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At What Point is a Recipe Yours? [from General Topics]

So, you see a recipe in a book. You make it. You change it. Over the years it evolves into exactly how YOU like it. Whose recipe is it? You have changed the seasoning, the cooking method, added another component, etc. Cookbook authors and chefs all have "their own" recipes for simple things like pie pastry - most of them are remarkably alike. So, should they not be claiming these as their own? I don't want to claim someone else's recipe as mine, but I rarely leave a recipe as I found it. What do all of you think?

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  1. Well, if it's something I adapt, then I usually note my adaptations, so that anyone I give the recipe to can judge for themselves whether my adaptations are improvements. (So, I am a securities lawyer.)

    Then there are blended recipes: recipes where I merge two or more different approaches to the same idea. In those cases, I normally will identify the original sources, but not get into too much detail about what changed in the merger. (On Chowhound, my best example would be my ragu alla bolognese, which uses both Marcella Hazan and Lynne Rosetto Kaspar's recipes, but with further emendations of my own based on my reading and experience in modulating that recipe over the years).

    Then there are recipes I actually create from scratch: my AAA (Almost All American) Chili con carne is one of those. That's mine, entirely, as it were.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      <<<(On Chowhound, my best example would be my ragu alla bolognese, which uses both Marcella Hazan and Lynne Rosetto Kaspar's recipes, but with further emendations of my own based on my reading and experience in modulating that recipe over the years).>>>

      In that example, Karl S, would you ever enter that recipe in some sort of "contest" as an original recipe? When do you think it becomes an "original" or "your own"? Certainly, tweaking by one or two minor things would still be a "tweak" of *someone else's recipe*- but combining two recipes, changing up a technique or two -and changing up ingredients....would that now be Karl S bolognese?

      I do this alot myself and I often wonder about the same thing.

      1. re: sedimental

        It depends on the context of the contest. And I'd still cite my original sources in a general way. (For that recipe in particular, it's important to understand the merger of two heavyweight "authentic" approaches).

    2. "So, should they not be claiming these as their own? "

      There are only a limited number of things you can do with food. Dishes are bound to show strong similarities. The OP's mention of pastry would be a case in point.

      1. Ehh..I kind of give credit where credit is due--but I also mention me. For example. "Have some of MY Martha Stewart Eggnog"...or "Want some of MY Ina Pumpkin Roulade?" ...or even.."Tonight we are having Jamie Oliver Quail"....it's theirs, but it's mine:)

        1. I think just as you can't fault a recipe once you start substituting/adding ingredients or changing methods, once you do something substantively different its yours, though I would generally suggest a footnote - "Based on sandylc's Chili Con Carne"

          After ATK's extensive trials their suggestion for cranberry sauce was "use recipe on bag, add 1/2 tsp salt" but if i replace water with cider I'm calling it mine

          1. I wonder if anybody has ever been charged with copyright infringement for publishing as their own somebody else's recipe that they merely tweaked? In other words, I wonder if the courts have spoken to this issue?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              I believe they have -- and as long as it's not the EXACT recipe -- all's fair.

              Not a lawyer, but I think it's been challenged before.

              I agree with the "based on" reference -- but if I've changed the ingredients, the cooking times, etc., -- yeah, it's mine.

              But reading the reviews of online recipes is always good for a laugh -- they change ALL the ingredients, add or subtract the quantities, fiddle with cooking times and temperatures, and then bitch because it wasn't very good.

              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                My understanding is that you can copyright the exact *text* of a recipe, but not the combination of ingredients or techniques used, or the general idea.

                I'm not a lawyer, but it occurs to me that if you want to claim the rights to a new process or idea, you'd have to go for a patent, not a copyright. New drugs, for example, are patented, rather than copyrighting the recipe.

                There was a case a few years ago, I can't remember the people involved, but where two 'sneaking veggies into your kids food' cookbooks came out at about the same time, and one author sued the other for stealing the idea. They didn't get far. It's kind of like suing someone for writing a book about brooding teenage vampires because they stole the idea.

                As far as claiming a recipe goes - if I can take a photocopy of an existing recipe, and make a few notes about changes in the margins, I'll claim it as a modified recipe. If I have to rewrite it completely for it to make sense, it's now my recipe.

                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                  <I can't remember the people involved>

                  Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Levine. This is the most recent article I could find about it. Your brooding vampire analogy is apt.


              2. There's a sticky under Home Cooking about posting recipes.
                That outlines what's allowed under copyright laws.

