The Divide over "Divided" in a Recipe

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Three figs, divided. Will your readers get it?

Food blogger friend Stephanie Stiavetti, who’s working on a cookbook, likes to use “divided” when listing ingredients in receipes. Then she got this email from her editor, shooting down its use:

Recipes into Type advises against using ‘divided’ in ingredient lists. These kinds of instructions belong in the recipe steps below ’97 where it will be clear HOW the ingredient is to be divided.”

“I’ve always used “divided,” she emailed me. “What do you think?”

Sorry. I don’t like divided either. Here’s why it doesn’t work:

1. People don’t know what it means. “Divided” is some kind of code that is left unexplained. When readers see “3 tablespoons honey, divided,” they might think it means cut in half, which is not necessarily so.

2. They have to read the method to find out. When they continue on to the method, it gets complicated. It says to use 2/3 now, and the remaining amount later, or gives numerical accounts, such as 1 tablespoon now and more later. Why make the recipe so hard to understand, or presume that readers will even pay attention?

3. It’s easy to screw up. When I’m roaring through a recipe, before I know it, I’ve dumped the whole ingredient into the first mention of its use. When I discover what I’ve done (10 minutes later when I’m reading the recipe for the umpteenth time), I get annoyed.

Undeterred (or perhaps stung), Stephanie asked the Cookbook Friends Group on Facebook how they felt about “divided.” Their answers were um, mixed. Some authors said they liked it. Others admitted that, like me, they had dumped the whole amount in by mistake (so satisfying!). Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, author of The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, confirmed that while people are supposed to read recipes through before proceeding, ” in reality, that rarely happens.” Like a few others, she said her solution, whenever possible, is to divide the ingredients list into parts.

Exactly. Whenever I see that word when I’m editing recipes, my goal is to delete it. I hope you will do the same. Here are my suggestions for alternatives to “divided:”

1. Use two measurements. Now, this doesn’t work when the measurements are equal, but there’s nothing wrong with “3 tablespoons olive oil + more to oil the pan.” That is much clearer to me than “4 tablespoons olive oil, divided.”

2. Divide the ingredient list into parts. This is my favorite edit. If a cake recipe calls for sugar in the batter and sugar in the frosting, divide the ingredients list (sorry). Add the heading “Frosting” and put the frosting ingredients under it. This way you specify the amount of sugar for each part of the recipe, and there is no confusion.

In the end, Stephanie said, “Our editor decided to keep ‘divided.’ But due to the Facebook conversation, I’m thinking about adding each ingredient multiple times in the list wherever it’s used.” Good.

Are you a fan of “divided?” Or maybe you have other solutions for not using it?


Photo by Grant Cochrane,

[Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, where I can earn several cents if you make a purchase.]


  1. says

    it’s my choice of last resort when I don’t have space or layout options to do something else or if the other alternatives are too confusing, but I do use it when it is better than the alternative

  2. says

    I used to think that “3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use” sounded more professional than “2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon to grease the skillet”. You make a great point, however, about how this can be both confusing and misleading. Truly, that had never crossed my mind until I first heard you rant (mildly) about this. In fact, whenever I read “divided use” in a recipe, I smile and think, “Dianne wouldn’t go for this edit”.

    • diannejacob says

      Well, it’s only my opinion Liz, and other editors might disagree. I just think “divided use” is not a term that most people know or understand.

  3. says

    Not everyone has to write recipes “for dummies.” If someone is to impatient or impulsive to read a recipe through before starting it, I don’t believe the fault lies in the hands of the writer. Sometimes I even leave things deliberately vague, because I am trying to help readers develop a more intuitive cooking style that isn’t “paint by numbers.”

    • diannejacob says

      I sort of agree with you, Daniel, and I sort of don’t. While I don’t believe recipes should explain every little thing, I have also learned that making someone confused or annoyed is not the mark of a good teacher. There is nothing intuitive about using “divided.” I think we are talking about different things.

      • says

        Totally agree with you. I use method no. 2. The thing is that if my readers are routinely bothered and confused they are just going to dump me. Mind you, some of them have trouble following directions on how to boil water (lots of beginners), so I learned real quick that it’s better to explain things that would seem trivial to the experience cook than to answer the same question 30 times in the comments.

        “What is soft butter? Where do I buy it?”

        • diannejacob says

          Yes! Why get annoyed that your readers don’t know as much as you do? That’s why you’re the instructor.

  4. says

    I’m with you on this one Dianne. I know I’m supposed to read through the whole recipe, get everything out first and then proceed in a measured manner – I know all that. But what generally happens is that I skim through the recipe, grab most of what I need, begin to make it, answer the phone, have a discussion with the kids, remember that I haven’t called my mother etc, etc, so the term “divided” usually slips my attention & I bung the whole lot in at once.
    I’m a big fan of option #2 – dividing (oops, there it is again) the ingredient list into sections.

    • diannejacob says

      Hah. Yes, really life tends to intercede, doesn’t it? But then there was another discussion on Facebook that sometimes readers don’t see that they need X amount total because it is used in two places, so they don’t buy enough. It’s tricky.

