Women, recipes and intellectual capital

One of the common recipe experiences that emerged over the course of the past few weeks is the question of pride of ownership.  I’ve had countless people, mostly women, share anecdotes from their own family histories about a grandmother or an aunt or a cousin who refuses to share a recipe, or worse, leaves out a seemingly innocuous ingredient.

While Pia, Toni and Checka — the three sisters who are the de facto recipe experts in our family — were working on the tests of our recipes, there were several selections that had different versions for each sister.  Probably nothing sinister or sneaky, but this issue has popped up so much lately that I found myself thinking seriously about why so many women guard their recipes as if they are the treasure of the realm.

Conclusion:  it’s because they are.  For women today, a recipe is perhaps mostly a sentimental legacy.  But for women of past generations, it represented intellectual capital — and maybe the only thing they owned, much less invented.  A recipe symbolizes knowledge.  It signifies creativity.  And it’s a differentiator. 

Yes, Michael Porter, the women who barred the kitchen door were choosing the more sophisticated competitive barrier.  They weren’t going for the low cost option — they were setting the price high, knowing that their recipes might be the one true factor that differentiated them at the church supper, the holiday dessert table or the romantic dinner for two.

Maybe that’s why so many of us who come from cooking families have an innate sense of what it takes to differentiate us, to mine what is unique in our perspective, to value individuality.  And to stick to our guns.  I mean, wooden spoons.