I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It’s out in May.
This is an eclectic book. It’s not an in-depth examination into the social, cultural or culinary history of the recipe – and it doesn’t want to be that. This is more whimsical, more meandering, more dip-a-toe-into-interesting-spaces than that.
It’s also super American; I feel I should flag that for all the other non-US readers. There’s a whole chapter on Thanksgiving – and I get why you would do that, but also there’s no acknowledgement that it’s restricted as “a recipe” to one country and its diaspora. And in the first chapter, about the basics of what a recipe is, the author uses the idea of chicken stock to elaborate on the idea of variation. Which makes sense! But then says this: “Every version of this basic recipe involves the same ingredients in the same proportions – the amount of chicken in the recipe is always five pounds” (12). Um. Not in my recipes? Even given that maybe she just couldn’t be bothered mentioning that other countries might use different measurements, it’s still a weirdly sweeping generalisation. (This one might be picked up in editing, but the author also refers to “the Great British Baking Show” which struck me a really WEIRD mistake.)
ANYWAY. Despite those things, I did enjoy reading this a lot. I love Bloom’s idea that “as a literary genre and social construct, multi-faceted and complex, a recipe in its human context offers lessons in life and living” (3) – that’s such a fantastic way of putting it. Throughout the book, she shows those different aspects of the idea of ‘a recipe’. And also made me feel better about the fact that I often don’t follow a recipe to the absolute letter (except in baking, which is chemistry) – she says this is indeed what people everywhere always do. I love the idea of recipe as story, and as memory. I’m less wild about it as a symbol of power or politics, but absolutely accept that it can be.
All up, a really great read. Also it’s made me dead keen to find other books in the Object Lesson series: a book on the eye chart? on exits? THE TRENCH COAT??
Re: GBBO. I think that in the US they actually do call it ‘The Great British Baking Show’. No idea why they changed it (avoiding trrademark clash with some other, pre-existing but not-as-good thing called ‘Bake-off’?), but that’s the name. (There’s also a Canadian version, called ‘The Great Canadian Baking Show.’) So, just as weird as measuring in cups and ells and cubits and ounces, but no weirder.
HUH! I thought I had looked it up to check that, but apparently I only thought about doing so! Thank you for clarifying that.