  5. says

    As a former instructional designer, I always ask myself “what mistakes will the reader make if the instructions are not crystal clear?” I also try to follow the rule “the reader is always right.” If “divided” is only clear after reading the entire recipe, then to me there’s the potential for mistakes.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I’m with you. I don’t think it’s about dumbing down a recipe, just being as clear as possible.

  6. Sara Bir says

    I’ve always thought “divided” sounds clunky, anyway. A recipe divided against itself cannot stand!

  7. says

    I don’t use the word divided, but i specify if it is the same ingredient, what the amounts are and when they are added, especially as in most of my cases, they are not between a cake and a frosting. I agreed with you Dianne on this one!

    • diannejacob says

      I guess the joy of blogs is that we have room to leave a space and use subheads. It doesn’t always work that way in cookbooks and in newspaper articles.

      Also, I have used many recipes that say what the exact amount is in the method, but it’s already too late for me.

  8. says

    Even though I don’t use it often, I don’t mind it at all. I do think that sometimes the recipe really does use the ingredient–divided. (Of course I had to check my own book, and sure enough. . . ). I have a recipe for a topping in which 1/2 cup total cornstarch is used, but divided. Cook a custard with 1/4 cup cornstarch, cool, then add the other 1/4 cup cornstarch, and beat. It’s not like your example of cake and frosting; this is all the same mixture. I suppose I could have written, “1/4 cup cornstarch, while cooking, and 1/4 cup more later on, once cool” or something–but to me that’s way more clunky than “divided.” I also always include the amounts in the instructions in a situation like this, just in case the reader didn’t go through the entire recipe first (eg, “place the milk, agave and 1/4 cup cornstarch in a pot. . .”; then later, “add remaining 1/4 cup cornstarch. . . “:). Not sure what else one could do in a case like that. . . any suggestions?

    • diannejacob says

      Hmm. That’s a tough one, because as you say, the cornstarch is used within custard in two steps. I certainly prefer divided to your suggestion of how to write it out. That is definitely clunky.

      While it may be “correct” to say 1/4 cup now and 1/4 cup later, I wonder how many readers dumped the whole 1/2 cup in right away and then realized their error later. We may never know.

  9. says

    when i see “divided” in an ingredient list, i take it as a “heads up” to follow the recipe carefully when it comes to that ingredient. i see it as code for “something’s up with this measurement, so pay attention.”
    so i use it that way when i write recipes too. to me, calling for 1 1/2 figs (to use your example) in one part of a recipe, and 1 1/2 figs in a second part, is more confusing and needlessly specific than calling for 3 figs, with the “divided” as a heads up.
    interesting topic, as always!

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, but it assumes that readers will react the same you do and and will pay attention. So often, they don’t.

    • Linda says

      That’s my approach, too. When I read the recipe, I like to see the total amount mentioned, because I somehow make a mental inventory of the ingredients. I usually handwrite a simplified version of the printed recipe, reading something like: “4 yolks, 2 +2” – definitely a vote for “divided”. An off comment: I also favor water mentioned as an ingredient.
      No matter how detailed the explanations, a beginner will make mistakes until things start to get clear.

      • says

        I completely agree with listing water as an ingredient. It’s hard to stage all of the ingredients quickly & efficiently if you have to read into the body of a recipe to determine water amounts.

        • diannejacob says

          I’m not sure where this came from, but I sometimes use water as an ingredient. I don’t list the amount when it’s a big pot, such as to boil pasta.

  10. says

    I am religious about listing each use of an ingredient separately. I think the world is more full of ‘where fools rush in’ cooks and bakers (me included) than it is of the ‘read through thoroughly’ crowd.

    I firmly believe in setting up the the recipe users for success.

    Wthout hesitation I say NO to ‘divided’.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes. We are of the same mind, Anne. However, people have brought up situations where it’s a lot trickier than I thought.

  11. says

    I do the 2nd option which you say is your favorite, list sugar twice – batter and frosting, with 2 ingredients lists if there are two stages/parts to the recipe, i.e. batter and frosting.

    It gets tricky when it’s only 1 main thing you’re making, lets just say brownies and you have butter melted with chocolate and then later on it’s butter melted with peanut butter for some swirls, I may write 12 tablespoons butter, divided. And then i’ll say 8 tbsp with choc and 2 tbsp with the PB…but yeah, it gets tricky. I never really know what to do.

    • diannejacob says

      That is definitely a tough one, when the butter is used in the batter and nowhere else. Kind of like the cornstarch example from Ricki. I hope someone will have a solution.

      Sometimes it’s possible to simplify the steps. I made a recipe recently where I was supposed to divide miso and garlic in half and use half to stir fry the eggplant and half to stir-fry the cabbage. That made no sense to me — too fussy — so I just combined eggplant and garlic and then added the miso and garlic. It tasted fine, but that may not work with baking.

