Over the years I’ve written a few How To articles and also some recipes, but I’ve never written a How To Write a Recipe.
Despite the COVID-19 crises, or maybe because of it, demand for such an article has followed the usual demand levels that we see here at SloWord, ranging from a low of “None” to a high of “Dismal”, with a margin of error of +/- 32.54873 diopters, a diopter, apparently, being a unit of refractive power that is equal to the reciprocal of the focal length (in meters) of a given lens. Now this piece of nonsense is important in setting the stage for a complex and compound analysis of the art, but not the science, of recipes. To be specific, we are going to peer through the lens of our specs into the specific specifications that make up a recipe.
We shall look at structure, dig deep into the depths of the instructions, analyse the ingredients that make a good recipe, not just better, but convert it into a great recipe, one destined to live on in the annals of time as a waste of time, but not an utter waste of time, with a an end-result that offers a sublime banana bread or deliriously overstated stuffed okra. It may even lead to a chicken kebab, the memory of which will be permanently burned into your brain as an exercise in futility that has no equal.
So, here we are, let’s find out How To Write A Recipe.
What is a How To
First, we must understand the concept of a How To.
A How To is a species of job-aid, of the genus procedure of the family manual of the order end-user documentation. How Tos may exist in the wild in online wikipedia-like environments, as well free form documents, where they may appear in various forms, with PDF, Word, Powerpoint being the most common.
The objective, thus, of a How To is to show you, fundamentally, how to do something. In this particular case, How To Write a Recipe.
But, I see you have a question.
What qualifies SloWord to write How To Write a Recipe is the question asked and I must say, at the outset, that the answer to this is not an easy one. In fact, my response is likely to be mildly controversial, with reactions ranging from “Wide Derision” to “Grudging Hilarity”. Nevertheless, let me attempt to answer this lovely question.
There are two broad categories that come to mind when we attempt to measure credentials in a way that allows us to make a decision. The decision, possibly, before you, is “Should I continue to get bored reading this or not?”
If boredom, in these troubled times is merely par for the course and you are resigned to your fate, then really you should just continue reading for the question may be tagged as “rhetorical”. If you’re a regular reader of SloWord, for such people do exist, then you are here by choice and we thank you. You may skip, giggling deliriously, onwards.
Now, you may be a first time visitor to SloWord. First of all, thank you for coming. You are likely the kind of person who would ask for my credentials for the task of writing How To Write a Recipe.
Now, I did say there are two broad categories. Here they are
I have over the years written many recipes. These cover such varied items as across multiple courses; appetizers, soups, sandwiches, vegetarian curries, seafood and desserts. You could have an entire dinner party with multiple courses to interest, possibly, your guests as they mingle with the booze in a desperate attempt to drown their sorrows and your culinary skills. Or mine.
For examples, click here and look for the table marked “Recipes”. This separates the actual recipes from the merely food related articles. Your derision is well received with thanks.
I have, also, written many How Tos, user manuals, procedures and end-user documentation. Interestingly, some of these have come as part of paying day jobs. Imagine that!
The spread of How Tos have covered project management, life skills, writing craft. An illustrative list is provided below
- How To Write a Novel (incidentally, the most read article on SloWord)
- How To Quit Smoking
- How To Make People Uncomfortable
- How To Bear a Bear
- How To Write a Story
How To Watch Paint Dry, however, has lain in “draft” since October, 2016. If the COVID-19 crises continues, we may be compelled to finish this. (In fact, there is a growing school of thought that this should actually have been the one I should have focused on. But since I lack focus, I have ignored that school as I did most of my schooling.)
I believe we can safely say that there should be not an iota of doubt remaining in your mind about the quality of the content you should expect. And yes, I am well aware that the level of quality has not been defined in quantifiable terms. Should the demand for such a definition exist, I shall look into providing an aesthetically pleasing view into the measurements and quantification that may be used to arrive at a range of measurable KPI (Key Performance Indicators) that could be used to track trends.
Hurrying on to the basic building blocks, then, for I am sure you’re anxious to get on with it and not get bogged down, let’s explore the basic framework that makes up a recipe.
How To Write a Recipe – The Recipe Structure
There are five (5) basic sections of a recipe. These are
An optional sixth section may be added to take care of concluding remarks. Consider this as an epilogue to Section 1 – The Story. Note, however, that a Section 0 or prologue, is often superfluous and only the very highly skilled practitioners use it. It is usually aimed at other highly skilled (or bored) practitioners or lay readers. Do not attempt this unless you have read all the How Tos in this blog and have truly internalized the lessons herein.
As an interesting side note, there is growing support for a deep study into the lay readers as consumers. In the coming months, I fully expect research into the hypotheses that lay readers have to be really, really bored to read recipes that follow the recipe framework detailed here.
Every good recipe, in the best recipe books, starts with a personal anecdote. This sets the stage for everything that follows. This is the section where the writer engages the reader. A whimsical tale about a favorite grandma and the apple pies she was wont to bake in large quantities while grandpa shot possums from his front porch for the main course, can go a long way to draw in the reader. You can use this to relate that cutely funny story of the first time you made rock cake and go on to demonstrate how you use the finished product to this day in your kitchen to sharpen your knives.
I have personally used this to great effect. Some say that I have over-indulged in this. However, I am of the opinion that the importance of this section cannot be minimized. Witness the chicken kebab recipe which proved that chicken kebabs are, in fact, vegetarian while providing detailed insights into the plight of a modern Canadian in the pursuit of that most elusive of creatures, a Working Barbecue Grill.
In short, use this wisely, use it well. Everything after this section is likely going to be boring anyway.
