Written recipes in an oral culture

Can you imagine a recipe where nothing is quantified?

I just saw a recipe like that. It was from Costa Rica and translated from Spanish to English. Here was the list of ingredients:

  • “Beef Meat”
  • “Beef ribs” (not sure why that didn’t fall in the category of “beef meat,” but oh well…)
  • “Water”
  • “Carrots”
  • “Potato”

and so forth.

It also admonished me to “cook on fire” until ready. How many households in the U.S. cook in an open or indoors fireplace?

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those sticklers for measurements in a recipe. If I see a cup of flour, I’ll sift out a cup of flour. If it says two tomatoes and I have three, then by golly, I’ll try with two first and just maybe, next time when I’m more comfortable, I’ll think about adding the third.

But my husband is far more adventurous. He hardly ever uses a recipe except perhaps as a springboard to his own culinary creations. He’ll drop in a little bit of this and that spice on a whim, and somehow it turns out amazing.

He comes from an oral culture. He saw family members making food in the kitchen and learned by sight and by their directions.

I, on the other hand, grew up surrounded by my mother’s cookbooks. Written recipes are part of my kitchen. If I enjoy something new, I’ll look for an online recipe.

It does make me wonder, though, for the future of the world’s chefs. Historically daughters learned cooking at their mothers’ knees, but that’s not always the case anymore.

Even though oral recipes have survived for centuries, are they now at risk when people like me come along and don’t know how many “Beef Meat” units to add to the open fire? πŸ˜›

About multiculturalmarriage

I'm glad to be part of a multicultural marriage! I grew up in the U.S. but am married to an African husband. This makes life challenging, creative and cool - all at the same time!
This entry was posted in Communicating/Relating techniques, Food/Cuisine, Ways of life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Written recipes in an oral culture

  1. This is too funny to me because in my house, the roles are reversed! My husband cooks and always asks me for specifics, “How long should this be in the oven?” I always respond, “Um…until it’s done!” In some cases I wish I had an old family recipe that was handed down orally, but it is fun for me to try to figure out how my grandmother made something in particular by experimenting. Cooking is an adventure!

    • Jen, that’s priceless! I can just see my husband and I having the same conversation, except that I would be the one hunting for a “Cook 20 minutes” command in a neatly typed-up note somewhere. Have you taught your kids cooking yet? If so, do they take after you or their dad? πŸ™‚

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