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Are you kidding? I shouldn’t even be talking about it.

I love blogs. Sharing is great, especially when it is being done by people that are passionate about their subject. Food blogs that share recipes are even better, but occasionally I come across a blog entry that features photos of a very delicious looking recipe. I continue reading, hoping to find the list of ingredients that starts any given recipe only to discover that it is being withheld since it is actually a <airquote>family secret</airquote>. A photo blog I could forgive, but what on earth is it doing on a food blog?

Family Recipe Withholder’s Worst Nightmare?
OK, here is the doomsday scenario: someone finds your secret family recipe and at the next gathering—let’s say at a reunion or even more public like a church potluck—you both bring the same dish. The problem is: everyone likes their version more than yours. Not only do they have your family’s recipe, but they are now stealing the inheritance that was rightfully yours. The nerve! If only there was a family recipe court (I just now trademarked that, by the way). HELLO—reality check! Does this really ever happen? More importantly, if the recipe was really improved, isn’t that a good thing?

Legitimate reasons why a recipe should be kept a secret:

  1. It’s a trade secret. This means you compete with other businesses using the recipe. Unless you are competing with another classroom for funds, bake sales don’t fall into this category.
  2. You don’t know the recipe. Perhaps you were high as a kite or were winging it and are now desperately soliciting assistance from others to reverse engineer the recipe from the few crumbs that are left.
  3. You promised you wouldn’t share it. Honor is good, but did the person that shared the recipe with you have a good reason to keep it a secret? And if so, how dare they share it with you? Shame on them!
  4. The recipe, delightful as it may be, was handed down from a relative that is now reviled for gruesome acts against humanity; revealing your direct lineage to them would be too much shame to bear upon your family. Think of the children, after all.

Do you want to know the real secret?
It isn’t the recipe. Who hasn’t gotten the recipe they have had prepared for them every year during the holidays and found disappointment that it tasted different when they made it themselves. The reason your relative’s recipe tastes so good is quite simply because your relative made it. It is their technique, their choice of brand or fresh local ingredients, their 50 year old mixer or oven, and possibly even their consistent disregard for one or more steps indicated in the recipe. Yes, the recipe is important, but ingredients, technique and sometimes even equipment play equally important roles in the creation of any dish.

It doesn’t hurt to ask.
I ran into an old friend from high school recently at my high school reunion. After he saw my blog he mentioned he had an interesting family recipe that he would share with me if I was interested. Naturally, I emailed him back and he sent me the recipe. Among questions about the recipe itself, I asked him if it was alright if I posted the recipe online—even though he just emailed the recipe to a food blogger. To my relief, he was delighted that I would feature the recipe and I asked if he had any interesting family anecdotes I could share. I’ll be posting his recipe this fall. It’s good to share, after all.

  • jef

    Sometime I leave out the recipe on dishes I consider ‘easy’ or ‘boring’. I always do my best to take the most mouthwatering photos I can, so i guess that makes me guilty. Sorry to have offended, I will do my best to upload as many recipes as possible.

  • Well said Brian! Truly, if you aren’t going to share the recipe, don’t even bring it up.

    I’ve been watching Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt, and every episode he requests recipes and then is told that they are secret. What’s up with that? I wonder how many great recipes are lost because the “owner” refused to part with their secret. Equally worse are the people who share a recipe, but change it up as they write it down.

  • It’s a wonder that people who have a secretive nature blog at all! I find that a recipe only gets you so far, anyway. It’s the ingredients and the touch that are just as important, and the latter is much harder to share!

  • Jef: I certainly wasn’t referring to you!

    Erika: That’s another great point I forget to mention. People carrying recipes to their graves, that’s just horrible!

    Kieran: Indeed, the list and ratios are just one part–who, with what, and how are equally critical to a recipe’s success.

  • I love this post. Mostly I love it because of the headline and the photo. I am a Zoolander fan. But seriously I really enjoyed reading this – very well said.

  • Paula: I have to confess I love Zoolander, too. I love the original zoolander skits he did for VH1, too and how the calendar has the same pose every month with different backgrounds. Glad you enjoyed the article, too.

  • Recipes are meant to be shared. The more I can pass on great recipes, the better we all get to eat. I have no patience for those holding on to recipe secrets, unless they are cooking them up for a living. Even then, there’s so much more to great food than the recipe itself – specific cooking methods, ingredients, and just the love and attention you bring to the process.

  • Hi Elise, if anyone can claim to share recipes it has to be you! My goodness, I’m always awestruck by how many recipes are you your site. And with great photos, too. Bravo!!