How do you use a cookbook? I tend to use it as the starting point when making a recipe–the inspiration, the essence–and then adapt and adjust as needed. Some of my friends feel that a recipe describes what should be done to successfully make a dish, and won’t think about making changes on the fly.
Standardized recipes and measurements were a fairly new concept a hundred years ago, and a home economics textbook addressed how to use a cookbook to ensure consistent results. Here are some quotes:
To get all the help even the best cookbook can give, one must know how to carry out the directions given. For instance, what is meant by a cupful or a spoonful. Modern cookbooks all use level measurements. This mean for dry materials, a spoonful or cupful over which the edge of a knife is passed; for wet materials, as much as the cup or spoon will hold.
The manufacturers of kitchen supplies are at last realizing that women are serious in the demand for uniform-sized cups and spoons to use for measuring.
If exactly the same materials are put together under exactly the same conditions the result will be the same–as it is in all other industries.
Of course, changes can be made in certain things, and here she will show her judgment. Spices and flavorings can be substituted one for another, or left out altogether, or added to the recipe that lacks them.
A trained laboratory worker with a fine eye and exact mind proves a capable cook, unless he or she is without a sense for flavoring.
As the housekeepers grow more exact and accurate the cookbooks will improve to meet their demands, until cooking is a much more exact operation than is now possible.
How to Cook and Why by Elizabeth Condit and Jessie A. Long (1914)