  12. says

    Personally, I do like to use “divided” to provide some sort of warning to the impatient cook who might otherwise dump all of that ingredient in at once. I’ll explain it further in the text, but I’d rather not waste the space in the ingredients list. Likewise, it might be easier to miss the full amount of that ingredient necessary to complete the recipe, and so the cook might not buy enough when planning quickly.

    • diannejacob says

      I’ve been thinking about the issue of the amount being in 2 place and the reader not buying enough. Most of the time, aren’t we dividing basics, like olive oil, honey, vanilla, flour? People have that on hand. The example Thy Tran gave on Facebook is when there are peaches in the filling and peaches on top of the cake, and the reader doesn’t see both references. I think that’s pretty rare, though.

  13. says

    I am with you Dianne. Divided is tricky and in most cases, I would advise against it. Usually it does give me a heads up to pay attention later, but I will most likely forget. Also, you never know how much to “divide” and you have to read to directions before you finish setting up your mis en place. Divided is tricky, annoying, but sometimes unavoidable.

  14. says

    I always get confused if I see ‘divided’ in a recipe. I don’t see anything wrong at all with spelling things out really clearly. At work once we had to do an interesting exercise where we divided into two groups and each group drew a picture of a house in secret. The groups then wrote instructions on how to draw the house, gave the instructions to the other group who had to follow them and draw the house (without seeing the final picture). Even when we thought we were being really careful about writing instructions that were easy to follow, the end results were poles apart and it really brought home to me the fact the person following the instructions is not going to make the same assumptions that you make. I probably didn’t explain the exercise very well but I think it’s a really important lesson for us all.

    • diannejacob says

      Yay! I hope all the people who think that spelling out what you mean = dumbing it down will read your example.

  15. says

    I don’t like divided either. I prefer to divide them in the ingredient list because when I’m referencing instructions as I’m cooking it makes it much easier to be able to glance up and see what amount you are supposed to add without having to do the math in your head.
    I’m glad you hear other people don’t like divided either! I always thought I was alone!

    • diannejacob says

      Oh good. However, some people do like it, and they can make a pretty good argument as to why it’s a necessary evil when you can’t have categories of ingredients. Gosh, this is so complicated.

    • diannejacob says

      Except that some people might think that is the entire amount you want. I have thought that myself.

  16. says

    I’ve never met a recipe with the word divided that I liked to follow. When I am mixing ingredients I want to follow the list as it appears without having to reference the instructions for the amount–that is tedious. The other problem with that is the issue of scaling the recipe. I use cooking software to organize my personal “keepers” and if I scale the recipe electronically from 4 to 12, it does not pick up the change in the instructions. So, in my opinion, “divided” can cause more frustration than the saved space is worth. With the end user in mind, spell it out, saving frustration or a ruined recipe from dumping it all in (done countless times) is more important than saving space on the page — IMO.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, these are all good points, Judy. But sometimes recipes have to fit on a page, or within a column, and you only get so many inches. Maybe you’re better off reading blogs, where space is not an issue!

  17. says

    My editor also nixed the use of the term “divided,” but instead of listing the item twice, the usage was simply stated in the method. I’m now wondering if that isn’t even more confusing (and even more likely to lead to all the sugar being dumped in at once).

    • diannejacob says

      Yep. I bet that’s what happens, since there is no warning. At least if the term was still there, readers would have a “heads up,” even if they didn’t know what it meant.

  18. says

    I’m also a big fan of listing ingredients twice, and using ingredient subheadings if possible. I think it just clears up the whole issue – it at least makes it easier for me to follow when I try to follow a recipe. That’s actually what I did on my latest blog post, because the original recipe used divided to describe the amount of sugar. I created subheadings for the ingredients for chocolate pudding cake, and then listed the sugar separately within each section. I agree, divided just makes it too easy to accidentally dump the whole amount in at once.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, it’s nice to have room on a blog to have categories. But as some people have said, in print there may be space considerations, or editors might think it makes the recipe look more intimidating because it has more parts.

  19. Howard Baldwin says

    I’m just glad to know that everyone has as much trouble with this as I do, especially Dianne. I have a fajitas recipe that I’ve made dozens of times and still forget to divide the lemon juice (or is it the cilantro?).

    • diannejacob says

      Well in that case, no need to worry, as it probably won’t affect the outcome of the dish, Howard. It’s funny how this issue can get people going, whether they’re cooks or recipe writers!

  20. says

    I’m a photographer, not a recipe writer, but I do blog recipes and I try to write them as simply as possible. I follow Diane’s suggestion, 2. Divide the ingredient list into parts. That makes the most sense. Especially if there are more than one component to a recipe, like cake batter and cake frosting.
    Also, and this is a digression, I’ve found when following recipes, I often get lost when the instructions are written in paragraph form. You follow one bit, come back, and have to search for the next bit. On my blog I write the instructions in one or two line sentences. Much like the list of ingredients. Not sure if it’s any better, but it definitely works better for me.

