For more than five decades, I’ve been cooking a version of our family’s spaghetti sauce. I may yet get it right.

“The Sauce” varies quite a bit depending on the chef, in much the same way as Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” is different in each of its 2,200-plus cover recordings by such crooners as Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Tammy Wynette and Placido Domingo. My renditions of The Sauce are never the same, either. I learned by watching Aunt Dolly make it a few times. She added “this much” rather than a measurement.

The mutable nature of The Sauce has allowed us to critique each batch as if we were wine snobs snitching a glass from a barrel. “It is a young sauce, but a good sauce, with a pronounced nose” — not surprising given the chef’s Italian honker — “and perhaps in need of a touch more garlic.” I always appreciate these thoughtful comments, just as I’m sure Paul McCartney appreciates hearing, “Shouldn’t the lyric in ‘Yesterday’ be ‘she wouldn’t stay’ instead of ‘she wouldn’t say’?”   

But yesterday, apropos of the song, I made my first fully measured-out version of The Sauce. Using the kitchen scale and measuring cups, I quantified the amounts of all the ingredients and (gasp!) wrote them down. Like the Rosetta Stone, the list now allows others to decipher the Dolly-ese proportions into standard amounts, and without her occasional threats to hit me on the head with “the hot spoon” if I crowded her too closely.

Some longtime reader(s) of Quip Tide may recall that I published a recipe for The Sauce years ago, in connection with one of the mass spaghetti feeds we used to throw. I must now confess that the amounts used in that “recipe” were somewhat approximate, by which I mean, “made up.” In my defense I must add that, to my knowledge, no one has been injured by consuming the “Approximate Sauce,” and, if someone was, the statute of limitations has long since expired. I trust that’s all that has expired.

In my view, cooking is not baking, and the difference goes beyond whether the oven or the stovetop in used. Baking, which I freely admit I can’t do, requires exactitude, though your mileage may vary, as they say, due to minor differences in the batches of each ingredient, your oven’s thermal accuracy, the phase of the moon, who is hosting SNL that week, and whether the dog has a sudden, urgent need to be out of the house rather than barfing on the carpet, making you forget that you have homemade sourdough in the oven.

Cooking is to baking what Coltrane is to Beethoven. They’re both great, but you’ll never mistake one for the other. I enjoy cooking without recipes. To borrow an overused Star Trek reference, I view a recipe the way Kirk views the Prime Suggestion.   

I am not yet ready to publish the Measured Sauce. I’ll let someone else follow the formula, and if it works you’ll see it here someday.

Oh, believes in yesterday.

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