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Christina Pesoli Headshot

The Good Book and the Cookbook: A Recipe for Keeping the Bible Fresh

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Flickr: fred_v
Flickr: fred_v

"Because the Bible says so."

If you are in a discussion with me and you want to end it, just say those five words -- or any variation of them like, "Because it's against the Bible," or "That's not in the Bible." Once those words are uttered I am immediately rendered mute. (Please don't tell my kids. This trick could really give them the upper hand.)

The reason why these words have this power on me isn't because I believe that the Bible is the ultimate authority on any given topic -- because I don't. Nor is it that I don't have any respect for the Bible at all -- because I do.

It's just that once I learn that a person believes that the ultimate authority on any given topic is the Bible, that causes me to question all kinds of things about him -- like his relationship with logic and his awareness of the truckloads of research and resources that have been conducted and developed in the last couple of thousand years or so.

The Bible is an awesome book. It is a sweeping collection of oral traditions that were cobbled together from countless authors with varying accounts of events over a span of thousands of years. It's both epic and epochal. And the fact that many people believe it was divinely inspired seasons the whole thing with a deep, rich flavor.

I can understand someone citing the Bible as one source in support of a view or position. But to insist that the Bible is the only authoritative text on every issue causes me to suspect that the person has an irrational attachment to an antiquated set of rules.

And that always reminds me of lasagna.

One of our favorite family recipes is lasagna. When it comes to making lasagna, the least-fun step is boiling the noodles. You can't put too many in the pot at the same time or they won't cook correctly. You have to be careful that the noodles neither break apart nor stick together because if they don't remain in wide, even planks you'll just end up with a pile of cheese, sauce and pasta fragments.

But just as you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, you can't make lasagna without boiling some noodles. It's one of life's inconvenient truths. The family recipe required it; so that's the way it had to be done.

Then a few years ago my son Aaron, who frankly is a better cook than me (again, please don't tell him), told me something that made no sense. He said it wasn't necessary to boil the noodles when you made lasagna.

At first I assumed he meant that there was a new kind of "no boil" noodle. The thought of him embracing instant noodles really made my blood boil. He was raised better than that. I fired up two of my oldie-but-goodie lectures, one about the importance of good nutrition and the other about the downside of cutting corners.

But Aaron assured me that he wasn't talking about instant noodles. He insisted that if you just took the regular lasagna noodles straight from the box and layered them with the sauce and cheese, the noodles would cook fully and evenly in the oven when you baked the whole dish. This was complete lunacy. It was as if I had always thought the earth was flat and he was now telling me it was round.

The next time he cooked lasagna at my house he made it his way and it was delicious. After I recovered from the shock, I updated my method of making lasagna and tried it his way. And the recipe worked just fine. I came to accept that there was no reason to go through the no-fun step of boiling the noodles since it proved to be completely unnecessary.

The fact that I no longer boiled the noodles did not mean that I was disrespecting my Italian ancestors or that I didn't value the family lasagna recipe any longer. It meant that I had updated the recipe based on new facts and information. By doing so I ensured that this recipe would remain relevant for a good while longer. And based on the notations in the margins on other family recipes, my ancestors did the same thing whenever they discovered something new.

Many families have cook books that form the cornerstone of their culinary customs. Whether it's a collection of favorite family recipes or one of the standard cookbooks like Better Homes and Gardens or the Joy of Cooking, these books and recipes tend to get handed down from generation to generation.

But the fact that these cookbooks don't mention microwave ovens or contain recipes for quinoa doesn't mean such things are verboten. And the fact that they might sing the praises of diets heavy in meat and dairy doesn't mean that your doctor is a heretic when he tells you that research today shows that eating too much of these foods is actually bad for your heart.

Nor does the new information make these cookbooks and recipes worthless. There's still plenty of good information in there -- from how many minutes it takes to cook a hard boiled egg to the very best recipe for potato salad ever (even though these days you swap out the regular mayonnaise for the fat free kind). And just as important as the recipes is the knowledge that your parents or grandparents leafed through the very same yellowed and flour-dusted pages.

When it comes to cooking, your family cookbook constitutes a manual of the best practices for that time, written by someone totally inspired by cooking. The Bible is similar. It was an explanation of how and why things are as they are, as well as a set of rules to live by; it was an attempt to make sense of our existence, and it was written by the best and the brightest minds at that time.

Refusing to update either of these texts with information we learn along the way damns them to obsolescence. But keeping them current offers them new life and enables them to continue to inspire us by connecting us with our past, present and future.

Common sense. It's what's for dinner.

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