Recipe writers need to learn English

Jason Offutt

Jason Offutt

I cook.

A short sentence, I know, but important for clarification. When people talk with me about cooking they tend to say things like, “the oven’s the door on the bottom” and “I’ll give your wife the recipe.” Both are silly because, 1) six year olds know what the bottom thingy’s called, and 2) my wife will simply hand the recipe to me.

We have an agreement about household duties: I cook and fix everything our children break; she does all the smart things. And when it comes to making food, I take it seriously, which is difficult because recipes are obviously written by people with no grasp of the English language.

For example, what maniac ever uses the following?

Puree: The sound French cats make.

Render: The things that pull Santa’s sleigh.

Fricassee: What Yosemite Sam often threatened to do to Bugs Bunny. I think it involves rassa-frassin’ dynamite.

Gratin: What someone does to fake cheese. I’ll use it in a sentence: “Yep, I’ll start gratin’ this here Velveeter for the case-a-dillers.

Poach: How rednecks get deer.

It gets more confusing.

When someone writes a recipe they stick to time honored culinary language such as “Blanch” (if I’m not mistaken she was one of “The Golden Girls”), “Drizzle” (a curious method of cooking by putting food out in the rain) and “knead dough for eight minutes” (which means to knead the dough for two minutes and spend the next six minutes drinking beer. At least that’s how it goes in my house).

I have my mother’s recipe cards and since she’s no longer here to translate I spent years thinking when she wrote “oleo” she mistakenly used the letter “l” for the letter “r.” Some of my early dinners were interesting.

Like any good cook, I can work around these issues. However, the main problem I have with the language of cooking involves not nonsensical words, but words that mean something wrong, like “preheat.”

Recipe: “Preheat the bottom thingy to 350 degrees.”

Hmm. “Pre” means “before” and “heat” means “heat,” so when a recipe tells a cook to preheat the oven, that means the oven should be at room temperature. Reading the recipe literally (as opposed to reading the recipe figuratively by not reading it at all and ordering pizza), “preheat” means to do nothing.

How is anyone supposed to cook that way? I guess using no heat in food preparation would be OK for the Paleo Diet, if it were actually a Palaeolithic diet. If people were eating raw woolly rhinoceros liver garnished with rocks and sticks instead of Grilled Paleo Eggplant with Pork and Mint Bolognese and a Paleo Spiced Hot Chocolate (actual things), not heating the oven would work just fine.


But I’ll be OK gratin’ all day as long as a recipe doesn’t ask me to “pre” anything. I may even throw in a “blend” (cotton and polyester), or “score” while cooking (Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge).

See? I don’t have anything against recipes as long as they’re delicious.


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