                I rarely have occasion to claim ownership to a recipe or attribute it to a specific source. Only if someone else likes what I made and wants to make themselves do I have talk about sources. Then it is easiest to point to the printed recipe that comes closest to what I made. Mostly I use recipes for ideas, not detailed instructions.

                1 Reply
                1. re: paulj

                  I constantly have this issue. It seems that people ask me for a recipe for something weekly.
                  Thanks for that chowhound link. It's pretty clear! I like the phrase "adapted recipe"...that sounds better than tweaked :)

                2. In my opinion, when you have mastered making the dish, it is yours. No one owns a recipe, and they surely can't be copy protected. So, when someone asks for your recipe for piecrust, or brownies, or your cheese omelet, the recipe you give out is yours. If you hadn't mastered it, it wouldn't have been good enough for someone to want it.. But I do think it is a nice touch to cite your source. And for those recipes for which I have a source recorded, I have done so in my little collection of recipes.

                  1. If I made it - it is my recipe and I never give overt credit, at least in my house at a dinner party. And since I don't really measure for savory cooking, I can't really say that what I'm serving is exactly as the recipe intended - a little more of this, a little less of this - etc etc etc.

                    That said, if someone asks for the recipe I don't lie - I give them the source.

                    If I can't remember the source then its mine now too :D

                    1. At what point does a ship under construction become a new ship?

                      If you replace the decks, is that a new ship? I'd say not.

                      If you replace the decks and the masts, is it a new ship now? Probably still the same ship.

                      But you have to draw the line somewhere, right? If you replace every part, so none of the original ship remains, it's hard to deny that you have a new ship.

                      So there will definitely be a grey area between 2 extremes: change too little in the recipe and you've merely adapted it; it is not your own. Change enough and there is no denying it is your recipe. Somewhere in the middle, it's just a matter of opinion really. There is no objective standard.

                      1. Never really considered the "ownership," as wife often gets a start with something published, but always tweaks, and tweaks, and sometimes for decades.

                        Now, a great friend, writes cookbooks, and we are fortunate to be part of her "focus group," and freely contribute. We never have even considered ownership. It's all about the end result, and the food that we get to sample, along the road.

                        Wife has a famous recipe for pecan pie. Others stand in line for the print out of it, BUT it stared long ago, and possibly was in some cookbook elsewhere. Still, hers is "to die for," and most lucky recipients agree wholeheartedly.

                        She does not lay claim to it, but I would support her, if she did, and have found that her rendition, regardless of origin, is the ultimate. Goes well with Porto Barros 20 Year Tawny Port too!


                        1. I consider 90% of what I make my recipes even if they were inspired by someone else's. I rarely, unless it is baking or candy, make make the exact or even slightly modified version of someone's recipes. I look at 3-4 recipes for an item, look at the techniques involved and make it my way. No one would recognize my hot and sour soup recipe as Tyler Florences'. I looked at his to figure out the basic flavors and then added, subtracted, and made it my own with 60-70% changed from his. Put our recipes side by side and they bear little resemblance. I would never give him credit when the only thing they have in common is a few ingredients that are common to most Hot and Sour Soup recipes (even in different quantities.)

                          I am one who learns flavor profiles, techniques, and ingredients common to a dish, then I do it my way. I don't know that I could even give one of my recipes to anyone b/c I do a lot by eye and what not.

                          Now, people who change 2 things and call it theirs? That is so wrong to me. Pioneer Woman is bad about this (as is Paula Deen.) I have pointed out numerous times on PW's blog that she forgot to credit her source, and I post a link back to the identical recipe from Betty Crocker, Campbell's soup, or what not (those are the types of recipes she publishes.) My comments always get erased of course, but she is super guilty of that as are a few other TV and blog cooks.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                            If you are publishing on the web, it is good form to cite your source. It is always good form to give credit for something you did not think of yourself. I agree totally. But in the day to day passing around of recipes, I think it is 'your' recipe if you have made it well, and have made it well before.

                          2. The second time I make a recipe, it's mine. The first time I follow exactly, after that my magic pantry takes over and whatever catches my whimsy goes into the pot.

                            Recipes are so difficult to attribute, I feel I can only say where I first saw a recipe. There just is no telling where a recipe originated from. Chefs and food companies don't create from thin air every single one of their recipes. Heck, I've had recipes that are supposed to be from such-and-such only to find a couple of them in an ancient recipe book from my grandmother.

                            It's just food. Unless you're writing a book and worried about lawsuits, why fret too much. Sometimes it's helpful to find the original source, as a technique or ingredient may have been lost over the years that may be essential to the yum factor.