Posts Tagged ‘cookbook editing’

After publishing Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy, I realized that writing a cookbook comes with its own set of editing considerations. The following are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Be precise with measurements, cooking times, and instructions

zucchiniIn my recipe-developing process, I needed to translate many existing Italian recipes in order to come up with what I felt was the best version of a particular dish—in essence, a recipe that not only worked but worked well. My frustration was twofold: not only did I have to convert from metric to American measurements, but far too many authors listed ingredients such as “a handful of parsley”—or even worse, simply “parsley.” This may be how many chefs (and home cooks) would actually prepare a dish, but it doesn’t fly when writing a recipe. If you want your readers to end up with the same fantastic result as you, be as specific as possible.

Cooking times will obviously vary; this depends on many factors, such as the type of pan being used, as well as your individual oven. (This last point was made extra clear to me when our oven began leaking gas and needed to be replaced; the new stove burners were each different, so “medium heat” became less about the position on the dial and more a subjective estimation of the flame’s strength.) When possible, provide your cooking time in a narrow range, along with a visual cue. For example, “Bake until golden brown, about 20–25* minutes.”

* Note that an en dash, rather than a hyphen, denotes the word “to.”

2. Develop a style for your text—and stick with it

mushroomsThis is your voice, whether descriptive and flowery or concise and to the point. Some “experts” have disparaged the typical magazine style where, in order for recipes to occupy as little space as possible, editors take shortcuts in sentence structure, such as omitting extraneous words like “a” and “the” (for example, “place chicken in skillet” rather than the wordy “place the chicken in the skillet”). These critics feel that this style doesn’t allow the reader to get to know an author’s personality.

On the other hand, many readers (myself included) prefer to cut to the chase. I like numbers or bullet points for each step. I don’t want to have to spend a long time reading through pages of instructions before beginning to cook. When I’m in the middle of cooking and have a question, it’s important for me to be able to skim the text quickly to find my answer.

Both approaches are valid; it’s just a matter of your personal style and the experience you want your readers to have. Even if you choose a more succinct style, you can still rely on an introductory paragraph to insert history, anecdotes, and descriptive phrasing about the dish.

3. Be consistent with your formatting

borlottiThis point takes my first two tips just one step further. Not only should your ingredients and directions be specific, there should be consistent formatting from one recipe to the next. Whether you decide to say “powdered sugar” or “confectioners’ sugar,” use the same term throughout your cookbook. Choose whether you will write “1/2 cup butter,” “4 ounces butter,” or “1 stick butter”—or perhaps even a combination of these to enhance clarity, such as “1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter.” Each ingredient presents a similar choice; make sure you are consistent in your terminology.

Once you have developed a style for the text of your instructions, try to use the same words to convey the same steps that may appear often in your recipes. For example, “Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Working in batches, place the cjalsòns in the water; cook until they rise to the surface, about 1–2 minutes. Drain.” There are four recipes for cjalsòns in Flavors of Friuli, and I made sure that this particular phrasing was consistent in each; this way, any deviations (such as the one recipe for larger cjalsòns that take longer to cook) will stand out to the reader.

4. Spend the time to create a functional index

asparagusA final consideration, and one that many writers overlook, is the index. Many would say that this is the most tedious part of writing a cookbook. Depending on the length of the work and the number of recipes, creating an index can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. The process involves creating a list of topics and subtopics, and then going through the manuscript page by page, tagging every keyword and linking it to the appropriate index topic. Programs such as Adobe’s InDesign simplify this for you and will generate a formatted index based on the words you tag.

Believe it or not, there are actually professionals out there who specialize in indexing, people who take pleasure in its tedium, and I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed it myself. It takes a certain amount of “left brain” meticulousness and linear thinking, and for me it was an unexpectedly satisfying task.

Are you writing a cookbook? Would you like help editing your recipes? Are you intimidated by the mere thought of indexing? If so, I can help you. Please email me at info@FlavorsofFriuli.com for more information. Buon appetito!

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