Recipe Writing with Dianne Jacob, Amy Sherman & Kristine Kidd

| September 1, 2010 | 4 Comments
  • 4 Comments

Recipe Writing Panel
Dianne Jacob, Kristine Kidd, Amy Sherman

The first panel at the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) this past weekend in Seattle dealt with writing a great recipe, paying for content, and taking your work as a food blogger to the next level. Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food, sat alongside writer and recipe developer, Amy Sherman (BAB blogger) and cookbook author and former food editor of Bon Appetit Kristine Kidd. Each speaker brought their own unique experiences in writing and recipe development, kicking off the session by discussing the importance of being generous and giving proper credit when adapting a recipe. Amy Sherman also urged bloggers and writers not to give recipes away for free. It can be flattering for beginning bloggers to be approached by online sites of print publications requesting to use a recipe. But Sherman noted that this only complicates things for folks trying to make a living by writing and developing recipes. While there were great tips on how to approach editors with recipes and how to take recipe development to the next level, the heart of the panel discussion was based around writing a great recipe. Below you’ll find some of the highlights:

Elements of a Recipe
Jacob, Sherman and Kidd discussed the four main elements that make up a recipe–each should be carefully considered to engage your reader, and achieve continuity and clarity:

1) Title: Keep your title straightforward, tempting, descriptive and fun. After all, it’s the first thing your reader will see.

2) Headnotes: The headnote of a recipe is the information right after the title and before the ingredient list. It’s important here to tempt your readers, give them either sensual or helpful information (or both!), perhaps some cultural or historical tidbits regarding the recipe or a personal story. Kidd discussed the importance of the headnote as an invitation for your readers–make them curious about your food. The headnote is the “why” of the recipe: out of all of the gazpacho recipes in the world, why are readers going to want to make yours?

3) Ingredients: The speakers agreed that it’s most common to list ingredients in the order in which they’re used. They also encouraged writers to remember that readers also use the ingredient list as a shopping list, so make it easy to shop from. An example Kidd provided was calling for “1 medium onion” instead of “2 cups onion”–people don’t shop for 2 cups of onion.

4) Directions: Think about how you’d like to present your directions. Often, if there’s an editor involved, you won’t have a choice. But if it’s on your personal food blog or website, make a decision: do you want numbered steps, bullets, or short paragraphs? Readability and clarity are key.

Conference Attendees
Conference attendees busily taking notes

Recipe Writing Tips
Jacob, Sherman, and Kidd moved on to discuss their own personal tips and advice for crafting an inviting recipe that works:

1) They began by encouraging people to think about their style of recipe writing: are you brief and direct or warm and friendly? Like any kind of good writing, you need to find your voice and make a concerted effort to remain consistent in the way you write your recipes. Chatty is o.k. (although it tends to be longer which Kidd pointed out often discourages readers)–just be chatty consistently.

2) Give more than one indicator: In recipe writing, indicators are descriptions or hints describing when a task is completed. Because all ovens are different, weather conditions vary, and folks have differing levels of cooking experiences, having more than one indicator is critical. An example: “Saute onions for ten minutes or until golden brown” (“ten minutes” and “until golden brown” are your indicators here).

3) Use the word “about” before giving a prescriptive number of minutes. Again, since everyone has different ovens and is working with numerous variables, adding “about” gives the recipe writer a bit of an out–putting some responsibility in the hands of the reader.

4) Give more than one measurement: Giving readers both weight and volume measurements is important, especially with baking Sherman noted. Kidd suggested that with savory cooking like soup, very precise weight measurements are probably not as critical.

5) Think About Your Audience: It’s imperative to think about your reader: who are they? How much information do they already know? Of course, these are always mere guesses but you need to decide if it’s important to give instructions on sauteing onions. Will this be obvious to them? Where do you draw the line on how much information and instruction to provide?

Recipe Writing Resources
Jacob, Sherman, and Kidd suggested looking at food websites and magazines you like for good models. Sherman encouraged reading international magazines as well to look for new and interesting food trends that haven’t quite surfaced here in the States. They also provided a list of the following fabulous recipe writing resources:

Recipe Writers Handbook

The Food Substitution Bible

Food Lovers Companion

Recipes Into Type

Conference Attendees Debriefing
Conference Attendees Debriefing: Denise Woodward (Chez Us), Tracy Benjamin (Shutterbean), and Kristina McLean (TNLocavore)

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About the Author ()

Megan Gordon is originally from Eureka, CA although she's lived in numerous college towns around the country (another story altogether). A freelance food and travel writer, Megan has written for publications like Ready Made Magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, Edible SF and Edible Marin & Wine Country, Olive Oil Times and The San Francisco Bay Guardian. She writes regularly for Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn and maintains her own local food blog, A Sweet Spoonful. Yes, Megan even tweets @meganjanesf. In addition to writing and photographing food, Megan is the founder (and head baker) of Marge, a Bay Area baking company specializing in classic American pies and nostalgic desserts.
  • http://www.thenaptimechef.com Kelsey/TheNaptimeChef

    how fun! This reads exactly like the style guide I got from my editor! :)

  • http://www.skinnytaste.com Gina

    I couldn’t attend the conference this year, so reading your notes on recipe writing and not giving your recipes away was very interesting. Thanks for writing about IFBC.

  • http://www.mylifeasafoodie.com Phil

    I wondered if anyone else was puzzled during this session when Diane Jacob said “Don’t use the semi-colon; it’s pretentious.”

    Oh dear, did I just use one? How pretentious.

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