Writing a Recipe

Soon after my first book was published, the editor of my local Devon newspaper invited me to write a weekly food column. “But with no recipes,” was his only condition.

So I sent in half a dozen pieces and he rang to say “Carry on, we enjoy reading them.” But what about the one that includes a recipe, I asked. “Oh, I didn’t notice that. Write your column just as you wish.”

Over the course of several years in which I often included recipes in my columns, he never quibbled, printed every word I wrote, and paid me promptly – all in all, the ideal editor.

The reason my editor had not noticed the inclusion of a recipe was because I wrote it as continuous text, as in a letter. These days recipes are usually printed as a list of ingredients followed by the method in paragraphs, sometimes even numbered.

This style has now been widely adopted in newspaper columns and cookery books. It certainly makes a recipe instantly recognisable and may well be defended on grounds of clarity, especially for novice cooks.

For most of history, however, recipes have been written as a sequence of actions introducing each ingredient as you prepare the dish. Although, during the 19th century, Eliza Acton and Mrs Beeton, began to list the ingredients separately in their recipes, the idea failed to take off straight away. And so The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (published 1901, re-issued 1994) contains thousands of recipes written entirely as text. This huge work was said to have been Elizabeth David’s favourite book. I was lucky enough to be given her copy which includes pages of Elizabeth’s hand-written notes listing recipes of interest.

This style of recipe writing is often used when sending a recipe to a young relative or friend in temporary exile such as studying abroad. The distinguished cookery writer, Claudia Roden, has said that the text of a recipe in a letter describing how to recreate the pleasurable flavour of a dish from home not only raises one’s morale at the time, it may even influence a future career.  

I like this comfortable, comprehensible method of recipe writing since it allows for asides and helpful comments leaving the recipe more personal, reflecting the style of the writer, and making it enjoyable to read.  

So following the celebration of the fiftieth year since publication of Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food, here is her recipe for Deep-fried Cauliflower that she wrote simply as text without a list of measurements and ingredients. I daresay her method could be extended to other vegetables such as steamed Jerusalem artichoke, pumpkin, bulb fennel, and onion rings.

“Wash the cauliflower and separate into flowerets. Boil in salted water until only just tender. Drain and allow to dry well.

Roll the flowerets in beaten egg, and then in flour or breadcrumbs. Deep-fry in very hot oil until crisp and golden. Drain on absorbent paper.”