"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Art of Foolproofing

I was looking through some old Cook's magazines and noticed the preponderance of the word 'Foolproof' in the names of their recipes. Foolproof Peach Shortbread, for example (which by the way sounds delicious). It got me to imagining a foolish person who could inadvertently do everything they can to ruin the peach shortbread but would always be foiled by the recipe's excellent foolproofing. But does a foolproof recipe lower itself to the mental level of the foolish cook in order to accommodate him or her? Or must it be super-intelligent, to make up for the lack of a cooking knack in the fool?

It's a bit depressing to think that recipes feel the need to protect themselves against human incompetence, especially recipes in a magazine like Cooks, which is the most elite cooking magazine I've ever encountered. It's equally sad to think that we don't use the word 'Fool' anymore. It's a nice word, because it conjures a kind of harmless, lumbering stupidity and, at the same time, the wise fooling of Feste and his Shakespearean compatriots, who masquerade as fools in order to show others, usually kings, that they are the real fools. I think we should bring both foolproofing and Shakespearean fooling back into style. Luckily, we don't need to worry about the fools themselves, because there are just as many of them as there ever were.

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