Do you like your recipes poetic or practical?

Some recipe writers conjure words like the best poets or lyricists, others are matter-of-fact and straightforward in their prose. Most people have a preference for one type of recipe over another, and Leite Culinaria’s David Leite and Renee Schettler are no exception. The two each make the case for their preferred method of recipe writing.

Renee lands in the poetic camp. She says she is “drawn to recipes with a little character. Those far-and-few-between recipes that play loose and easy with language, that dance to their own rhythm of style and grammar, that are imbued with a touch of the writer’s personality.” She finds straightforward recipes boring, and leaves her with an incomplete understanding of the dish she is making.

David, on the other hand, prefers concise, simple recipes. This is not to say he does not enjoy good food writing, but thinks that evocative descriptions and lengthy explanations belong in the lead up to the recipe, not in its instructions. “Let’s keep it relegated to the headnote. That’s where all of the everyday prettiness—the art—Renee loves should live,” he says.

I find myself on David’s side on this topic. I enjoy cracking open a cookbook to read like a novel and find myself drawn in by good stories, passages that describe locations so I can picture myself in a faraway land, and the occasional gorgeous photograph. But for the recipe itself, I prefer the writing short and sweet. Where do you fall in this debate?

Jenny recently covered this subject as well in Order up: one recipe, hold the narrative.

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  • gamulholland  on  August 28, 2020

    I was an English and History double major as an undergraduate, so I have to admit to enjoying a good descriptive recipe. I took a rather unusual career course for a humanities major (med school), and I still have the one science book in which the author actually wrote in a conversational style, just because I was so impressed that someone could actually do that with organic chemistry. So I think I’m in Renee’s camp there. 🙂

  • pokarekare  on  August 29, 2020

    I have just completed a “Family Favourites” recipe book for my grand-daughter’s 11th birthday, as she enjoys cooking. I tried to keep the recipes simple and easy to follow, but some of the older ones I left as they were. For example, this one was recited to me by my mother when she was well into her dementia years. I found the original recipe in her oldest cook book and she was almost word perfect.
    Beat 2 Tblspns sugar and 1 egg until light and frothy. Add 1 scant cup of milk, 1 ½ cups of flour, 1 tspn cream of tartar, ½ tspn baking soda, 1 Tblspn melted butter and 1 Tblspn boiling water. The hot water makes the pikelets light and fluffy!
    Note: Grandma Pat knew this old recipe by heart. She had made them since she was a little girl.”
    So I guess I have a foot in both camps really – just depends on the circumstances.

  • sir_ken_g  on  August 29, 2020

    Sometimes the stories are interesting.
    But when the cooking gets going I click “Go to recipe”
    I also have a Chrome extension called Print “Friendly & PDF” which will allow you to purge the noise.

  • Ro_  on  August 30, 2020

    I don’t mind a little floweriness in the recipe itself, especially when it actually helps you understand what you’re looking to achieve in that step of the recipe – if it’s a novel way of describing the colour your sauce should be, or the texture you’re looking to acheive, bring it on! But I don’t like recipes written in free prose, with no clear separation between steps or bullet pointing (Jamie Oliver I’m looking at you!). It makes it really hard to follow when you’re in the midst of the recipe and have to keep switching your attention between the page and the cooking. For me, someone like Nigella Lawson has the balance right: she adds descriptive flair while still keeping it short, sweet and easy to follow.

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