    • diannejacob says

      Sounds good to me. Re making everything one or two line sentences in the method, one thing I worry about is how it looks visually. If all the steps are about the same length visually, it might be harder to read.

  21. says

    Wow, who knew we’d have so many opinions on divided. My two cents: I used to think it was kind of senior recipe writer talk. Now I just think it’s confusing, and try to stay away by writing the recipe in steps with sub-heads. That in itself can be irritating if you’re using a recipe for the shopping/pantry list, as in ‘oh I need more onions.’ So, yes, it does creep in but only when I cannot think of a better way to say it.
    But, what I really want to know is: Where do you buy the soft butter?

    • diannejacob says

      Hmm. Was there something about soft butter? I’m not following.

      It is interesting how worked up we are getting over this subject, isn’t it Mary? Kind of fun. But have we solved anything? I guess it’s to put in the word when there’s no other choice.

  22. Ebeth says

    I certainly remember the day I first came upon DIVIDED USE and wondered what the heck it meant. Divided seems to be included in older recipe formats of decades past. whenever I see divided, I jump immediately into the body of the recipe to look for the amount used initially and then where the second amount will be used. so technically, a reader is spending more time figuring out the instructions instead of focusing on directly on assembling and making the recipe. writing a recipe is about guiding the reader so they can understand what is needed without spending any time trying to figure out what the recipe writer meant. When I read a recipe where I start having questions as to what is exactly meant, I most often will not make that recipe or just start adapting immediately. When I have to spend time figuring out what, when, where, and how, that is a badly written recipe.

    • diannejacob says

      I still make divided recipes and mess up some of the time because I’m not paying attention. But overall, I agree with you. I don’t want to make the reader stop to try to figure things out. I want them to make the recipe!

  23. says

    like other commenters, I now consider “divided” a heads up. I absolutely hated it when editors first started insisting on it, but the other solutions in complicated recipes soon becamme even more unmanageable: 1 T oo + 1 1/2 tsp oo + 2 tsp oo+ etc. This began to happen in my last book which included some very complicated recipes with many steps. The numbering method paragraphs doesn’t necessarily work because it is not often a publisher’s house style. My preference is the old-fashioned way we used to do it way back in the dark ages before we spelled everything out, ie to list total amount in ingred list and then specific amts in the method.
    All this begs the next obvious question: since you cannot prevent every error, how much responsibillity do recipe writers bear? By “dumbing down” our recipes, are we and our readers getting dumber, too?

    • Mark O'Lone says

      I’m with you on this, Penni.
      …i.e. to list total amount in ingredient list and then specific amounts in the method.
      By that I mean basic cooking technique–old school apparently:
      1) Read recipe carefully
      2) Pre-measure all ingredients & have them all in place
      3) Follow recipe instructions
      4) Any improvisation is your responsibility
      * I would say it’s not clunky to give specific instructions re: divided amounts of ingredients.
      A- Recipes are not tweets.
      B- Learning to cook can be easy or hard depending on many things but primarily on care in following instructions.
      C- Slow down; read the recipe; enjoy happier cooking.

      • diannejacob says

        Well, that would work if all recipe readers acted the way we wanted them too. But most of the time, they don’t. People who have worked help lines (like Barbara Ostmann, who wrote the Recipe Writer’s Handbook) confirm repeatedly that home cooks are not great recipe readers, and they don’t slow down. So it’s our job, as instructors, to try to make it as clear as possible for them. The problem is that it’s not as easy as we would like it to be with divided use.

    • diannejacob says

      I don’t agree that we’re dumbing down the recipe in this situation. It’s about being clear. If you don’t mention that the 4 1/2 T olive oil will be divided in the ingredients list, people may not notice in the method, so I’m not a fan of that approach. It’s so complicated, isn’t it Penni?

  24. says

    I always struggle with this. Does one write, for example, “2 cups flour, divided”, hoping the person following the recipe then looks into the body of the recipe to see how it is divided, or does one write “1 cup + 1 cup flour”? Personally, I like when it is signaled in the list of ingredients; I too have ended up dumping the whole amount in at once if it I’m not put on my guard. Although I don’t always take the time to read through the entire recipe before starting if I am rushed or being lazy, I do always read through the ingredient list very carefully and take the time to measure and weigh out each ingredient beforehand.

    • diannejacob says

      1 cup + 1 cup makes it clear that there are two places to use the flour. I like it from that standpoint. But it seems inelegant as an ingredient in the ingredient list.

  25. says

    When I was a beginner cook, I initially found the “two measurement” technique confusing. Without reading through the recipe method, it was easy to imagine that a note of “1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon oil” meant that the recipe writer was conveying a single-use measurement that fell somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of a cup (though I’m now aware that would be written as 5 tablespoons). Just as confusing as “divided”, I’d say.

    I definitely agree with your instincts here – I’m a big fan of dividing ingredient lists – and strive to use “divided” sparingly and thoughtfully when other options fail to offer any additional clarity.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh yes, this is a good point that no one has brought up yet. I have wondered that as well, when reading recipes. That’s why I have sometimes written + 1 teaspoon more for sprinkling. But then that seems like too much instruction in the ingredients list.

