Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Have you noticed? The language of recipes is becoming archaic.

My mother taught me to read recipes.

Sugar meant white sugar unless brown was specified.
Flour meant regular white flour unless whole wheat was specified.
“To cream” meant to mix the shortening and the sugar together until well-blended.
Brown sugar was always packed – no exceptions.
Brown sugar meant “light” brown sugar unless dark was specified.
“T” meant tablespoon; “t” meant teaspoon.
Soda was baking soda. No one needed to tell you that.
Cinnamon meant “ground” cinnamon, unless otherwise stated. (The same rule applied for all other common baking spices.)
“Dry ingredients” were the flour, salt, seasonings, soda.
A “prepared pan” meant you “greased and floured” your baking pan.
“Grease” is shortening, like Crisco.
Always pre-heat the oven.

These terms were standard, Mother said, and what one needed to know in order to read a recipe. She also explained that the method of mixing ingredients was standard. If you had your list of ingredients, you could mix them even if you didn’t have directions. I don’t remember that it took a long time for me to learn this language. I was highly motivated to bake cookies.

The point is that you don’t need a lot of words in order to relate a recipe. In fact, I think it’s better if the language is succinct. If you have a question as you cook, a quick glance at the recipe reveals what you need to know. And when you go to copy a recipe, the standardized language makes it’s so much faster. But these days it’s different . . .

Recipes today – and recipes abound! -- are explicit and repetitive. Perhaps it’s a good thing. I’m sure it helps the novice. But sometimes I feel that the message of the recipe is lost in all the words. I just want a recipe “blueprint” and I don’t want to read all these words that I don’t need.

A couple of years ago I found myself laboriously copying recipes I wanted to try from online sites. It was taking me forever, and then reading the recipe as I cooked was a challenge. Then I realized that I actually “speak” the recipe language and all these words were unnecessary. I began to jot down the recipes using the language my mother taught me. After a brief listing of ingredients, I just make notes, such as:
375 – 8x8 prepared pan – 40-45 min.

What could be simpler?

[The top photo was taken at Thanksgiving, 1959.  Mother is in the foreground with my grandfather to the right of her. And yes, you can see me toward the back but leaning forward. The bottom photo was taken in the same time frame -- Mother in the backyard under the hawthorn tree. She loved the beauty of a snowfall.]


drMolly, the BeanQueen said...

Ah Kathy, but you forget that no one teaches the young anymore the "old fashioned" idea of thinking for one's self. Or adaptation or adventure or JUST PLAIN fun in cooking. One must do everything perfectly and EXACTLY like the recipe or the picture or..........

Chris said...

Oh, I love the pictures! I remember them all so well. The one of your mom under the tree is wonderful.

Interesting topic--I tend to shorthand recipes, too, and never thought about others not knowing the methods. But then I guess the people I share with are family or friends my age.

Hallie said...

Who are you sitting next to? Is that Uncle Porky on your left and the Profitt dad on your right? I don't know that guy...

Kathy said...

I believe it's true that the young aren't taught in the way we "oldsters" were. The funny thing is that my mother didn't think she had taught me enough about cooking and yet I can cook anything I want to with what she showed me.

Yes, Uncle Porky and Aunt Sara are on my left and the "Profitt dad" on my right. That's Polly next to him and Nina didn't make the picture. Joni wears red on the right side, Pat on her right. Bill is hidden and Harriet is at the top of the picture.

Daddy took the pictures. He had plenty of room to swing the camera a little more to the left and include Nina, but for some reason he didn't. He had an artistic eye but struggled with the equipment.

Oh - and there must have been a table someplace with L.J. and Becky.

Another observation: The women are dressed up, the men quite casual.