©2016 Chris Terrell
If each book held, on average, 100 recipes, that would be 6,300 recipes. That’s a lot! And taking it just a step further, if I cooked a new recipe every night, it would take me seventeen years, three months, three days, and fifteen hours to cook all those recipes. This assumes that I would not buy more cookbooks during this seventeen-year stretch.
The latest addition to my gastronomic library is Simple: The Easiest Cookbook in the World by Jean-François Mallet, a French chef. This is the English translation of the best selling Simplissime; 300,000 copies have been sold in France since September 2015. No recipe has more than four steps or six ingredients. I’ve tried a couple of things from it and it works pretty well as a cookbook, but then cooking and recipes don’t need to be complicated. (I recall an overly elaborate recipe from Martha Stewart I tried back in law school—terrible.)
However, the best recipes are the ones we carry in our heads—handed down to us from our mothers, grandmothers, and eccentric aunts. (My Aunt Ruth made a spaghetti sauce that was, in her words, “fabulous.” It took all day and a couple of stiff scotches to get it done.)
Recipes that don’t live in books are more interesting in the same way that real people are more interesting than characters who live in books. Like people, unwritten recipes are never the same. They change. They evolve. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. They are never finished. That’s why it’s so hard to write them down. Once you do, they start to become a relic in a museum.
Even when a recipe is followed line by line, like holy writ, it will never render itself the same way each time. That tomato in June may taste a bit brighter than the one from the previous September. That onion you add today may be past its prime, unlike the one from the farmers market in the spring. And one night, while the game is on, you don’t measure the cup of flour quite as carefully as you did before football season started.
This is not to say that cookbooks don’t have their place. I would hope so, considering I have so many. Cookbooks inspire, challenge, frustrate, and surprise. They are guides on a journey that never really ends.
Is it finished? Let’s hope the answer is no.