Some Thoughts About Posting Recipes

If you’ve looked around Wild Yeast, you know that I frequently adapt and post recipes from some of my favorite baking books. This is common practice among food bloggers, and OK from a legal standpoint, as recipes are not subject to copyright protection.

Legality and prevalence notwithstanding, doing right is important, and it has always been my belief and intention that when I post my take on another person’s recipes, I respectfully communicate my admiration for that person and their work, while sharing my own thoughts and processes. However, my recent posting of an adaptation of Flaxseed Rye, from Jeffrey Hamelman’s wonderful book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, prompted a reader to challenge me a little. Wasn’t it impolite and disrespectful to reference another person’s work in this way without his permission?

Taking a deep breath, I decided to ask Chef Hamelman what his thoughts were. He has given me permission to share his eloquent and gracious response:

“I’ve given some thought to your emails. To me, bread is rich and deeply historical, and is one of those very fundamental things that has lineage. And part of respecting the lineage is in doing just what you have been doing—giving attribution of recipe sources and inspirations. This is how we keep the links intact. It’s a value thing, an ethic … If you read the introduction in the book BREAD to Horst Bandel’s Black Pumpernickel and Miche Pointe-à-Callière you will get a sense of what my personal values are. So I’m saying yes, continue with what you are doing.”

Now if you have the book, go read, or re-read, those parts. And if you don’t have the book, get it, because these charming stories are a wonderful example of why you should buy books even if you can scavenge 100% of their recipes online. It isn’t really the recipes (lists of ingredients and steps) that you’re buying, is it? It’s the wisdom and love and creative expression and passion of the authors who bring them to life that are the true value here. Thank you, Jeffrey Hamelman, for writing a great book and for generously encouraging us to honor those who inspire us as we pursue, and share, our own passion for baking.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    Thank you for posting this and addressing the topic. Obviously it touches many food bloggers and I’m sure others have had the occasional reader (or troll, as mine was) who accuses the blogger of copyright violation for citing the original source. Some people don’t get it, but posts like yours help to clarify the issue.

  2. Janie says

    A thoughtful man with a beautiful mind! And you’re no slouch yourself. Thank you for an inspiring post.

  3. says

    Thank you for posting this. I hope that she/he visit you again, so she/he knows that you take the issues seriously. By the way, I made it this rye bread, but the crumb didn’t turn out like yours. So, I’ll be practicing a lot. However, my norwich sourdough is getting much much better. I make it every other day, and also starting to add flaxseed meal to it.

  4. says

    I think you’ve always been so very respectful of where you get your recipes from/inspired by. In fact, so many of the books that you’ve mentioned I’ve gone out and purchased BECAUSE of your positive recommendations. So, if anything, I’d think that you’re doing the author many favors! Keep on keepin on Susan :)


  5. says

    Your positive recommendations and reference to bread books has inspired a few recent purchases on my part, to be honest! Thanks for addressing this topic.

  6. says

    This is such a remarkable coincidence! Right now, I am in Norwich, VT taking a class taught by Chef Hamelman. I’ll make sure to tell him you posted his letter. He’s a fantastic teacher BTW!

  7. says

    That’s a really nice response. I didn’t quite expect him to be that gracious. Makes me treasure my copy of his book even more.

  8. says

    Great post!
    Also, very cool mom. (re comments)
    I have bought untold amounts of books on the rave reviews of other bloggers. They just make me shop all the more.
    Pay respect to the source and share the bounty! Great attitude. :)

  9. says

    You addressed this issue with grace and intelligence. I’ve always thought that if I wrote a cookbook, I would love to have bloggers writing about my recipes. The more publicity for good books, the better.

  10. says

    Lovely post. It’s been close to my heart too – when I post tried and tested cookbook recipes, I always acknowledge the source. And however easy it is to scavenge off the Internet, there’s nothing like reading a beautiful cookbook!

  11. says

    Thanks Susan, a very good post. All (self respecting) bloggers wonder about these issues sometimes. I think Mr. Hamelman shows his love for bread by his gracious answer. Even though you can find lots of recipes from certain foodwriters and bakers on the net, for me that just inspires me to buy a book, because you have to get some idea if a book really works for people at home.
    I downloaded a whole chapter of Hamelman’s book on internet to bake from it… and thát made me buy the whole book. It the best baking book I have (and I have lots of them!)
    All bloggers that use recipes must -in my view- of course always reveal the source, which most do fortunately. Shame on those who don’t!