  26. sasha kaplan says

    I like this solution the best. I do write “divided”. It does clue the reader in to pay attention to that ingredient. I am all for success in cooking. Therefore the more info you can give the reader, the better. The fine line to me how to be clear without “dumbing down” my reader. ,

    • diannejacob says

      Many people have brought up this point of “dumbing down.” I think it’s an issue of being clear, rather than confusing people. That is not the same as explaining in more detail.

      As instructional writers, we have to meet people where they’re at, not at where we think they should be, if we want to be successful.

  27. says

    Several years ago an editor insisted that I had to list the whole quantity in the ingredients list and explain the ‘division’ later in the instructions. That way of doing it never felt right and I prefer your suggestion of Separating the ingredient measurements per parts, like Cake: then, Frosting:. I too am guilty of dumping the whole amount in and having to start over many times.

    • diannejacob says

      I love that so many recipe writers are just as guilty as home cooks when it comes to not paying attention to “divided” in a recipe. So it’s interesting that some commenters think we’re dumbing down recipes if we try to sort this out. We’re just as dumb as the home cooks, I guess!

    • diannejacob says

      That assumes that people will read the directions carefully enough to know the whole amount is divided. I’m not sure you can count on that.

  28. says

    I get it. I never use the word except on rare occasions when it makes sense and is easily understood. The word needs to be considered carefully before publishing recipes.

    • diannejacob says

      Well said. I guess that’s what we can conclude for now. Use it when there is no other alternative.

  29. says

    This topic is so interesting. My proofreader (my husband, who doesn’t cook much) doesn’t like “divided” either, but I don’t want users to miss a second listing of an ingredient and run short. It is distressing to hear that some readers won’t use the recipe if they see the word.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes. That seems extreme, but recently I tried a recipe that used divided twice. It seemed overly fussy to me, so I altered the recipe to make it easier for me and it still tasted fine. Maybe that’s what people think when they see “divided.”

  30. Mark O'Lone says

    Clarity in a recipe is a priority. If saying divide is confusing then one can justifiably offer a succinct explanation either alongside the ingredient or at the beginning of the directions such as: 1 cup sugar (divided in 1/3 cup amounts); or at the beginning of the directions: Premeasure & set sugar out in 1/3 cup amounts.
    Recipes are not clunky just because they offer clarity. Recipes are not tweets.

  31. says

    Balancing functionality and elegance is a huge part of finessing a recipe. It used to be that you could write a recipe in a few paragraphs but that doesn’t cut it these days. Readers and cooks want a detailed road map because performance anxiety looms large.

    I don’t use “divided” because that assumes that cooks know what that means; plus, they can easily goof or get tripped up. (What the hell do you want me to divide and how do I divide it up?) Publishers and editors typically have a style guide that they prefer for the ingredient line (IL). If you’re writing for someone new, ask for their house style guide or peruse their recipe writing format. “Recipes into Type” by Whitman and Simon is kinda like my “Chicago Manual of Style” for recipe writing.

    My IL options for combined ingredients include — and this depends on the situation (e.g., space and the specific ingredient)

    Usually: 1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
    I repeat the quantity in the instrux, “put the 1/4 cup” and “add the remaining 1/2 cup”. If the 1/2 cup is used first, I list it first in the IL.

    However: 1/8 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
    If you’re specifying 3/8 teaspoon of salt, then say “put all the salt into the bowl.”

    Sometimes: Salt
    This is for when the quantity is tiny, overly complicated to express in the IL, and the ingredient should be part of the cook’s pantry. Maybe it’s 1/8 tsp plus 1/2 tsp plus a pinch that you want people to use in the recipe.

    There’s usually only so much space available. My editor and I end up tweaking the IL in certain spots for layout purposes right before the book goes to print. I’m very picky about how pages look and you can’t anticipate layout outcome when you’redrafting a recipe. Good gawd, these are among the things that keep me up late at night.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Andrea, yes, I have had to deal with the same issues in a cookbook layout, so I know what you mean. And while you are free to do as you please on your blog, a publisher’s style guide usually comes into effect with a cookbook.

      I like both your solutions, except that sometimes people think you are trying to be exact, so they put 3/4 cup sugar in all at once, if they are not reading the instructions thoroughly. Not sure about using three tiny amounts of salt in the ingredients line. You’ve actually done that? It seems awfully complicated.

      Yes, this is a subject recipe writers agonize over — how to be elegant and clear, knowing that people don’t read recipes carefully.

  32. says

    Yeah, I’ll list “A pinch of salt” if that’s what I want. I work with recipes and ingredients that can be unfamiliar to many people so I try to detail what I do so they understand the methodology.

    Divided has never been an issue with me. When I was writing “Asian Dumplings” the copyeditor wanted to add “plus more as needed” to most of the flour and starch ILs. I set my foot down and said no. That extra copy took too much space and looked awkward. When you’re working with dough, it’s kinda assumed that it’s a “plus more as needed” experience!

