Now, if you read my most recent post, you’re probably wondering, “Where’s the receipt? It can’t be that paragraph at the end. Where’s the list of ingredients? What is the cooking temperature? Or golly, the cooking time?! That’s not a receipt. Or even a recipe!”
Au contraire, mes amis! That little paragraph is, indeed, a genuine receipt (recipe), and it perfectly illustrates how cooking instructions were written in past centuries. Yes, they were in paragraph form, with the ingredients (and the amounts of each), the temperature (in fire terms, of course), and the cooking time spread throughout.
The recipe layout with which we’re all accustomed, with its ingredient list given first, followed by the cooking instructions, was developed during the late 1800s. We can thank England’s Elizabeth Beeton and our own Eliza Leslie, both authors of assorted cookbooks, for this now well-known format. And let’s not forget Fannie Farmer, who ran cooking schools in Boston and revamped The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, who was largely responsible for our modern, scientific and precise, measuring system of cups, tablespoons, and so on.
Of course, I’ve worked with hundreds since the beginning of my hearth cooking experience. These are now so familiar, that they’re almost second nature. Early on, however, deciphering them was quite daunting! These receipts do require a careful read-through at the start, as well as a basic understanding of the use of an open fire and general historic cooking terms. All this was necessary in any earlier time period, as well. The only difference is that in previous centuries, a cook most likely met the criteria. In fact, most cookbook authors assumed that certain things were just understood by nearly every hearth cook, and so there was no reason to offer any explanations or directions. Cookbooks from very early centuries, say the 13th and 14th, were largely written by professional chefs for others within the profession. And yes, most of them were male; female authors, writing largely for a domestic audience as opposed to a professional one, didn’t emerge until the late 17th Century. But whatever the level of the cook or cookbook buyer, it was widely understood that the person knew what was meant by “a clear fire” or “boiled enough” or “a lump of butter.”
So, go back to yesterday’s receipt. Read it again, abandon the restraints of modern cookery, and try it! You’ll be surprised at what you can do.