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Sharing your "secret" recipes?

A post on another board here made me think of it. The poster was mentioning how he could never give out his wife's secret recipe because she would kill him. I totally don't get this at all. Why wouldn't a person want to share delicious food? I can sort of understand if it's a restaurant where part of their livelihood is based on protecting how the things they're known for are made, but as a person. Can someone who refuses to share their recipes explain?

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  1. I think it's an ego thing...I never have a problem sharing my recipes, but I used to know a woman who would intentionally give people altered recipes to keep them from replicating her results. Usually, it was something simple, like changing a quantity from teaspoons to tablespoons, or leaving out a key (but not obvious) ingredient.

    Once I found out that was her modus operandi, I stopped considering her a friend. I mean, if I couldn't trust her over something as trivial as a recipe, could I trust her over ANYTHING?

    1. I love sharing food knowledge with friends, but here's another angle. When a dinner guest asks me for the "recipe," I generally can't produce an index card. Most of my cooking comes from the general knowledge we all build up over the years of experience and study. So, I sit and explain the ingredients and techniques, only to be met by blank stares and requests for precise amounts. ("To taste" means nothing to some people.) Soon, far too much time has gone by and I feel I have ignored my other guests. I have tried to accomodate some by asking a guest over to learn to prepare the dish in question, but tossed that idea out the window after a repeat offender finally went too far by consuming too much wine and babbling about her boyfriend woes while I prepared the dish for her. Maybe those unwilling to share recipes are just too tired of being taken advantage of? Who knows...there are also those who are just plain mean, as ricepad pointed out. Remember Marie Barrone on "Raymond?"

      1. Those of us who do not follow recipes are often branded with the "Won't Share" label and it is both untrue and unfair. We improvisational cooks do not necessarily remember what went into a particular dish and the likelihood of it being replicated are almost nil. Today's lunch of beef cheek tacos cannot be "reciped" because I don't know exactly what went into the stewpot yesterday to produce these fabulous beef cheeks and I probably won't have the same fresh tortillas and perfect avocado available the next time I have some delicious shredding meat.

        Am I witholding a secret recipe? No. Can I give you a recipe for today's lunch? No. I'm happy to tell you what I did with the caveat that I probably cannot duplicate this in the future. Certainly baking is the exception but more than 90% of my food follows this path of improvisation. Our house soup is Cream of Reach-In!

        It is the middle of the afternoon in AZ and I have no idea what tonight's supper will be but I do know that the beautiful leeks in the vegetable drawer will be involved. Ditto for some lamb. Am I witholding a secret recipe? Not at all. Would I withold a recipe from someone? Absolutely not. Good food is all about sharing. I do not understand the thoughts of those who refuse to share recipes or, worse, deliberately alters them (exceptions made for proprietary information). Shame on all those who deliver sugarless sugar cookie recipes.

        2 Replies
        1. Thank you adn very well put for those of us who are good cooks and go with our tastebuds. I totally am a "taster" so it is difficult to put that into some form of measurement for another. I know for a fact that I in some peoples minds over season, but that is the one thing I notice in a recipe, it is never enough for my tastes, And then I invariably will add another herb or spice.
          I do wish I were better at making notes as I go.

          1. I totally agree with the people on this thread. I am Senora Improv even on dishes that I have been making for decades. Sometimes it strikes me to put something in a stew or casserole or a saute... I try to remember to write it down, but generally, I just don't. Sometimes it depends on what is fresh or what is in the fridge! One time I gave my own recipe card straight from my recipe box for gumbo to my sister-in-law. She came back to me later claiming I was trying to foul her by giving her a recipe that was not what I cooked. I TOLD her up front that she had had gumbo at my house at least a dozen times and each time I used the recipe as a base, but there was always a twist depending on my mood (or the above list of reasons). She has SEEN me cook a thousand times... So I would say, give recipes with asterisks and a kind word about improv BEFORE they embark and offer to give phone advice or to come over when they plan on cooking the recipe. Oh and, do not give recipes to the insane or paranoid.

          2. If someone asks I will give them the recipe along with any side notes like changes I made. In baking I am precise and measure and don't fiddle around much with what is actually a formula. With a recipe where you can play more I think it is only fair to tell people the recipe said this but I used XYZ instead.

            I know of one person who guards his mother's shortbread recipe zealously. She made him promise. She had given the recipe to a friend and then found the friend passing it off as her own. Credit should be given where credit is due. But I just would not care that much.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Candy

              I had a cake recipe that I gave to a friend, and soon thereafter she informed me that she was going to start a home business making this exact cake. It never happened, after she realized all the regulations that were involved, but I was still annoyed. Not that it stopped me from giving out recipes, especially here on Chowhound, I love sharing with so many people all over the world! (And getting them too, of course)

              1. re: coll

                You could have told her how much your royalties would be for every cake she sold.

            2. This reminds me of a recent exchange I had with an aunt. I had the idea to start a family cookbook. Since my mom and my aunt are both good cooks and they regularly make traditional foods at family gatherings (most handed down from my grandmother), I sent an email to them both telling them my idea and asking if they could write down a few of their signature dishes. I even said, I know that they won't be exact recipes, but if you could give me the idea (and maybe some anacdotal thoughts as well in terms of memories from those recipes re my grandmother, etc.), that I could use them in the family cookbook. My mother said ok. My aunt waited awhile to get back to me and then sent me a reply that she wouldn't be able to because she doesn't cook with recipes and it's a little bit of this and that and it would be hard for her to write them down. So I responded and said not to worry and that I figured that's how the recipes were but that even the idea of the recipe could be interested and I said if she ever felt like it, I could even come and watch her prepare these things and I would observe her and then write my own take on the recipes. She hasn't responded. She is the type of person that I enjoy cooking with too when we are cooking for the holidays. I am not sure exactly what the issue is, but I guess I won't be putting together a family cookbook!

              2 Replies
              1. re: pescatarian

                I've been gathering recipes for a family cookbook too, and have had quite the time with my Great Aunt Martha!! I asked for three recipes from everyone: one recipe that they are particularly known for, one recipe from the other side of their family, and one recipe that they make on a regular basis at home. I also asked for any stories about food or pictures of family dinners, especially involving my great grandparents. She sent me two recipes: Sausage Loaf and Ham Loaf (it's a longstanding joke in the family that everyone hates her ham loaf and I think she knows it)!! I even gave examples of recipes that people are known for and used her and her vegetable beef soup as an example, and she didn't even send that recipe! I know that she just doesn't want to give up her recipes and I don't get it! But, my grandma and her other sisters more than made up for it and my grandma also guilted her into sending three more recipes! It just looks like such a measly offering compared to the 25+ recipes with stories and pictures that everyone else submitted! Guess it's her loss!

                1. re: pescatarian

                  I can verify the "doesn't cook from recipes" factor with my Mom and she really wants to hand down the recipes. I'll call her and ask how make something or the recipe but she almost always has to recreate it from memory. Like your aunt, in process my Mom is fine but on paper, not so good. 45-50 years of cooking and I'd learn it to memory too.