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Thursday, December 17, 2009

‘Recipe’: Cookies, Wandering Thoughts and Challenging Ourselves


Books, books, books! Cards, cards, cards! Cookies, cookies, cookies! Ordering, shipping, ordering, shipping, ordering, shipping. Who has time to blog? But while I was up mixing cookie dough this morning and waiting for the coffee to be ready before checking the latest book order status—all this prior to getting Sarah out for a morning run, which is prior to the trip to Northport to open the bookstore--my mind began to wander once more back to childhood. Holidays seem to bring on such memory flashes, a single word sufficient to trigger a flood of associations.

A friend and I, sometime in grade school, having discovered television soap operas, loved acting out soap-operalike scenarios in our play. We had no idea what some of the words in the TV scripts meant. What was an “affair,” anyway? Never mind, we made vague accusations against each other in our imaginary courtroom. “You were having an affair with the defendant!” Playing the prosecuting attorney was always the best role, offering all kinds of room for dramatic creativity and menace: “Isn’t it a fact that...?”

Other times we played retail games--not as dramatic--and got stuck on different words. How did what we heard as something like ‘receet’ differ from the word I knew was spelled ‘receipt,’ and how was the latter pronounced? In our ignorance we treated the single word as two words, pronouncing the ‘p’ in the second, and were hazy on definitions, knowing only enough to give a slip of paper along with the item purchased.


This morning, up in the dark to mix cookie dough, I got to musing on the word ‘recipe’ and that old trickster ‘receipt’ and came to a speculative conclusion that I don’t even want to check out with a web search until later in the day, pleased as I am with my own story. I know that old-time recipe books sometimes used the word ‘receipt’ instead of ‘recipe.’ The question is, why? Here’s what I decided while melting chocolate in a double boiler: women wrote down instructions as they received them from their mothers (and others). A recipe is therefore a set of received instructions. I’ll check out this speculation later in the day but, if I’m wrong, I’m in no hurry to have my pleasing story squashed.

From there it was a short skip to thinking about Descartes and Russell and all those big brains keen on certainty. I was reading Logicomix yesterday, the fascinating graphic memoir of the life of Bertrand Russell and his search for truth and certain foundations for mathematics, and maybe that’s why I questioned myself on whether or not it was all right to believe (for a few hours, at least) my own unconfirmed word derivation story. Well, nothing hangs on it. I’m not building a bridge or investing savings or recommending surgery on the basis of my speculation. So why not? And I will check it out later.

Pace Descartes and Russell: even you experts will never be able to eliminate speculation from human thought. Not in etymology, not in science. What guides research? What determines its direction? Background knowledge and observations alone are insufficient. Even science must be fueled by passion, desire, curiosity and hunches. It is as human to speculate as it is to act.

But where did that ‘p’ come from, anyway? (‘Yclept’ comes to mind, without illuminating the question, as I cannot remember what that even means.) Did the ‘p’ migrate from one place in the word to another? And what happened to the ‘d’ or ‘t’ that should have been there? This will be my wild word chase of the day, if there’s any time to pursue it.

Sarah sets herself different challenges. Ever since she was a puppy, she has been frustrated by only being able to pick up one object at a time with her mouth. I have a short video of puppy Sarah picking up one squeaky toy, pawing a second, dropping the first, picking up the second, etc. She hasn't figured out yet how to pick up these two balls at once, but she hasn't stopped trying, either.

8 comments:

centria said...

I love your thoughts while mixing cookie dough. Have you discovered anything more about the recipe/receipt connection as you've moved through your busy day? Received instructions sound good. I love old recipes given from my mother or grandmother or any other elder. Especially in their handwriting. What a treasure!

P. J. Grath said...

‘Recipe’ comes from the Latin ‘recipere,’ to receive (so there was a 'p' in the original verb), and most definitions I saw referred to a set of written instructions (whether for cooking, mixing medicines or the like). When did ‘receipt’ become ‘recipe’?
http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/recipehistory.htm
does not contradict my hypothesis; nor does anything else I found, though nothing confirmed it definitely, either.
http://oldreceiptbox.blogspot.com/2008/08/purpose-of-this-blog.html
offers recipes under the older name.
Want some old Canadian receipts? Find them at
http://www.northwestjournal.ca/II4.htm
I confess I did not spend the day looking for this answer. Instead, between customers I dipped into Michigan history of the pioneer age and became lost in it.

torchlakeviews said...

I've wondered, too, about recipe/receipt and never bothered to research it. You see what blogging gets us into . . . But all I could think of as I read this post was "What kind of cookies?" and "Will there be some of them at the Sunday open house?" You see how I am.

P. J. Grath said...

Well, you see those pinwheel cookies in the old cookbook illustration? I mixed the basic dough and blended chocolate into half of it, but instead of putting the chocolate and vanilla together in layers, etc., etc., I rolled the vanilla layer in colored sprinkles and will put a walnut half on top of each chocolate slice, so that will be two different kinds. Last night I experimented with a quick bread using organic Balaton cherries. Poured the batter into the pan and then poked the drained cherries, one at a time, underneath the surface--this method instead of mixing the cherries into the batter, which would have made for a streaky mess. Salute to my sister for this tip: she makes blueberry pancakes this way.

P. J. Grath said...

P.S. There will be more....

P. J. Grath said...

...Like butterscotch bars, which I'm making for the first time in my life. Eek! Very interesting how the brown sugar and beaten eggs change color in the double boiler as they are stirred for 20 minutes.

Chocolate drops are already made, but maybe I should frost and decorate them this time. Hmmm.

torchlakeviews said...

I was unaccountably absent when many comments were written here, and I have questions, oh so many questions. I am curious about your reading in "Michigan history of the pioneer age." (I am obsessed with the Civil War veterans of Antrim County and seek a support group.)

Your sister pokes the blueberries into the pancake batter one at a time? Such devotion is, is - extraordinary. And you did this with Balaton cherries, one of my favorite foods. And instead of spending three hours on the road going and coming, I subsided into sloth over here while I might have been there eating quick bread with individually placed Balatons. And frosted chocolate drops? And butterscotch bars . . .

Clearly I erred.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, since you missed the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving reception and the last-Sunday-before-Christmas party both, here's fair warning: I will have a re-opening party sometime in the spring! There will be treats! There will be guest authors! It will probably be sometime in May, but you can be sure of advance notice, and I just hope your calendar will be open on whatever day it turns out to be.

You see? I'm not even gone yet and already looking forward to coming back....