell us their wife didn’t like to cook, so they were buying it for themselves,” Emily said. “Now, a lot of older people are buying it for their grandchildren. People who used the book are now passing it on to their children because they liked it.”

Another thing that has changed is that people just don’t cook as much as they used to.

“There are so many prepared foods you can get at the store,” Emily said. “You can buy chicken marsala, so you don’t have to make it. But it won’t taste as good as our recipe.”

Coffee and Cale are still writing. They added a version with 350 recipes suitable for diabetics, and one for Holidays & Celebrations, Emily’s favorite.

“I like it because it has the whole menu for each major holiday,” Emily said. “We give recipes for each course, from drinks to dessert. There is also a complete shopping list and a bunch of holiday decorating tips we got from our friends. And for each holiday, you can switch out different sides and entrees. We just tried to do ‘traditional’ and ‘easy.’”

They are currently working on updating their books with the latest food trend–recipes that are gluten free. They are also considering a phone app.

“I know there is a whole younger generation that are enthusiastic when they discover our books,” she said. “And everyone still appreciates the way it simplifies things to make a good meal.”

There will always be those who prefer the feel of an old-fashioned book lying open on the counter as they put together a meal. Many cooks view the stains and penciled comments in a well-used cookbook as the ultimate mark of a good recipe.

For those people, do not fret: You can still buy a hard copy. But the new electronic format has gained at least one fan.

“I still like to read a cookbook,” Linda said. “But when I want a recipe I go to the Internet. I like being able to find it on one of my devices instead of waiting to get to my cookbook shelf!”

To order any of the Four Ingredient Cookbooks go to www.fouringredientcookbook.com.

Kerrville, Texas, authors Linda Coffee and Emily Cale are still helping cooks prepare simple and easy-to-make meals with their series of Four Ingredient Cookbooks. They are now making their books available as ebooks. Photo by Phil Houseal