Best recipes get lost when they get used

March 11, 1998|By Rob Kasper

BAD THINGS happen to good recipes. Like getting lost. There are several reasons why.

The first is the number of public appearances they make. Bad recipes don't get out much. They stay holed up in forgotten books, hidden underneath piles of more promising papers, hunkered down in the back of a box of 3-by-5 cards.

Bad recipes might get tested once, or they might get looked over by a cook who can tell just by reading the ingredients that this recipe isn't going to make it. But after its fleeting time in the kitchen spotlight, a bad recipe slinks back into oblivion.

Good recipes, by contrast, make repeated appearances in the kitchen. As these recipes get used, they get bent, stained and scrawled on.

Some cookbook authors seek out battered recipes. Take, for instance, Frederick Phillip Stieff, author of "Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland," a 1932 classic recently reissued by Johns Hopkins Press. Stieff was delighted when he found a recipe with a pinhole in it. Old-time Maryland cooks customarily pinned recipes to their shirts, enabling them to lift and read the instructions as they stood over the stove. So for Stieff, a recipe with a puncture was a sign that it was used frequently and was therefore worth testing.

A second reason that bad things happen to good recipes has to do with "after-dinner afterglow." When a good recipe has done its work, it transports eaters to this beatific state. Their brains become foggy. They become less concerned with diligence and more interested in indulgence. Rather than feeling that life is something that must be controlled, they begin to feel that life is something that should be enjoyed. When afterglow hits, big ideas fill your head, but you sometimes misplace the small stuff. Every year, for instance, after enjoying a cup or two of Christmas eggnog, I glow with good will toward men, but fail to file the piece of paper containing the recipe. So part of my Christmas tradition has become the annual search for last year's nog recipe.

The third reason that bad things happened to good recipes is that the good recipes are forced to travel. Good recipes get sent across the street, around town, even across state lines. It is my experience that when a recipe hits the road, it often gets lost. This, I think, has to do with the chaotic nature of travel. For instance, when my family leaves a place there are two goodbyes. In our first leave-taking, we cart away most of our belongings. In the second, usually a week later, we receive a package in the mail from our hosts containing items we accidentally left at their house. Having devoted most of my mental energy to the big agenda items -- like returning home with the same number of suitcases and family members that I left town with -- I let the smaller stuff, like keeping track of recipes, slip away from me.

When I lose a good recipe I sometimes try to reconstruct it from memory. That is the final reason bad things happen to good recipes. Recently I tried to reconstruct a waffle recipe that had once found its way from Boston to Baltimore, but was now among the missing.

During one of our many mooching visits to my brother's home outside Boston, his wife fed my family her homemade waffles. Our kids loved "Aunt Sherry's waffles," so we got the recipe from her and carried it back to Baltimore, where, after being used once or twice, it disappeared.

One recently Sunday morning I was in a waffle-making mood. I not only tried to remember the recipe, I also tried to improve upon it. I added a new ingredient, whole wheat flour. This was a mistake. The result was something that was darker and sweeter than the original waffles.

Last Sunday I tried again, this time using a waffle recipe I had found in a cookbook. The recipe seemed similar to one I had imported from Boston. Once again the new recipe did not measure up to the old one. This recipe had two problems. First, it called for separating two eggs, adding the yolks to the batter, then whipping the egg whites, then adding the egg whites. This was more egg work than I was used to. In the missing recipe, all I had to do was crack the eggs and toss them in the batter. Second, the resulting batter was too thick and hard to handle. I liked thinner, more compliant batter, the kind made by the missing recipe.

Early this week I telephoned my sister-in-law who, once again, gave me her waffle recipe. This time I made several copies of it, just in case something bad happens to this good recipe.

Sherry's Waffles

Makes 10 waffles

2 1/2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 beaten eggs

2 1/4 cups milk

3/4 cup melted shortening or oil

Sift flour, salt and baking powder into one bowl. In another bowl combine eggs, milk and shortening. Just before baking, combine wet and dry ingredients. Beat until smooth. This is a thin batter. Cook in hot waffle iron.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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