May I have the recipe, please?

In my quest of food writing, I managed to wrangle ‘Will Write for Food‘ by Dianne Jacob (who also has an interesting article on food blogging titled The New Wave of Food Blogs on her website), from the local library. I say wrangle because I had to reserve it, wait for days, and go pick it up, which requires me to get out of my humble abode; a challenge for someone as homebound as I am . Thus, my definition of wrangling for a book.

I have to admit that this book is not the only book on my ‘To Read’ stack, thus rendering it as one of the many books vying for my attention right now. However, in my usual gluttony for anything bound in the form of a book, I ended up scanning the library shelves for books I wasn’t particularly looking for and returned to the children’s area (where my two boys were) with an armload of books ranging from travel writing to speech difficulties. Of course, Will Write for Food was included as well. My two girls were having their sewing class in the building next door, so we stayed in the library until it was time to pick them up, which gave me time to sit and read, well, along with reading to my sleepy tot, and giving in to his gestured requests to stroke the huge stuffed lion and bear displayed on the book shelves. Somehow, I managed to speed read a few pages of the book, not to mention the speech difficulties one. When you are always needed in more than one occasion, at often the same time, by many different people, you very quickly master the art of speed reading.

Today, I managed to pick up the book again, and continue reading, though I have to say also, that when you are always needed on more than one occasion, at often the same time, by many different people, you develop the habit of hop reading, which basically means reading a book from the back, the middle, and hopping in between, mostly because you don’t have time to insert a bookmark when you have to put the book down because you have to cook or yell at the kids to clean their room, or when you do manage to find (a feat in an of itself) and  insert a bookmark (which can be anything from grocery lists to a pencil), the moment you return to the book to find your place, the bookmark would have been displaced by busy little hands. So I never bother using a bookmark anymore, not a physical tangible one anyway.

My hop reading today landed me in the chapter titled ‘The Art of Recipe Writing’. Oh boy, did I get a load of information that makes me cringe and wince in shame, nodding in agreement, and determined not to ever write a recipe ever again, that is until I started googling and found Nupur’s two part article on Recipe Writing on One Hot Stove, catered for food bloggers in particular.

My search on resources for food writing didn’t give me much, and I only came up with a list of food writing classes that are way too expensive for the likes of people like me. Nevertheless, a search for recipe writing lands me with so many tabs on my browser, that I practically have to scroll rightward and back to link to the websites in this post.

I am blown away by the depth and breadth in the art of recipe writing as explained that that chapter. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to amass a good collection of cookbooks that are now neatly packed in boxes, reading for the imminent relocation. I can say that I am quite familiar with well written recipes, and can detect badly written ones, purely from constant exposure to quality cookbooks over the years. Nevertheless, I never thought much about the art of recipe writing, even as I eagerly scribbled down recipes onto my recipe cards almost every night after the children went to bed, years ago in the flatland of Iowa.

But after reading this chapter, recipe writing revealed itself as something to be in awe of, and something to also be reckoned with, on top of having an interesting history, as explained by Daniel Rogov on Rogov’s Ramblings in his article The Art of Writing Workable Recipes. Being a person who loves details, organization (though this doesn’t always shine through in the state of my house), and perfection (which often lands me in trouble and drives my stress level way too high), I am attracted to the rigors and rules of recipe writing. Only one thing gives me the dampers; testing the recipes. This for me, will translate to more time in the kitchen (which I used to love, but now abhor because I have to cook two separate meals for allergic tot and the rest of the family).

I have always loved reading headnotes in recipes, and I am simply overjoyed to discover why this is. They have been written for such a purpose; to entice readers to try out the recipes! In Joy Luck Kitchen, I wrote my headnotes, not out of knowledge, but out of an inner instinct that tells me,

You always loved reading this in cookbooks, why not provide it with your recipes?

I didn’t know there was such a thing, or that there is even a name for it.

I have read somewhere before, pertaining to copyright, that the ingredient list cannot be copyrighted, because you logically cannot copyright ‘1 cup all purpose flour’. But one thing I learned is that the method section of a recipe should convey the writer’s persona and style and make the reader feel like the author is right next to her, guiding her every move. I was also not aware that it is a matter of preference to write the methods as numbered or as paragraphs, though I personally prefer numbered, for easy tracking when following a recipe.

The parts of a recipe are (and this reminds me the parts of letter writing that I kept rehashing with my ten year old when we were working on writing letters during one of our homeschooling sessions) namely Recipe Titles, Headnotes, Ingredient list, Method, and Sidebars/Notes. A very important aspect of recipe writing however is testing, especially for recipes to be published in cookbooks and magazines.

One thing I was taken aback at was the discouragement of using ‘sophisticated’ cooking terms such as blanch, dredge, par boil, julienne and the likes. I understand the whys of it, but I guess I was just taken aback that most people nowadays are not familiar with those terms, unless of course they are fans of Food Network. Not that I know those terms well myself, but years of burying my hungry nose in cookbooks havd well equipped me with those terms that I now find ‘common’.  Some of my favorite cookbooks that I own are Joy of Cooking, along with Rose Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. I especially love cookbooks written by authors who take the trouble to lay out the do’s, the don’ts, the whys, and the troubleshootings. It’s very irritating to be told not to do something with no explanation. After scouring recipes for years, I no longer am satisfied with bare recipes. I want, I need the explanations, especially the whys of a method, especially when it comes to baking.

I am not going to bother listing the how tos of writing a recipe, just because there is so much information about this on the net. What I am reflecting over, and still basking in is, the newfound knowledge that recipe writing is an art that deserves just as much attention to details and organization as other forms of writing. And that alone, just blows me away with awe and respect.

Here is a list of recipe writing resources I found on the net:

Recipe Writing on Food Resource

How to Write a Cookbook: Recipe on Suite101

How to Write Recipes for Magazines on eHow

How to Write Recipes for Food Network

How to Write Recipes Like a Professional on the kitchn

How to Write a Recipe on wikiHow

How to Write a Recipe from the American Association of Food Journalists

Reference Books related to Recipe Writing:

The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Ostmann and Jane Baker

Recipes Into Type: A Handbook for Cookbook Writers and Editors by Joan Whitman and Dolores Simon

Other books on food, recipes, history of food, and culinary terms:

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee

Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking by Shirley O. Corriher

Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Herbst

The New Kitchen Science by Howard Hillman

What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert E. Wolke

Understanding Baking by Joseph Amendola, Nicole Rees, and Robert E. Lundberg

Ahh…more scrumptious books to wrangle out of the library.


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