“I’m a gourmet chef and I don’t measure anything.”
“Some people can cook. Others can follow recipes.”
These statements and others like them were leveled at me this weekend, after I mentioned I was going to attempt to capture the recipe for my wife’s world-class lasagna. Frankly, they caught me unaware. Never before had I come up against such blatant and illogical snobbery regarding recipes.
The fact is, if you’ve ever…and I mean ever…been taught how to cook something, you’ve used a recipe. “Recipe,” with its last century cousin “receipt” and the pharmaceutical “Rx,” all come from the Latin recipere, meaning “to receive or take.” Recipe, in fact, is the imperative form: Take! as this was the first word of almost every recipe written in that language.
Whether you were taught at your nana’s knee or trained at the Cordon Bleu, you were given step-by-step instructions on how to construct a dish. Whether you measure by the handful or the gram-weight, you’re following a recipe. Whether it was written down by Julia Child or passed down by oral tradition, you are following a recipe, and to pooh-pooh recipes (and those of us who follow them) as being somehow less than you is to ignore facts and to uselessly denigrate what is for many of us a gift of love.
That little 3×5 card with your grandmother’s crabbed scrawl, that brittle age-browned scrap of paper written by your mother’s hand, and that ancient notebook packed with torn clippings and annotated soup-can labels, those are physical manifestations of devotion, of love. You don’t cook out of hate. You don’t feed people you dislike. You don’t note what pleases the palate of enemies.
You don’t slave in the kitchen for hours and serve it up to people you don’t love.
Recipes are captured moments, repeatable moments. Recipes are confidences held between friends. “Here,” they say, “this is a secret from my heart.”
My wife has been making and perfecting her lasagna for thirty years. Each time, something is a little bit different. Ask her for the recipe (and many have), and she can’t tell you; she measures by eye, often has mounds of cheese or cups of sauce left over. And though I am working to write down her recipe from this last weekend’s bake-off, I know that in ten years’ time, it will be different.
But this recipe–this weekend’s recipe–is a starting point for everyone who’s ever asked for the secret. It’s a place for us all to start and then say, “Oh yes, it is wonderful; now I will make it mine.” They can add a bit more heat, a bit less ricotta, cook it a bit longer. They may still call it “Ilene’s World-Class Lasagna” or they may change it enough until, over time, it will be something all their own. It does not matter to me. It does not matter to my wife.
A recipe shared is an act of love. It’s your best effort, writ down and passed along, from hand to hand, kitchen to kitchen, family to family, heart to heart.
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