    I set up a style sheet for every book that I write, based on what the house wants and I what I want and need. Keeps me true.

  33. Peggy Fallon says

    I never use “divided” in the ingredient list, preferring instead to provide detailed instructions in the recipe text. I want the ingredient list to be a clear, concise grocery checklist for the reader–any more than that is overwhelming to many cooks. I agree that breaking out sub-recipes in the ingredient list (e.g., “For the crust:” and “For the filling”) is often helpful.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Peggy! I believe you are a first-time commenter. So you’re a fan of leaving the amount whole and then hoping readers will notice that you have separated out the amounts in the method? Okay. I hope they are paying attention.

  34. says

    First, let me say that I’m SO glad to know that I’m not the only one who rushes through a recipe and dumps all of an ingredient into the bowl (or whatever) only to find out that some of it was needed later. Thanks for admitting that, Dianne! :-)

    I like the “3 tabespoons + more” technique, as well as dividing the recipe into parts. I use both in my own recipes. But I don’t like putting the same ingredient twice in the same list if it’s being used in the same part of the recipe. When I’m following a recipe, sometimes I measure ingredients as I go along, but sometimes–depending on the recipe and how I feel–I mise en place. So if I measure out 2 tsp of oil and put it in a bowl, I don’t want to have to pick the oil up again later on and measure out another tablespoon. It may not seem like a big deal, but it just seems to me that I’m doing extra work and it doesn’t seem efficient to me.

    How do people feel about something like:
    3 eggs + 2 eggs
    2 teaspoons oil + 1 tablespoon oil

    Awkward, maybe.

    • diannejacob says

      Oh yes, Roberta, I think it’s hilarious that all of us supposed professionals also rush through recipes.

      Re the system you outlined, yes, I think it’s awkward, because people won’t know why you’re not just saying “5 eggs.” Maybe divided isn’t so bad after all.

  35. ruthie says

    This is one I’m…divided on. Heh. Well, I am. I like that it alerts me NOT to dump the whole of that ingredient in at the first mention. But I have to admit that it also makes me wonder “divided into how much and how much else”? It would help me with mise en place to set out both measures of whatever it is.

    There are so many ways to go. If it’s as clear cut as part goes in the soup, e.g., and the rest goes in the aioli that is dolloped on the soup when it’s served, that’s great. But then someone may scan the recipe, decide they have all the ingredients only to run out when one (or more) of them is used again later. And we know the scanners are in the majority. In that case, listing each ingredient once is the better option. Really, there are so many sides to this issue.

    You also have the alternative of listing the various parts as ingredients, themselves. For example, “aioli – recipe follows.” Then the reader knows there are more ingredients that they need to be aware of. This is helpful and well-accepted, but it annoys me because I need to dig deeper to make my shopping list or raid my pantry, and I am hella scanner — you know those kids whose teachers said, “fails to read instructions” in their notes to parents?

    But for a recipe like you mention, the Asian dish, it’s not so simple. I’ve taught Chinese cooking classes many times over the years, and when recipes say to cook one ingredient (eggplant), then repeat with another (cabbage), even with the same “seasonings,” it’s because they don’t cook at the same rate, AND their individual flavors and textures should be maintained in the final dish.

    This is really one where I hate when publishers have their set editorial guidelines because, so often, they are not logical and don’t necessarily work across the board. Is there any one right answer?

    • diannejacob says

      You’re pretty funny, Ruthie. As with most things, the answer is no — there is no one right answer. Life is complicated!

      Re the Asian stir fry, I think the cabbage and the eggplant cooked at the same rate, so it wasn’t a problem. But with other stir-fries, definitely there’s an order to which veggies you add when.

      Re your other comments, I think we agree about how to write the recipe. Except that you and a few people have pointed out that it’s annoying to have the total amount of something divided up if you don’t pay attention and find you don’t have enough of the ingredient. Fortunately, most of the time it’s a staple.

      I’m a hella scanner too. Maybe we’re all multitasking and pre-occupied.

  36. says

    This is something I’ve thought a lot about! I used to dislike “divided” in a recipe, and not really get it, but it helps to give me an instant signal not to dump it all in at once. When it’s not there, that’s when I make that mistake. If there are two clear parts to a recipe it makes sense to separate it into sections, but there are times when I find that’s not the case and you still use an ingredient in different places or stages, and that divided can be useful. (For me anyway!)

    • diannejacob says

      You make some good points.I’m starting to think that maybe divided has it’s place in some situations. Maybe.

  37. says

    I’ve been using “divided” in cases of a stir-fry using oil at different stages. In the case of a cake with frosting I break the ingredients into two sub-sets and list the chocolate twice.

    Though, I do like the idea of listing it like, “2 T. oil ( 1 T. for chicken, 1 T. for vegetables)” when it doesn’t make sense to break up the ingedients into subsets. I think I’ll start using that and see how it feels. Good?

