Bite-Sized Tweets

28 October 2010

Written by: Christopher Scanlon

From her kitchen in Northern Ireland, Maureen Evans has been tweeting recipes since her partner, Blaine Cook, signed up to the bird-touting micro-blogging site.

Maureen’s tweets are rarely punctuated by the usual banter united by floating ‘@’s’ that we’re accustomed to seeing in Twitter communities. People seem to be less taken with the recipe, and more curious about its innovative structure.

There is a certain degree of pleasure that comes from reducing complex recipes to pithy sentences; a sense of satisfaction in picking the twecipe apart. @sneymiller, for example, tackles pumpkin spice muffins:

pumpkinspicemuffins 1⅓c bsugar ¾c milk ⅓c oil 2t van 2eggs 15oz can p’kin 3½c f 2t powder ½t soda t allsp/cinn/nutmeg/cloves @350 30 min y24.

Others puckishly mingle with different genres of writing. A Manhattan cocktail in haiku reads: In a tall glass mix/ Bourbon, bitters, vermouth, ice. /Stir. Strain. Add cherry.

With a book called Eat Tweet filled with 1020 ‘twecipes’ in the works, there must be a reason why the work of this amateur foodie has become niche-chic. Why buy a book crammed with cryptic equations when you could easily find an entire recipe elsewhere? The proof isn’t in the pudding – it’s in the tweet.

Like texting for foodies, these chaste twecipes speak volumes about Maureen’s deft touch with words. It’s rather an impressive string of signs: measurements, times, temperatures and ingredients finely diced and condensed into equations. Formulaic letters and numbers cut through the usual eroticism and opulence of recipe writing. There’s nothing particularly prurient these days about the sensual relationship human beings share with food, but visualising it Morse code seems remarkably novel.

Compressing strudel pastry into 119 characters is not merely a case of mincing words. Twitter is helping redefine our relationship to food writing. It was only in the late 1990s that linguist Colleen Cotter encouraged us to think of recipes as narratives rather than instruction. Small ‘community’ cookbooks helped people connect with each other through food. The recipes were short and snappy, with each person being knowledgeable enough to make sense of each meal.

From the early 1900s, Miss Mollie Ward’s recipe for Mush Cakes in Jacqueline Harrison Smith’s cookbook reads: ‘Take 1qt of cold mush, 1/2pt of wheat flour, a little butter or lard. Make into little cakes with your hand, flour and bake them on a griddle as slab-cake or in the oven.’ All that in 136 characters?

Obviously, Twitter could have been huge in 1906.

Research shows that part of the appeal of Twitter is that its’ character limit helps us speak more naturally online – we are forced to write as we speak. It’s not so much a recipe as it is an obscure conversation. A relationship of trust and distant friendship develops between the reader and the Twitterer; one that respects and relies on the intelligence of the other to interpret and prepare the dish.

In attempting to decode a twecipe, it is difficult not to rediscover our penchant for adjectives and verbs; or search feverishly for the missing link between the art of cooking and boiling water in the midst of its charming anarchy.

Or you could accidentally stumble upon Maureen Evan’s off-site glossary page , where a disciplined table of words helpfully explain the meaning of ‘bqtgarni’ and the nuances of streaky-cut bacon. But there are implicit exhortations to joie de vivre to be found in these couplets. Cast off your expectations, abide the frustration and discover the childish pleasure of being elbow-deep in a floury mess. It is in the end, but a quickie.

Sheenal Singh is a media student at the University of Sydney and occasional writer for the Bondi View .