Thursday, January 21, 2010

What is a Recipe?

“I wish I had his recipe.” This phrase reminds me of the father of one of my high school friends. When Alvin spoke those words it had nothing to do with cooking. His meaning had to do with success. Someone who was in the news for a significant accomplishment or an athlete who had played a great game on  the basketball court, a farmer with a brand new pickup truck or someone who had been notably successful in another way would generate this comment from Alvin. It was his highest compliment. 

The phrase, “I wish I had his (or her) recipe,” stayed with me because I thought it was strange. Why would he say the word “recipe?” That word was firmly stuck in the kitchen of my brain. Why not wish for skill, luck, money, better things, more? It seemed mundane and silly. 

For a teenager, I was an accomplished cook. My mother has a home economics degree from North Dakota State University. She wisely became a 4-H leader when I was old enough to join the club. Through that program she taught domestic skills to me and the other members of the Jolly Haymakers. With a house full of family and the men working on the farm, I had plenty of willing samplers on which to garner experience in food preparation. But, as is often the case when one is young, I took the recipes for granted. I cooked and baked in our farm kitchen with recipes from carefully compiled and edited cookbooks. These books were published, then selected by national experts to educate young people just like me. All of this was monitored by my 4-H leader who thoroughly understood what was transpiring.
I still use some of the recipes I started making before I was ten years old. Now I understand food preparation as a science. Although I have never taken a single class in home economics, I have had lots of education from a qualified professional. In the kitchen, recipes are key to consistently good results. A tiny addition or deletion can make a big difference in the recipe. Some cooks may be able to create an exciting dish by throwing things together in a bowl. After years of experience many cooks can duplicate a recipe without actually measuring the ingredients used. But, if you don’t develop the recipes as you go, if you don’t write down and remember the exact ingredients and proportions, if you are not educated and experienced in technique and tools, the cook cannot expect to expand and grow. 
I now understand the compliment. One of the benefits of age is perspective. Alvin could say so much with those few words and the adults understood his message clearly. If you have the recipe, you know the secrets. Knowing the recipe is a shortcut to success.

 Maybe this blog need a few recipes. After all, anyone can use a shortcut to success.

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