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Recipes that don’t work. The unspoken problem with cookery books
Cookery books may still be selling like hotcakes but I sometimes wonder why given that so many of the recipes don’t actually work. Unsurprisingly it’s not a subject the publishing industry cares to dwell on but it’s a more widespread problem than you’d think.
We authors do our best but even then howlers can slip through. Although I was lucky enough to learn my trade when Delia was in charge of Sainsbury's Magazine, I've been guilty of a couple myself - a tomato soup where the tomatoes had been left out of the list of ingredients (duh!) and some ‘vegan’ Thai-style patties that contained egg white. None of us picked the errors up.
Tsp printed as tbsp - just one letter’s difference - but a potentially catastrophic effect, particularly in a baking recipe. An extra zero on the number of grams - 250 instead of 25. Disaster!
Chefs are particular culprits because they’re simply not used to thinking in terms of recipes, being vague in the extreme about the quantities and methods involved. I remember working with chef Stephen Marwick on the first draft of a fish soup recipe he’d provided which called for ‘a gallon of fish stock’. Just what every home cook has to hand.
None of this is too bad for the experienced cook who reads through a recipe before starting to make it but it’s far more difficult for those who lack the knowledge to spot an error and the knowhow to deal with it.
And a lot of ‘errors’ are merely questions of taste. The author may be much more tolerant of chilli or salt than you are. You need to learn to adjust recipes to your own palate and the ingredients you have to hand. Also your and your family's appetites may differ from the author's. I recently cooked a recipe for 6 that just about fed 3 not especially greedy people.
The situation isn’t likely to improve as publishers continue to go for TV tie-ins and new authors who’ve never written a book before. Or books that aren’t even written by the author (it has been known . . . ) They also prefer short recipes when long ones might be more helpful and commission books at the last possible minute leaving insufficient time for testing and editing - although my impression is that the US publishing industry is more rigorous than the British one in this respect.
So what about you - have you ever had a disaster with a recipe and what went wrong?
This post was first written 5 years ago and I think things have got worse, if anything!
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