  12. says

    I think Chef Hamelman gave a great response and one that highlights the true passion behind cooking and the need to share and inspire others. That’s why we blog and share our experiences and knowledge. That’s why people like Chef Hamelman publishes a book. As long as we respect the sources it should be shared.

    Now if I can only get my Mothers secret pastry recipe out of her…

  13. says

    His answer reveals the heart and soul of a baker. Food, bread has always been and always will be about the sharing. Some of my buying books is a Thank You to the writer for sharing.
    My mom always said you attract more flies with honey . . . this just proves her right again.

  14. says

    Thanks everyone for thoughtful comments that add to the discussion. I want to be clear that I don’t at all begrudge the commenter asking the question; it was a fair one that probably needs to be asked more often.

  15. says

    Thanks Susan and Jeffrey for taking this issue to heart and sharing your thoughts. From the historical and ethical point of view, this seems the best way to handle the issue of recipes. I always want to know where recipes come from, if possible, for many reasons. A recipe represents so much more than a collection of words belonging to one person. I think giving credit for the path recipes take from one person to the next is an honest and valuable way to document people, culture and history. And I am much more likely to buy a cookbook if someone recommends a recipe from that author to me. So many cookbooks – so little time!

  16. says

    Susan, I don’t even think that the availability of these recipes on the internet harms the selling of a book. To me it’s just the proof of the pudding; the recipes do work out very well so I want to buy the book.

  17. Suzanne says

    It’s been interesting to me to see the differences between different industries and groups in regards to ‘intellectual rights’ and competition. My husband runs a comic shop and while I’m sure there are some stores that are very competitive, for the most part it’s a community and no one store tries to steal customers from another. In fact, many of the store owners know each other pretty well and work together on various projects. When fliers from a nearby store wound up in the parking lots of several other stores in our town (he’d hired an outside company to distribute them), the owner of the first store went around and apologized :)

    Restaurants may be competitive at times, but most of the people I’ve known who work in them move from one to the other and are more interested in the food and the job than in fame. It’s a community. Granted, I’ve only worked in the little out of the way corner of food service that is smaller bakeries, but when I’ve seen competition, it’s been aimed at bettering ourselves and the food, not our reputation. I think that leads to much more fertile grounds for innovation than the standard attempts to “win” through obscurity. I’m glad to see more communities springing up willing to share and work together these days.

  18. Jo says

    Glad to hear you all buy the books! On the money saving websites I have visited people will do anything not to buy books. If you don’t buy them, the authors won’t write any more, pretty simple. By the way, I am not a troll, nor disrespectful, and was only asking a question as I genuinely wanted to know the answer. I have the answer now thanks to Susan’s dialogue with this author. Other authors might not feel the same, you won’t know until you ask them too, and I am sure they would be pleased to be asked and given that respect they are owed, as Chef Hamelman undoubtedly was. Democracy, free speech include asking questions that make people think about what they do and how they do it. That’s all I was doing. I think it was worthwhile. I hope you do too.

  19. says

    Beautifully said.

    I’ve always felt that you do a great job of attributing recipes and giving credit where its due, unlike some of us lazy ones (I usually just say, here’s the recipe-and link to it). You’ve inspired me to go one step beyond that when posting a recipe.

  20. says

    What a beautiful and honest post!

    I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts and certainly learned a lot from you. You’ve always shown us a really good example of giving credit and attributing recipes. Thank you for being you and inspiring many of us baking enthusiasts!

  21. says

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been worried about copyright infringements since I started blogging. I’ve still not clarified what the situation is in Europe and the UK in particular, since this is where I live. I’ve chosen to put in links to where the recipes are listed and add explanations to the bits I do differently. From speaking to Swedish friends, it seems that publishing recipes there is encouraged as this allows them to evolve and just adds to the richness of our culinary heritage, still I try to be on the cautious side. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one worrying.

  22. says

    Just a quick thank you to Jo for the link to UK copyright.

    Now back to Susan’s photos, I think I spotted something very interesting and tasty looking.


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  30. Molly says

    It’s good to know that recipes aren’t subject to copyrights.. I didn’t know that and I had a lady freak out at me on my blog about not posting the “rights” to her recipe. YIKES! Now I know. Kudos.

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