Friday, October 5, 2012

Editing Cookbooks: Want Your Brains Scrambled or Fried?


Cookbook editing requires a special recipe, a combination of patience, vocabulary, and the ability to deal with ever-mounting hunger.
I've had the pleasure recently of copyediting several cookbooks for a friend, and I was surprised at the number of terms and special copyediting issues I had to stop and consider.
I've edited a wide range of materials over the years and I figured cookbooks would be, well, a piece of cake. But it turns out there's more to cooking than "Microwave on high for twenty minutes." You see, I'm one of those people who doesn't read instructions before doing things (even microwaving frozen dinners), a fact my wife and son will attest to when it comes to my cooking.
To begin with, cooks have a language of their own—vocabulary you don't come across on a daily basis. Words like dollop, for instance. I considered myself clever when I learned to slit the plastic before microwaving a frozen pasta dish; and so I am fully unprepared to "garnish with a dollop of sour cream."

And in a cookbook you have to spell the ingredients and cooking terms correctly, and that's a more labor-intensive than editing, say, explanations of high-performance computing.
I did grow up in a pre-microwave world around things like colanders and ladles, but we didn't have to spell them. And over the years since I haven't either.
And then there are caps, a problem you get into with any text on wine or cheeses, since many varieties are named after regions in France or Greece or Italy, and thus must be capped, while others are not. So you wind up  with cheddar and Parmesan, mozzarella and Asiago.
And in a wider cookbook a whole lot of ingredients might need capping, and to me getting that right is as important as using elegant photos in the book. And is it chick peas or chickpeas, and a lot of questions like that.
And style issues quickly begin to heat up, as well. Cookbooks are often full of abbreviations, which might come with or without periods. They have numbers, many used for measurements, others used in quotes, and the clean, simple rules laid down in AP for numerals versus spelling out numbers just don't cut the mustard.
That's when it's time to pull out a deeper style guide and some other cookbooks for wisdom.
Grammar issues arise too. For brevity in their instructions, cookbooks tend to omit the subject and/or object of sentences, leading to possible danglers along the lines of "stir until frothy" (I picture chefs with rabies) or "chill until cool," which sounds like a cold euphemism for "calm the heck down!"
But these are fun challenges, easily met by pulling out a few style guides and cookbooks for reference—and making (and following) a style sheet, all of which can be enforced with thoughtful use of Find, and Find and Replace. And also lunch breaks that may require running to the supermarket to pick up some tasty-sounding ingredient you've never heard of.
But copyediting is easy. The hard task is checking the content, including measurements, cooking times, etc., and as I said, I don't garnish with dollops. So the cook/writer is left with the most-formidable of editing tasks.
What I also learned is how creative people get in the kitchen, mixing ingredients and flavors.
One I just proofread is a cookbook devoted solely to pumpkin recipes—timed, appropriately, for the fall season with the approach of Halloween and Thanksgiving. It's a whole book of pumpkin recipes and not a single one read "Microwave on high for seven minutes . . ."
And in proving there's more to Jack-O'-Lanterns (spelling according to Merriam-Webster's) than just pumpkin pie, the book shows how to use pumpkins for everything from dessert to snacks to something you bake a meatloaf in.
A quick plug for the book: It is Easy Pumpkin Recipes: There's More to Pumpkin than Pumpkin Pie! by Nicole L'Esperance and her mother, Marie L'Esperance.
As with the other books in their Easy Recipes from Scratch series, they have complied a collection of family and modern recipes to prove that cooking from scratch can be easy and is even possible on busy weeknights—and even without a microwave.

—John Sailors
(C) 2012, by Story Crest Press.
Story Crest

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