Promise of secrecy is sacred to cooks

Dear Abby: I'm responding to the letter from "Craving the Cakes in Florida" (Jan. 30), complaining that her sister-in-law wouldn't reveal the secret ingredient in a late relative's pancake recipe. As a cook who has many of my own kitchen secrets, I'd be upset if one of my family members were to reveal them to anyone I didn't authorize. A promise is a promise, and it should never be broken!

Believe it or not, recipes are intellectual property. How presumptuous for "Craving" to expect her in-law to divulge a secret from the family's tradition. She should enjoy the meal when she's at her sister-in-law's, and work on developing her own mystery dish. —STAYING MUM IN CHARLESTON, S.C.

Dear Staying Mum: Many readers agreed with you about the importance of keeping a promise. Some of them also were sure they knew the secret ingredient that made the cakes so memorable: buttermilk, ricotta cheese, nutmeg, vanilla extract, Irish Cream, Kahlua, lemon juice, oatmeal, yogurt, cinnamon, malted milk, cornmeal, sour cream and cardamom. (This is making me hungry!) Read on:

Dear Abby: I obtained a recipe upon the death of an aunt who wouldn't share it until she passed away. I did not think she was selfish. I fondly remember her serving these cookies the few times a year we saw her.

I bake them for special occasions — holidays, birthdays, graduations, etc. —and mail them to family and friends out of state. The treats are special and everyone looks forward to receiving them. If everyone had the recipe, it would lose its distinction.

When I am no longer able to bake them, I will happily pass the recipe on to a relative to continue the tradition. —BETH

Dear Abby: I was taught a promise is sacred. Do you really think the in-law should sacrifice her honor over a pancake recipe? They may be delicious, but breaking my word would leave a bitter taste in my mouth. —PROMISE KEEPER

Dear Abby: A friend gave me a cinnamon bun recipe that had been in his family for as long as anyone could remember. About 15 years ago, his house caught fire and he lost most of his possessions, including that recipe. His siblings had misplaced it and the only person to have it was me.

Sometimes it's good to share something, if only with one other person. That way, treasures aren't lost forever. —LISA IN RENO

Dear Abby: Because the relative had shared the recipe with "Craving's" sister-in-law, technically it was no longer a secret. If it was to be kept a secret, then shouldn't the relative have told no one? I feel the in-law is free to share the secret with a clear conscience. I'd like to know what it is, too! —FOODIE