    And, it really irritates me when I hear recipe writers talk about dumbing things down. We should be happy that people are getting in the kitchen and cooking with our recipes, by whatever means. If that is what your particular audience needs, then give it to them so they get the best result possible (of course, within the word count you must follow).


    • ruthie says

      Michelle, i totally agree on the “dumbing down” issue. We should be ecstatic that new folks are wanting to learn more about cooking and wanting to use our recipes. I trained as a course developer under an amazing instructor. She said to write for your audience. No judgements. They are your audience, write so they can assimilate and *use* what you have to offer.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I’m with you re the dumbing down. It’s our job to be clear, not to decide our readers are stupid. That’s never a good idea.

      I do like how you’ve explained it in the brackets, Michelle. Maybe that’s a good alternative.

      • ruthie says

        On dumbing down, after teaching several itertions of Chinese Stir Fry, where student’s guestimates of what constitutes a 1″ cube were wildly divergent, I decided that it would not actually be insulting to include a ruler printed along the outside margin of the recipe page!
        Having a student come to me in tears because she couldn’t “stir” the tofu for Ma Po Dofu, only to find that she’d cut THREE blocks of tofu into four cubes each and put them all into the smallest wok we had…well, what can you say??? /;) So, dumbing down or making things clear? Obviously, not everyone has a ruler in their head, so maybe that should become a standard for recipes with those measurements. Not everyone has teacher to dry their tears and show them how big an inch is, either.

        • diannejacob says

          Hah. I have a clear plastic ruler in my kitchen, and sometimes when my brain isn’t working, I pick it up and measure. These are funny stories, but you just try to be as clear as possible with people, and not think they’re idiots.

          • Michelle Dudash says

            I have a clear ruler in my kitchen, too! A metal one in my desk. I use it regularly. And I just came back to read my old comment so I could remember what I decided to try regarding this topic…:)

  38. says

    I have wrestled a couple of editors to the ground over this one because it often helps and can’t do any harm. It is so easy to mess up by just dumping all of an ingredient into a dish (when some of it was going to be used elsewhere), that I think it a clue the conscientious food writer should include. Just a little advance warning that takes almost no space or trouble to provide–a little heads-up for anybody who is distracted or harried when cooking–which turns out to be a lot of us.

    • diannejacob says

      Okay, that’s all true. But I have seen the word there and still dumped it all in at once, so what do you have to say to idiots like me, besides “slow down.” I know I’m not alone.

      • says

        As a caterer my suggestion would be to cook as if you were charging money for the result.
        It might put a processing pause into your scanning.
        This whole series of comments has been rather amusing as well as enlightening. When will it end? You are right, there is no one right answer…
        I’m chuckling to myself as I ask for a change of topic…
        As soon as my website is fully up & running I may have a link to this topic regarding recipe reading and writing. I believe that at some point cooking becomes about technique. And that does make recipe reading/interpreting much easier.

        • diannejacob says

          True. For those of us who cook without recipes all the time, we know what we’re doing and we understand the techniques that are required. But we still have to provide a recipe that our readers can understand and execute with great results. It’s a learning process, that’s for sure.

  39. says

    I’m coming in late to this discussion and have not read previous comments. However, what I like about “divided”, is that it tells you right up front that there is more to this ingredient than meets the eye — so pay attention! Yes, dividing the list of ingredients is ideal whenever it make sense. As a long time food professional myself, most often it is space that dictates how recipes are written, or how your client (or cookbook editor) wants the recipes written. There is no right or wrong, just the need for clarity. I recently developed banana recipes for a feature article in Coastal Living magazine (March 2012 issue). The editor super simplied my instructions (which tend to be rather detailed esp for complicated procedures). When I read the printed recipes they were perfectly clear, but then I developed them. I wondered what others would think. Last, a couple years back I reviewed perhaps 10 magazines to see how their recipes were written (tablespoon vs Tbsp. etc). They were all over the map. And… that’s okay as long as the recipe instructions are clear. Besides, there are SO many variables such as the type of pan used, heat source et al, that we can only do our best.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Rita! It’s true that if you’re writing for publication on a website or a book or magazine, you will have to follow certain rules. Everyone does it differently. That is a good lesson about reviewing magazines and trying to determine a common style.

      At least your instructions were perfectly clear after they were edited. That’s wonderful. I am cooking from a book right now with recipes that look like the copy editor was asleep at the wheel. I even fantasized writing a complaint letter to the editor.

      It’s funny that the high tech industry has standards committee for all kinds of technology, but the food writing industry has never standardized.

  40. says

    Hi! This really reminds me of when I read a recipe and it says “1 cup walnuts, chopped”. Does that mean measure the walnuts out into a cup and then chop them, or chop them up first and measure them to 1 cup?? Walnuts are just an example…can’t remember what the actual ingredient was…

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, you are right. It means to measure them into a cup first, then chop them. When chopped comes at the end, it means to do it last.

