Are You A Cook Or A Baker?

by Green Deane

in Blog

I am often asked about herbal medicine. My answer to the inquirer is often a question: Are you a cook or a baker? Their answer is instructive.

While one person can be a good cook and a good baker they usually are not. Usually one is a very good cook and a mediocre baker or a very good baker and a mediocre cook. Why? They are two different mind sets, as can be foraging for food and herbal medicine.

Cooking tends to be more flexible than baking. If a recipe calls for a cup of water many a cook will try a cup of wine, or milk, or beer. If it calls for veal emu might work. There can be experimentation and non-directed creativity.  Bakers are more like chemists. They follow recipes and often they must do so carefully or they end up with a mess. When a baking recipe calls for a certain size pan, a certain temperature of the sugar, and a specific amount of time in the oven, it means exactly that, no taking liberties, no changing ingredients, no changing the size of the pan, follow the recipe exactly.  Dionysus and Apollo, creativity, restraint. Foraging and herbalism are so cleaved. I happen to be a genius cook but an imbecile baker. My mother was horrible at both but is still kicking at 85, I think in part because every meal she made challenged her immune system to do or die.

There is another separation between forager and herbalist. I spend a lot of time and care to make sure the plant I have eaten does not remind me that I ate it. I want to enjoy it and move on. I do not want to be reminded in an hour or two or more than I consumed it. An herbalist has a very different point of view. They want the plant to do something after its use. In fact, often they are counting on it, and quickly, too. Where I just make sure I’ve got the right plant and preparation, they have preparation, doses, and effects to consider. For the herbalist it’s like baking: Know you materials, use them in a particular way, create an effect, and measure the effect.  It’s really the difference between the chemist and the artist.

So yes, I know many herbals plants, and make it a point to. I also report about them particularly when confirmed by modern research. But I am a forager, not a herbalist. And I suspect mushroom hunters have to be even more dedicated to detail than herbalists. Then again, if they are not, it is a self-correcting problem.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendybird February 24, 2014 at 16:48

But it’s a different kind of detail for a mushroom hunter… more like birdwatching than cooking or baking. If you can’t take the time to learn the difference between a Pewee and a Phoebe and learn how to tell them apart in the field then you have no business hunting for mushrooms.

I’m a cooker and a birdwatcher, I can barely bake boxed muffins.

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CP August 31, 2012 at 16:25

I’m more of a baker and I take quite a lot of liberties in my baking. 🙂 I rarely follow a recipe the same way even once. The thing about baking is that you can mess around with it, but to do so successfully requires more knowledge than other cooking, because you are doing more than just blending flavors, you’re doing a chemical reaction. The results of your tinkering aren’t always immediate (though they are sometimes). Initially, when I learned how to cook as an adult, I was intimidated by experimenting, both in cooking and baking, but as I learned *why* things are done, not just *what* is done, I was able to take more liberties. The two books that helped me become an adventurous baker were The Tassajara Bread Book and Cook’s Illustrated magazines and books.

I don’t know why I prefer baking to cooking, because I’ve *never* liked following a recipe. I guess I just prefer to eat baked goods! I also love to learn, and I loved “cracking the code” of baking.

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