Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What Makes a Recipe a New Recipe?

Nancy the Nun, DH’s sister (I mean really—she’s a sister sister!) was visiting us recently from one of those states with old mountains—Tennessee, Kentucky, you know, one of them. And I was cooking away. It’s what I do.

Of course one tries to do one’s best to feed one’s sister-in-law sister. Who knows what pull she might have for, er, later? So I was whipping up something I am trying out for a possible entrant into the Pillsbury Bake-Off (PBO)and she asked what I thought was a naïve question.

In my previous professional life, the term “naïve question” meant a question asked by someone specifically to stimulate thinking and thoughtful response. A planned question. It was purposeful and not really meant to elicit a specific answer.

Now, that’s not what Nancy the Nun’s question was. She just was curious and wanted to know. She didn’t really care that she kick-started my aging brain.

She asked, “What makes a recipe new? How do you know?”

Beats me!

I am always inventing culinary experiences that I call new recipes. But are they?

So here’s what I told her. Chime in below in the comments section to enlighten me if I misspoke.

I look around in my cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, counter tops—wherever food might lurk—and decide what’s for dinner. Or what I might want to enter in the PBO. I put it together in what my taste bud in my head thinks will be a delectable combo. (Mostly I’m right—mostly—hey, everybody can have one or two or . . . well, some less successful experiences.)

I have on occasion gone to and typed in ingredients to see what their recipe bank suggests. But that is rare. Typical behavior for me? Wing it!

Do I know if my recipe is original? No. But I call it original because my proportions and ingredients are unlikely to match another’s recipe exactly. Could I hunt for it to see if it’s original? Probably. The web is amazing that way. Still, why go to the bother?

Unless you are entering your recipe in the PBO, that is. My guess is they have a whole team of scourers (not cleaning people) who search the All Recipes site and others hunting for those who have ripped off other peoples’ work.

They exist, sadly. We see them in these blogs all the time. I work hard at giving credit where credit is due. But, I may inadvertently claim something as mine that is not.

After all, cookies will have flour and sugar and butter in certain proportions. Is it plagiarizing to take a basic cookie recipe and change the additional ingredients and then call it your own? I don’t think so.

Basic chemistry requires proportional cooking. That can’t be copyrighted. Ideas can’t be copyrighted. Only text. And making a significant percentage of change to textual ingredients should be okay to claim originality. Right? Or do you think I’m wrong?


  1. You're definitely right. Never thought about it before. I figure if the recipe's really old-like the Betty Crocker Cookbook from my first wedding-these days we at least make it more easily with stuff like parchment paper. Then there's the microwave to defrost or melt, if we forget to plan ahead. We probably make it more healthfully, too. Haven't used Cool Whip in several decades,though I do sneak in heavy whipping cream once in awhile. Maybe you should disregard the thing about more healthful. No wait. Haven't used lard in pie crusts in an awfully long time. Still kinda miss it.

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