Recipes

When Did Online Recipes Become Mini-Memoirs?

Save your story about your great aunt Hazel’s award-winning walnut cake for someone who would like to hear it.
Save your story about your great aunt Hazel’s award-winning walnut cake for someone who would like to hear it. Jeff Sheldon/Unsplash
My great-grandmother died without explaining why she substituted grapes for raisins in her rice pie recipe. This used to trouble me.

I harbored a grudge against Mrs. Pilla, who expired 20 years before I was born, for not annotating the recipes she left behind, which I cherish. Why, I used to want to know, did she wrap her stuffed peppers with palm fronds? What did “rub citron clean” mean? And did she routinely serve baby goat stuffed with fennel bulbs and lemon rinds to her husband and children, or was this a special occasion thing?

Yet when I’m baking or cooking, I stick to my collection of grease-stained and spindled recipe cards, handed down for four generations, and to my well-loved and earmarked pile of vintage cookbooks. I do so grudgingly. I want to be a 21st-century cook who’s measuring and sauteing and blanching from a recipe lighted up on my iPhone, or checking the sifted measurements gleaming at me from my shiny new tablet. But I can’t. Or, anyway, I won’t. I guess because I’m a bad sport.

click to enlarge I stick to my well-loved and earmarked pile of vintage cookbooks, but I do so grudgingly. - LAUREN CUSIMANO
I stick to my well-loved and earmarked pile of vintage cookbooks, but I do so grudgingly.
Lauren Cusimano
I want recipes to begin with “In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar,” and not with a 1,200-word story about the funny thing your 11-year-old said the first time you baked a wheel of Brie. I get it. Your wife thought she hated tuna casserole until you made this one, with its caramelized onions and its caviar frappe. But could you maybe save that story for your next dinner party (and then, make sure not to invite me)? Because I don’t care about how you talked the chef at La Petite Maison out of her curried apple fritter recipe. I just want to make the damn thing.


The rule of internet cooking blogs seems to be that a recipe for jalapeno hush puppies must be preceded by an overlong essay about the time its author mistook a Hueso de Puerco whorehouse for a muebleria. I’d gladly hand over my Le Creuset loaf pan for a “skip to recipe” button.

I must have missed something. When did recipes become mini-memoirs? I get it: Food is personal, and you want to share. Or you revised your recipe, and you’d like us to know every how and why, presumably because you don’t want us to make the same mistake. Don’t.

But could you maybe save that story for your next dinner party (and then, make sure not to invite me)?

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I suppose I’m just impatient; a curmudgeon; a terrible person. But I don’t necessarily care about your transition to veganism. You stopped eating meat? Great. Can we just get to the part where you tell me how many cups of shredded cabbage I’ll need? I don’t want the experience of making your mom’s mock apple pie curated for me. I need to know which rack in my oven to bake it on, and what size au gratin pan to grease and flour. Please, yes, tell me if it’s okay to substitute almond flour for wheat flour, or to use wax paper if I’m out of parchment. But maybe save your story about your great-aunt Hazel’s award-winning walnut cake for someone who would like to hear it.

I know. Your writing is every bit as worthy as anyone else’s. And it’s remarkably lame of me to complain that I had to scroll down to get where I wanted to go, or to whine about the nonstop pop-up ads on your food blog, or the video I didn’t ask to see about the best way to oven-broast a pickle. Maybe I’m a chronic malcontent.

Or maybe I’ve learned to love a culinary mystery.

All the unanswered questions in my great-grandmother’s instructions for fried milk (beginning with, “Why would I want to fry milk?”) add something to my cooking experience, something more enigmatic and entertaining than anything I can picture or imagine happening in your own kitchen.

How about you just leave me guessing?
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela