Monday, March 18, 2013

My Monday Rant-- About Recipes

Did you know you cannot copyright a recipe?

My friend Carol the copyright lawyer told me that.  There was a legal battle over this at some point, of course, and the conclusion was that a recipe is essentially a list rather than a true written work.  So you can't claim ownership of it.

I am guessing this decision was made back in the day when a recipe was just a recipe.  For food.  To eat.

That was all.

Like this one that was passed down in Paul's family from his Grandma Lena, here in its entirety:

Grandma's Sausage

90 lb. ground pork
5 T. pepper
5 T. ginger
2 c. salt
optional: 2 T. sage

[Actually, the only reason this is this measurable and not "a pinch of this and a spoonful of that" is because Lena's daughters and daughters-in-law really wanted to make sausage like she did, but her directions were always so vague, so one day Aunt JoAn [or was it Allene?] watched Grandma make sausage and carefully measured everything before she tossed it in.]

In contrast, we have modern recipes. [She sighs as she settles her aching bones into a rocking chair.]

Today, the most popular recipe-sharing forum is the Internet, and I use it often.  But you can't just share a recipe there, like--Oh, hey, here's a recipe for muffins you might like.  Help yourself.  No, no.  You have to out-talk, out-do, out-clever, and out-cute every other recipe writer out there.

Like this gem I found this morning:

Wow! This cheesy garlic bread could make any dinner memorable. Just imagine dipping these little pull-aparts into a warm bowl of marinara! I’m drooling. They would be a heavenly alternative to traditional bread rolls, especially over the holidays when we want to impress our dinner guests! For the recipe and baking instructions, hop on over to Thirty Handmade Days where Mique will show you how!

I guess that was just the introduction on a different link.  Then we go to the actual recipe:

Now everyone can enjoy a fresh batch of homemade yeast rolls. I promise. Not only are these yeast rolls but they are covered in butter, garlic and cheese. Who could resist!? Yeah, butter, garlic, cheese and fresh baked rolls. Heaven. Today I’ve got step by step instructions on how to create the most amazing, garlicy, cheesy, gooey yeast rolls you could ask for.

and many words and pictures later we come to the last step:

Step Six: Allow to sit at room temperature and rise until double – about 1 1/2 hours. It is now ready to bake!! You will want to either place a cookie sheet under it or line the bottom of the pan with foil as the butter may leak out from the spring form pan while baking and make a big mess in the bottom of your oven, causing your smoke detector to go off and your alarm company to call and see if your house is on fire! Then it comes out of your oven looking like this! 

And all this is for a bread that's not even made from scratch but from PURCHASED FROZEN DOUGH.

 Oh wait, no!  That wasn't the last step after all.  I missed this important notice:

The next step is to eat and enjoy. Just grab a piece!

I'm supposed to grab a piece??  And eat it??  And enjoy it??

I am so glad you told me that.  I was going to just admire it and then give it to the cats after it dried out on the counter.

I am trying to imagine Grandma Lena writing down a modern recipe for her sausage:

Ok, folks, I know some of you think butchering the children's pet pig is distasteful but you just send the kidlets down to the creek to fish all morning [scroll down through 14 dreamy photos of Gap-denim-clad blond-bowl-cut kids by a sun-dappled creek] and then kiss your big strong hubby [shot of rough masculine hands] and tell him the butchering is HIS job, and then YOU show up when the galvanized wash tub of ground pork shows up in the summer kitchen.  I hope you got all the casings ready yesterday because seriously, peeps, you don't want to leave that tub sitting overnight and it won't fit in the icebox, believe me.  And I hope you got some extra sage and ginger and pepper from the grocer [shot of little cute labeled glass spice jars] because you'll need a bunch of it.  So, get your calico apron on and flex that spoon-arm and let's get this done!!

The writer of the cheesy garlic bread recipe is probably going to accuse me of copyright violations for copying her recipe here and if she does I will go find my friend Carol.  Who will probably tell me that, sorry, recipes are now in the same category as novels and essays because not even lawyers could convince anyone that a recipe on the internet is only a list. 

Quote of the Day:
Me: Did you read about that lady out at Yachats that drove her car off the cliff into the ocean?
Steven: Was her last name Lemming?


  1. haha, I enjoyed this rant. I totally know about the copyright thing - it's essential to my job as cookbook editor :)

  2. So i can copy anyone's recipe? Good to know cause I do it all the time. Have a whole stack on my counter to "try one day"
    And your grandma never used the word peeps, unless she was talking about the yellow fuzzy ones :^)

  3. Oh my, your 'modern' sausage recipe is spot on!

  4. My sentiments exactly. At the double exclamation points, I'm finished.

  5. Reading this brought to mind an article I read a while back on this subject. The way she wrote the recipe, it sounds like it could be protected by copyright laws.

    After the first paragraph, it wouldn't matter how good the recipe was supposed to be, I wouldn't have the patience to get through all the drama. A recipe should fit on a recipe card, not six pages.

    Anyways, thanks for the laugh!

  6. This is exactly what I've been thinking about lately and trying to put into words...! You did it excellently. :)