What would you think if I presented you with one of my recipes but gave you very little instruction on how to actually make it? Say I just gave you the ingredient list and told you to put it together and stick it in the oven? Or if I wasn’t even particularly clear about the ingredients list, if I mentioned using separated eggs, but I really only meant that you should use just the egg whites? What if I didn’t even tell you an oven temperature at which to bake the item? I am going to take a wild stab here and say you wouldn’t think much of me as a recipe writer. In fact, you’d probably never visit my blog again. I know that I sometimes make a typo or forget to list a step in the instructions. But on the whole, I try to write my recipes the way I would want to read them: clearly, concisely and carefully.
So imagine my confusion, not to mention my frustration, when trying to recreate recipes from a cookbook that made all of the aforementioned transgressions. Let me give you a little background here. My friend, Jessica Apple, editor of A Sweet Life Diabetes Magazine, came across an old cookbook for diabetics and thought it might make good story material. And by old cookbook, I mean really old. As in written almost 100 years ago. “Diabetic Cookery”, by Rebecca W. Oppenheimer, was published in 1917, at a time when such cookbooks didn’t really exist for diabetics in need of carbohydrate restriction. In fact the preface begins like this, “The author would feel diffidence in publishing a cook book when so many other excellent ones already exist, if it were not that she is treating a special field.”
This may sound as if I think Oppenheimer’s recipes are no good, but this isn’t necessarily the case. What I really think is that, back in Rebecca W. Oppenheimer’s day, women were such regular cooks and bakers, they didn’t need the sort of explicit instructions we need today. They grew up around their mothers and aunts and sisters baking and cooking on a daily basis, without relying on recipes or cookbooks at all. They would know that referring to separated eggs in the ingredients list didn’t necessarily mean you used both parts of the egg in the actual recipe. They could gauge oven temperatures simply by sticking a hand inside, no need to rely on fancy thermostats with exact temperature readings. In fact, it’s likely that their ovens didn’t even have temperature gauges at all. It’s only in our modern day, where we tend to be more disassociated from our food preparation, where we rely on all sorts of fancy technology to help us cook and bake, that we need things spelled out for us so clearly.
For the recipe, please see this article posted at A Sweet Life Diabetes Magazine.