Humble Pie Sneak Peek: The Recipe Writer’s Dilemma
An excerpt from Humble Pie by Kate Lebo
If you’re interested in genre-defying food writing, you’re likely familiar with Kate Lebo, a poet, pie-maker, and writer of the memoir-essay collection, The Book of Difficult Fruit. A gorgeous combination of history, memoir reportage, and recipes, the book provides an encyclopedic chronicle of fruits that are “difficult,” stinky, poisonous, or hard to access. (Think: Pungent durian, astringent quince, messy Italian plums.) Today, we’re thrilled to share an excerpt by Kate from Humble Pie, our new summer issue now available for pre-order, in which she explores the limitations and failures inherent in recipe writing. The piece is accompanied by an original wood-block print by Emma Fuchs. -TB
We seek a certain kind of writing when we want to be told what to do. Self-help manuals, policy papers, and sermons come to mind. While I am suspicious of art that tells me what to feel or believe, I love to crack a cookbook, relax that defensive crouch, and follow along.
My favorite recipes are the ones that suggest the lived life behind the words—the messiness and rebellion of actual ingredients and kitchens and moods, the parts that introduce error, the parts that transcend the whole. This lyricism only works if the recipe’s instructions are also pedantic and precise.
This is just another way to talk about form.
To borrow from the way Terrance Hayes talks about poetry, the recipe is a box. It gives the act of cooking a shape on the page; that page becomes a vessel that carries the act of cooking forward in time to another cook. The restrictions of this box can become opportunities, but it must have those restrictions. If a recipe for soup can also be a recipe for pie, all I’ve made is a mess.
The necessary strictness of a recipe will invite argument. Certain readers, even though they want instructions, won’t let you tell them what to do. Once they get going on the recipe, they will shove it aside and follow their own whims.
I’m that “certain reader,” too. I love recipes and I love to argue with them. I love following them only so far and no further. When I start to disobey is where life leaks in. The dish changes according to what I actually have in my pantry and what my attention and patience will allow. In the kitchen I am less afraid to fail. I am willful. I steal. I take shortcuts and devote myself to ridiculous, labor-intensive details. I want to be influenced and I want to take credit. I want to put my stamp on a dish and call it mine. This is probably what led me to write recipes in the first place.
NYC Pie Drop This Weekend!
We’re big fans of Cait’s Key Lime’s dreamy, creamy pies, so we teamed up to create a special collab in honor of our newest issue release. Atlantic Beach Pie is a cult fave: lush lemon-lime custard topped with a pile of whipped cream, all in a humble, salty-sweet saltine crust. Pre-order your pie now for local pick up in NYC this weekend—the perfect treat for a picnic, beach day, or barbecue. Available in limited quantities, so act fast. Preorder here.
Humble Pie Press!
We’re thrilled to be featured in a Q&A on the digital culture newsletter Dirt today. Check it out for a peek inside our editorial process, why we spend so much time throwing parties, and more.