I have received some criticism that I have used the recipe format to, in fact, tell stories as the primary objective with the recipe being relegated to second fiddle. I completely disagree. The Story is the critical piece that can convert the merely good recipe into a great one. It is the one thing that stands between you and the status of “He Who Can Cause Boredom By Blog”.
This is a status usually aspired to by those who write technical reviews copied from the trade magazines, those who write self-help and quotation filled articles for the sole purpose of purifying your soul. Powerful as they maybe and compelling as their case is, we’re talking about a completely different level here. We’re talking about sole; baked, grilled, fried and served with mustard on a bed of basmati rice cooked to perfection amidst the tale of your drive into the countryside to watch the waves lap the side of a pond.
Hopefully, you will also, with diligence, one day attain this highly desirable and extremely elusive certification as I did lo, these many years ago and this one fact should completely remove any lingering doubts you may have about my credentials.
This section deals with the business of recounting the various pots and pans and things you may need, such as tongs, spatulas and bowls and cups and measures and other such things. After the high of the Story, this section offers the reader some respite, rather in the manner of the wayside inn that offers a cooling quaff of the blissful hippocrene to cool the hart and fool the heart into thinking the journey is almost done.
I advise you to take this section casually. It is usually not necessary to be too specific. Simple qualifiers like “small” or “large” may be used to describe bowls. Pots and pans can be described in terms of the quantity required of the end product.
Readers, in my experience, are usually adept at adopting or adapting their existing vessels. You can, if you so desire, embellish, polish and provide useless details as you go. It is considered superfluous to recount the look and feel of your mother’s kitchen and how you used to play with the tongs and how you once dropped a pair of hot tongs on your naked toe and were treated with choice cuss words and exhortations to apply some cold water.
I cannot emphasize the importance of this section enough. A crucial element of the framework, the Ingredients section focuses the attention onto the raw materials that the reader will need.
As you can readily imagine, no finished product is finished or a product unless we first start with raw materials. For raw materials, read Ingredients. This is the section where you describe the vegetables, meats, spices, flavorings, grains, flours and other food items that will be required in the process.
You can wax lyrical about the verdant expanses that have given birth to the freshest vegetables, the luxurious beard of the butcher who cut the cut of meat which you are now caressing with your hands, the sunny salt flats or majestic mountains that gave birth to the salt that now lies in that ceramic jar that adorns your counter, the hot, sweltering climates that add the extra flavour to the exotic spices that you know no do not exist in the common kitchen.
This is the place for poetry. There, I said it, didn’t I? That should tell you something, but exactly what, I’m not sure.
One caveat. Readers tend to focus on quantities. They want to know how much, how many. There’s a few ground rules you should be aware of.
- Baking – cakes, bread, especially bread. Be precise. By weight, preferably, not “cups”, “teaspoons” etc.
- Baking – not cakes, bread. A little goes a long way so let your readers know that they’re on their own, but to back off a bit.
- Everything else, add a disclaimer.
The disclaimer is an important invention in the context of recipes. It is generally accepted that SloWord was the first to apply a disclaimer in a recipe. The disclaimer, if you choose to insert one, and I highly recommend it, says “to taste”. In short, go nuts, adding more or less of everything according to your taste. This frees you up from those pesky details and lays the onus of pleasing the spicy types and the non-spicy types to the reader.
This leaves you free to do the things you love, chiefly daydreaming. Also, writing useless articles called “How To Write a Recipe”
Now we’re coming to the mundane; the actual cooking, steaming, boiling, baking, mixing, chopping, dicing, grinding.
I did say mundane. I did so with a reason. This is the section where, more often than not, recipe writers, or as they are known among those holding the coveted HWCCBBB, Reciters, fall to their defeat. They fail to recognize the potential to convert the mundane into a joyful work of art.
How, you ask?
There are many ways. One way, is to combine it with music. Add a bit of swing, or a comic song from a movie. You have a theory about misheard lyrics? Fine! Add that in!
There is a tendency among those just starting out in the field of Recipe Writing, to add a story or anecdote. I would strongly discourage you from attempting such a thing. If you’ve done a good job of Section 1 – Story, then you’ve done the story. If you’ve failed to engage with the opening section, there’s not much you can salvage now. Leave it to the masters, I say, and keep your section simple.
There is one other method. You will remember that I have displayed little enthusiasm for poetry, especially since my own has been ignored in all directions. However, I have seen instances of poetic phraseology used to good effect in this section. I say, don’t. Let it go. If they didn’t read your poetry when it was labelled as such and tagged and posted appropriately, they don’t deserve it. Sniff! Sob!
Let them eat the cake you just baked, I say!
Congratulations! You have made it through the 2000 odd words of pure garbage and have survived to tell the tale.
In this section, which I consider purely decorative, you can add some guff about garnishing and plating and such like. I find that a simple approach works best. Remember, not only has the reader gone through your excruciatingly long-winded story, but they’ve exhausted themselves cooking and washing up. Move on, I tell people. Get on with the drinking and eating and drinking and putting your feet up and drinking.
You have come to the end of this class and have clearly understood How To Write a Recipe.
If you are now drunk, you’re a martyr to the cause of SloWord and we salute you.
If you are asleep, then you’re not reading this, are you? No, you’re fast asleep and in these troubled times, what better than tired nature’s sweet restorer? You will awake refreshed, secure in the knowledge that you have come upon a sure cure for your insomnia.
Do write in and offer your insights. Tell us about your experiences with recipes. Tell us about the sandwich you made with one slice of ham and half an orange. Tell us about the steak you once had. Tell us about the Poisson Riz you ate on the Champs Elysees that magical night when you overcame the Nervii.
In short, tell us.