Recipes are for sissies. Ok, not really. But there are plenty of folks who cook just wonderfully without a written recipe. These folks know exactly how much flour for perfect pancakes, how many eggs for that birthday cake, how much salt is in a pinch, and so on. Diametrically opposed to the precision of those who follow the letter of the culinary law, these folks wing it. Willy-nilly, they add their spices, never getting a recipe exactly the same twice. Yet somehow, it all works out. “It’s a mystery” comes to mind (cue Shakespeare in Love theme song)but it isn’t a fluke. People who cook without recipes have innate senses, seasoned through time and practice, about what makes a dish “right”. My grandmother (when she still cooked) was one of these folks. Recipes weren’t something she really utilized much. Maybe if she saw something on a cooking program, she’d jot down the ingredients, but probably not the amounts. She cooked by taste, by sight and by memory. Now granted, she wasn’t making really complicated, Martha Stewart-style dishes; just good old comfort food like roast, gravy, cakes, and the like.
So I wonder, does abandoning recipes give more or less freedom to the cook? For me, I tend to use recipes as guidelines, rather than rules (cue Pirates of the Carribbean music), unless the dish is something complicated or precise, like baking. But I tend to swap out items at will, add more salt or change the cooking time, if I disagree with the recipe. Generally, this works out ok, occasional flops aside. I find for me that distance between the dish and the recipe does give me freedom but I like having the safety net there, just in case. For people who never use recipes, I have to wonder if they are limiting their repetoire to those dishes that they know well or that are family favorites. How much improvising do non-recipe cooks do on their own? Are recipes the equivalent of a sewing pattern – making the cook either a manufacturer if they use one and a designer if they don’t? Not being a designer, I would only guess that all design is based on some basic principles, that once mastered can be bent or tweaked (or even broken). I think cooking is the same (cue Project Runway video).
Ok, so once again, I fail to pick a side on the issue of Recipe – Yes or No. I guess I’m too much of an Aquarian. But since my cooking style is quasi-free form, I guess my opinion on this is too. Who knows, who cares – pass me some cake.