Gopnik on recipes

After posting my lemon and lime tart recipe yesterday, I was reminded again just how difficult sharing such a thing is in this medium. So much about cooking is intuitive. To give intuition words is fraught. I look through my mother’s tattered box of recipes, little bits of culinary wisdom scrawled on yellowed pieces of paper. ‘You had to be there,’ I think to myself. And I was.

More from Adam Gopnik:

‘Handed-down wisdom and worked-up information remain the double piers of a cook’s life. The recipe book always contains two things: news of how something is made, and assurance that there’s a way to make it, with the implicit faith that if I know how it is done I can show you how to do it. The premise of the recipe book is that these two things are naturally balanced; the secret of the recipe book is that they’re not. The space between learning the facts about how something is done and learning how actually to do it always turns out to be large, at times immense. What kids make depends on what moms — or, now, dads — know: skills, implicit knowledge, inherited craft, buried assumptions, finger know-how that no recipe can sum up. The recipe is the blueprint but also a red herring, a way to do something and a fast summing up of a living process that can be handed on only by demonstration, a knack posing as a knowledge. We say, “What’s the recipe?” when we mean “How exactly do you do it?” And though we want the answer to be “Like this!” the honest answer is “Be me!” “What’s the recipe?” you ask the weary pro-chef, and he gives you a weary-pro-chef look, since the recipe is the totality of the activity, the real work. The recipe is to spend your life cooking.’

Adam Gopnik, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, London: Quercus, 2011, 55-56.

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