Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The way people think

Just lately, I have been given practical examples of the different way in which people think and approach a project.

I have been up to my eyeballs in recipes. I am compiling a recipe book to capture a sampling of the wide-ranging cultural diversity of our church congregation: Nigerians, Koreans, Ghanaians, West Indians, Finns, Swedes, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Poles, Welsh... and of course, the occasional English person ;o).

The finished book is to be sold in aid of a scheme which provides food parcels to struggling families in our area. Right now, there are more families in that category than usual, and it looks set to get worse. Of course, I'm busting a gut to get the thing done in time to be used as Christmas gifts.

The people of the church were asked to send/give me their favourite recipes, concentrating on nutritious meals-on-a-budget rather than the endless range of sweet treats that usually result from these sorts of projects.

It has been an interesting exercise:

  • Some people's idea of a recipe does not start with a list of ingredients - these are revealed as one reads through the instructions; others start with a detailed list of ingredients, including the quantity of water
  • Some use rather imprecise terms like 'some butternut', 'a medium oven' or 'about a handful of pearl barley' - others are precise to the last detail: '950ml water', '375°F/180°C' or '165g frozen mixed vegetables'
  • Some indicate how many people a recipe will serve, others do not
  • Some use metric quantities, others use imperial, still others use cups and spoons
  • Interestingly, one Chinese woman uses colours for reference, rather than time - 'cook until mixture is purple then add stock to turn mixture red'
Since the book is intended to celebrate our diverse cultures, I have tried to be true to the way the recipes were given to me, without making it impossible for a less-than-confident cook - who is already out of his/her comfort zone in attempting a recipe from Japan, say - to produce something edible at the end of the experiment.

Since the contributor's name appears with each recipe, I have tried to accommodate that person's character and individuality as far as possible. This put me in a bit of a pickle when it came to spelling and grammar errors. Many of the people in our church don't have English as a first language. This has resulted in the most endearing turns of phrase. I decided pretty quickly that I would have to correct the spelling, but I ummed and ah-ed over the grammar. In the end I did correct it, since I recognise that there may be cause for embarrassment and/or ridicule (not to mention misunderstanding), but it was with a heavy heart.

I did, however, opt to leave in little editorial things like "Cheese soup - yes, really!" and "this is optional!!!!" beside an instruction to add an onion in a recipe from someone who abhors the things. This abhorrence is referenced elsewhere in the book, where one person included the instruction that "L***** may substitute a leek".

I'm not earning a penny from this exercise and it has been hard work, but it has been an absolute romp... and I have learnt so much along the way - about cooking, about people.

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