Years ago, she taught me to cook a roast chicken by smell. “Put some salt and pepper in a bowl,” she said. “Now go through the spice rack. Open the jars and smell what’s inside. If you want your chicken to smell like that, put some in the bowl. If not, go on to the next.” Thus did I learn to cook – and as a result, I can’t follow a recipe to save my life.
Take this one – Plum Torte from the New York Times. A classic, and a guaranteed no-fail, as the lovely person who baked it for us last week assured me, and delicious to boot. Thing is, we don’t have plums growing on the road – we have blackberries. And when I got home from picking a quart or so, I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder….”
So, blackberries instead of plums. Then, as I was reading the recipe, I thought, “Why white sugar? Wouldn’t brown be more interesting?” Honestly, brown sugar’s ALWAYS more interesting, so, half brown sugar and half white. Then, as I was putting it in the oven, I remembered I was supposed to sprinkle sugar over the top, and I thought, “Why sugar? Why not that wild honey we picked up?”
Okay, I may be congenitally unable to follow a recipe but I’m not completely stupid: honey has more moisture than sugar and blackberries already have more moisture than plums so, no. Bad idea. But I did use brown sugar instead of white.
And that got me thinking: what kind of idiot person doesn’t follow a recipe? Especially the FIRST TIME you make it? And that got me thinking, “Are there two kinds of people in this world, recipe followers and recipe non-followers? What other character traits might the non-followers exhibit? Are we all “rules are meant to be broken” types? OMG, is THAT why I keep pissing off the legal department at work?”
And of course Google came next and guess what? There’s a pretty spirited debate about this. I didn’t learn any mega-truths about personality types but I was gratified to find out that when it comes to recipes, Daniel Patterson’s on my side because that’s pretty good company to be in. Although, as he he points out, it’s a lot easier to be creative when you have a basic grounding (thanks Gamma!). And when it comes to rules in general, there’s a pretty good argument on both sides, including from Marilyn Monroe, who famously said, “If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have gotten anywhere.”
The blackberry torte came out swell. Next time I’m making it with wild honey.