Cookbooks are, in general, written for the people that the author knows well — not personally, but culturally and habit-wise. Especially if recording traditional recipes, many authors do not ensure their recipes are meaningful to the rest of the cookbook-buying world, or perhaps they did not intend their book to go outside of their own area or country. There are many exceptions to this – particularly these days with international celebrity chef stars. But even then, for example, Nigel Slater reads better, interprets better, if you are in London, if you visit London markets, if you experience London weather. My French Cookbook from the Lorianne Region reads better when I am in France.
For example, take the humble Australian Pumpkin Scone. In different parts of the world, a “scone” is our “biscuit” and pumpkins are different beasts altogether. I wonder what parts of the world might still think of our instruction to “slap it on the barbie”.
We make assumptions when writing recipes. That is what it reduces to. We assume knowledge about ingredients, cooking procedures, tools and equipment. When we say “take 1 cup” or “use 1 Tablespoon” we are not mindful of the differences in standard cup sizes or spoon sizes across the world. I used a dessertspoon as a measure in a recipe once, only to find that it made no sense to half of my readers.
So when it comes to reading recipes, sometimes it is a maze, a puzzle, an intrepid journey to make sense out of it. To read between the lines, guessing what the author implied or left unsaid.
You may have noticed that I cook a lot of Indian food, and have an interest in traditional Indian food. So the long and the short of it is that I am often puzzling over a recipe that I want to try, attempting to make sense of the minimal instructions, and ending up putting my own take on it. It is a bit like knitting a jumper without instructions for shaping, the pattern, casing on or off, or sewing it all together.