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Presentation Piece for Literary Kinds

aseidman's picture


Presentation piece for Julia’s Cake Project

By Arielle Seidman

I would like to thank Julia for absolutely and irrevocably spoiling my diet.

No, really, I’m serious. Thank you! It has been a delicious experience.

But to get to the point,

Julia has been presenting her cakes in both of the classes she and I share. So far I think there have been four or five cakes, and each one of them has been legitimately better than the last. Much as I’ve enjoyed scarfing the cakes without thinking too much about their literary significance, the project did (and does) have a very interesting and controversial point.

Are recipes actually literature?

Let’s see what the Oxford English dictionary (one of my favorite resources, as a professional editor) has to say about that. The OED defines

·         RECIPE: A statement of the ingredients and procedure required for making something, (now) esp. a dish in cookery

·         And

·         LITERATURE: Literary work or production; the activity or profession of a man of letters; the realm of letters

·         Or

·         LITERATURE: Printed matter of any kind.

The denotation of the words, then, allows us to prove Julia’s point. If literature is letters, words, or any kind of printed material, then printed recipes are definitely literature.

What about recipes that are not printed, however? Some recipes are passed down from one family member to another, and are never written down for the sake of keeping the secret. Julia herself has made several recipe variations that may or may not be written down, but which are based on written recipes.

Can we not, then, call those oral recipes “literature?” What about nursery rhymes, or fairy tales which were originally pieces of the oral tradition, rather than the written? Are they, then, not literature? Should be perhaps expand the definition of “literature” to include pieces of the oral tradition?