  41. says

    Ok, finally, a new tack to this chat thread. I do understand that “1 cup walnuts, chopped” means measure first then chop. However, I must admit to not catching this fine point myself when cooking at times in the past– although now I expect that to happen less since being reminded.
    There is a science and an art to technical writing, which is certainly what recipe writing is.
    Here I would have preferred to read:” 3/4 cup chopped walnuts” so a cook could chop first and measure second or simply measure out the chopped walnuts that were purchased from the market. Walnuts can be purchased as halves, chopped, pieces and whole (which by strict interpretation a newbie could put unshelled into a measuring cup. Oy!
    How fine a chop? Does one assume the walnuts (pre-chop) are measured as halves or pieces. What about shelling the nuts oneself then measuring.
    I like to relax when I cook but some of these concerns make for a certain sort of nervousness which I think all cooks would rather do without. Indeed, we strive for a flowing manner when cooking. Having said that we all have to learn sometime.
    In the end, for the walnuts, 1 cup vs. 3/4 cup vs. 1-1/4 cup chopped may be simply a matter of taste for the average one loaf recipe, as say, in walnut bread. I can see problems though when multiplying the recipe and with respect to inhibiting the cake’s expansion while baking, etc..

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, it may not make that much difference in the end when it comes to this example. Still, I like precise writing, and typically the style in the ingredients list is to prep first. Most of the time recipes will say “1 cup chopped walnuts,” not the other way around.

      How fine a chop? There’s also “finely chopped,” and “ground.”

  42. says

    Mark, you bring up some good points. I’ve been developing recipes for years for food companies. I only specify finely chopped or minced or … IF it makes a difference in the outcome. I love Mark Bittman’s book “How to Cook Everything – The Basics”. He’s really got the right take on cooking. Reminds me of the old home ec manuals that were so darn clear and simple.

    • diannejacob says

      That sounds good. We can get too detailed and fussy sometimes, and that effects whether someone is going to turn the page because it seems too hard to get all the prep right. Bittman is an expert at simple recipe writing.

  43. says

    Thanks, Rita,
    I really like Mark Bittman’s approach to cooking in all of the 1 minute recipes he made for the NY Times online. He is always informative, relaxed and enjoyable to listen to & watch. He has fun cooking. I will look for his book on The Basics and will probably add it to my ever expanding collection.
    On your and Rosemary’s website — Get Cooking Simply– I just saw the Picnic Oven-fried Chicken recipe and the Corn and Tomato Salad. I’m thinking I will prepare them for a dinner gathering tomorrow night for 8 friends at my home. I may use organic tender baby kale instead of lettuce in the salad with a two-toned (red & yellow) corn I recently saw advertised at a local market. Home grown tomatoes from our garden will be included. Yum!

  44. ruthie says

    There’s no pretty way to do this. Another alternative I’ve seen is to give a “Shopping List.” This format is fairly niche-oriented — easier and less messy in an electronic app that would, if asked, provide a comprehensive shopping list. But there’s those darn printed pages to contend with.

    Can we agree that it’s not a decision that needs to be carved in stone? And one that needs to be negotiated between editor and author?

  45. says

    I believe that “divided”, while neither perfect nor elegant, does serve as a red flag to many readers. Because of its presence, they know something is different about that ingredient. Yes, many forget by the time they make the recipe– I see this all the time when I teach. But I don’t believe there is a better solution. Dividing the entire recipe into steps only works if you have the space (often not the case with publications) and enough to go along with the “second” ingredients section. For example, if i use salt to season chicken and also in the salsa, but all I do to the chicken is season it with salt, it seems a little odd to me to give “For the Chicken” its own ingredient category. On the other hand, there are times when making categories of ingredients works beautifully (as in a cake and frosting).
    I am going to continue with my red flag approach for now, knowing it is imperfect but based on the belief– at least for now– it is the most practical.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Marge! I think I am with you. If there is no space for categories, divide might have to stay. I don’t think we have come up with a better solution here in the comments — at least, not yet.

  46. says

    So from my experience and users on my website, the more simple and the more explicit the better. While experienced cooks seem to understand the concept of having 1 ingredient to serve multiple purposes, I am not certain this translates well to the novice cook.

    • diannejacob says

      As you can see in the comments, Stephanie, this concept doesn’t translate well even when recipe writers are following recipes! How’s that for ironic?

      You can’t go wrong with simple and explicit. It’s just hard to do sometimes.

  47. says

    Diane, I also should have mentioned that I think it really helps, when using divided, to reference in the instructions that you are using a partional amount.
    If the recipe calls for “1/2 cup cornstarch, divided” then at my first use I write “pour 1/4 cup of the cornstarch…” And in the second place I write “add the remaining 1/4 cup of cornstarch”.. I hope that when no other ingredient give an amount in the instructions, and by the use of “OF THE” I am waving a second big, bright flag.
    Again, it is not perfect., but I do hope and believe the way one words the partial use in the instructions can also help guide the reader.

    • diannejacob says

      That’s how I write and edit recipes too. But I have read many instructions like that and zoomed right over the details.

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