Last week I brought up the ins and outs of “secret” recipes- why we have them, why we might not, and how to keep recipes safe behind the law.
In writing it, I said that I am generally happy to share my recipes for a number of reasons- but that I won’t share some recipes for sentimental reasons. When I said that, I was thinking of one of my recipes in particular.
It’s a recipe that very few people outside my family know, one that I have been tweaking and trying to perfect for several years, and this is the story of why I decided I was gonna hold it close to my chest from now on.
When it comes to our favorite recipes- whether it’s the dishes we make for family or the ones we sell at our businesses- whether or not to share recipes can cause a lot of emotion either way you lean. The same people that have no problem sharing the recipes they created might be a little twitchy about sharing their family’s “secret” meatloaf. That goes double if you are in the business of cooking for others. Why would you want to give away your perfect fried chicken recipe where a competitor could get it? Can we protect our recipes? Should we protect our recipes and keep them secret?
The short answers are “Sorta?” and “Only if you really want to.”
The walk up Mount Tabor has become a familiar old friend, and like an old friend it has its own moods. Normally, when I go walking through the park, it’s with an audiobook in my ears. The walk is for the fresh air and exercise, the book for entertainment and distraction- especially if I’m in a foul mood and need to clear my mind.
That was the case this afternoon as I decided I needed to get out of the house and write this blog, but not go to a bar or cafe. Money has been tight lately, so I need to find other spaces to be creative in. The weather is perfect if a bit chilly, and the park is free. Walking up to the top of a little hill near the summit, I have an Earthsea book in my ears. The breeze was blowing, kindly cooling me under the heat of the sun.
In my meditation lately, I’ve been trying to build on focus and mindfulness- being in each moment and appreciating where I am and what I’m doing. As I walked, I pulled the headphones from my ears.
A deep breath. A quiet moment between heartbeats. The smell of warm cedar, and someone practicing a bamboo flute nearby. Distant traffic. Bird song.
I kick aside a few fir cones, lay down my blanket, and start to feel everything.
We’ve been short-handed for a few months now, and a COVID scare has the whole cafe on a staggered schedule until everyone on staff gets a negative test. In practical terms, that means that I need to bake fresh pies for the case and the entirety of the next days wholesale in under five hours.
I’m dashing around the empty kitchen, checking three ovens and answering texts from my boss and fielding questions about the schedule from staff… until it clicks. I stop trying to do the work and do the work, the Ancient Baking Wisdom flowing for heart, to muscle, to fingers. I clock out and leave the next shift instructions about what’s available and when the wholesale will be done. I was in The Zone, and doing what I loved paid off.
Idealism and practicality need not be enemies… as long as you keep your priorities straight.
Some time ago, I swung by a bakery I used to work at to try out a new pastry and see some of my old friends. The case and display looked much the same as ever, despite the high staff turnover. I picked out the new pastry- a riff on one of their staples- and took it outside for a discreet bite. That turned out to be the best course of action since no one could then see me throw the rest in the trash and quickly chug from my water bottle. I’d never really cared for that particular pastry in the first place, but somehow it had gotten worse since I left. The pastry itself was utterly tasteless, the icing oddly chemical, and the filling boring.
A while later, I texted a friend of mine who still worked there about it and asked what had changed. “Oh, yeah… we changed the recipe because the original one wasn’t coming out right from the new machine. It kinda sucks, but at least we’re not mixing it by hand anymore.” What about the icing? This isn’t fondant… “Nope, it’s this new stuff made with modelling chocolate, corn syrup… I think it tastes foul, but it’s easier to work with.”
As soon as you stop caring about making good products in favor of making sellable products efficiently, you’ve made a classic “deal with the devil”- and it won’t always end well.