Alumni Spotlight: Caroline Pierce
There is a lot of unseen work that goes into writing a good recipe. Typically, conventional recipes contain a list of ingredients and their measurements followed by instructions for how to manipulate those ingredients into a successful dish. The recipe may use precise measurements, or may only call for a pinch or a dash. A recipe may instruct the reader to fold, knead, or broil, and expect the reader to know what each word means. In addition to the ingredients and the methods for combining them, recipes often call for a wide variety of cooking tools and implements. Some recipes may call for elaborate and expensive equipment (Vita Mix, anyone?), whereas some recipes may call for no equipment at all. Recipes can be vague and recipes can be precise. How detailed a recipe is depends on the audience the recipe writer has in mind. A cookbook written for advanced culinary students may be very different from a cookbook written for novice home cooks. In my opinion, recipes should be written with as much information and instruction so as to make the recipe accessible and available to as many readers as possible.
Luckily, I get the chance to write, edit, and test recipes every day. I currently have two jobs that allow me the chance to accomplish these tasks. I am a recipe developer at Just Add Cooking, a local meal kit company that provides easy, delicious, and healthy meals made with ingredients sourced from New England farms and companies. Writing a recipe for Just Add Cooking is challenging because not only must I write a recipe that is easy to read, quick to make, and delicious to eat, but the recipe must also meet the size constraints of the box we ship in and adhere to budgetary constraints. Also, we have nearly 500 recipes, so new recipes must be inventive and interesting, and we don’t like to call for equipment that many people may not have. The Gastronomy program has been incredibly useful in helping me to write good recipes. Karen Metheny’s class, Cookbooks and History, taught me that a recipe can be exclusionary in both financial and educational terms. A recipe that calls for expensive ingredients or equipment limits one group of people, whereas a recipe that excludes important details about cooking terms (how does one actually temper an egg?) excludes another.
When writing a recipe, I include as much information about the ingredients as possible and provide as many details about the instructions as I can in order not to alienate new cooks. I try not to assume anything. Furthermore, I am fully aware and continually question (thanks to the Gastronomy program) how financially accessible meal kits are to the general population.
In addition to my work at Just Add Cooking, I also work as a freelance recipe tester for Fresh Magazine produced by Hannaford Supermarket. As a tester, I am sent recipes which I follow without making any changes or alterations in order to determine whether or not there are any issues with the recipe. Usually, I am looking to make sure that the cooking times are accurate, the recipe yields the correct number of servings, and the instructions in the recipe are precise. This last part is the most complex aspect of recipe testing and could include any number of variables. The baking time might be off, a sauce needs more liquid, there’s too much oregano, etc. The purpose of the test is to ensure that the recipe can work flawlessly in any home.
People lead busy lives and if they go to the trouble of making dinner for themselves and their families, then following a recipe shouldn’t be stressful. Recipes should be straightforward, and the results should be exciting and satisfying. One of the major lessons I learned from the Gastronomy program is that of empathy. My job is to make people’s lives easier. I can accomplish this by writing and editing recipes so that they are clearly read and easily made. If I can also introduce people to new cuisines, techniques, and ingredients, then I am doubly successful.