After I’d been testing cookbook recipes for two years, Julie Sahni, whose book of Indian recipes, “Moghul Microwave,” I’d tested, asked me if I’d be interested in doing some work for The New York Times. She had heard that the Times was looking for an experienced freelance tester and she’d told them she knew of someone.
I was in awe at the thought of working for such a prestigious publication. Julie gave me the phone number of Carol Shaw, the news assistant in what was then known as the “Living” section. When I spoke to Carol on the phone, she explained that they had a tester, N—–, whom they wanted to replace but that they needed to be tactful about letting her go. She asked me to call her back in a week.
A week passed, and I nervously called again. We’re not quite ready, Carol said. Can you call next week?
I called a week later. Can you give us a little more time? Carol asked. Certainly, I said, but after I hung up I called Julie. Should I forget about it? Well, she said, she asked you to call back, so call back. If they don’t want you, you can be sure they’ll let you know.
A week later I called again, and was hugely relieved when Carol told me she had several recipes for me to test, plus a sample recipe for me to pattern my work after. Once each recipe was tested, I was to edit it in New York Times style, including the timing and yield, listing each ingredient separately when it was needed (no “combine all ingredients”), and putting a period at the end of the last ingredient in the list of ingredients. There were many more details to make note of and understand, and I didn’t spend much time thinking about the fact that I had never actually edited a recipe before.
It was 1990. We had a computer but no Internet. No fax machine either. When Carol had recipes for me she would call me, then fax them to Gus and Bernie’s candy store at the end of my block. I’d run down to retrieve them, and when the recipes were tested and edited, I’d run down again to fax them back to the Times.
Carol passed away in 1998. In the eight years in which I was privileged to work with her she was a great mentor, kind and very patient. It was clear that she was happy with my work, but occasionally I forgot one thing or another and she didn’t let me off the hook. She’d phone me, saying Deniiiise, you haven’t given us the timing..or whatever it was. Eager to please her, I tried hard to avoid mistakes, printing out each tested, edited recipe and triple-checking it with pen in hand before printing and faxing the final copy. It trained me to be observant and careful.
On the day that Carol had told me I would be hired, I was in a state of pure elation. I went to pick up my younger son from nursery school and couldn’t resist bragging to another mom in the elevator that I had gotten a new job testing recipes for the Living section of the New York Times. Really? the woman asked with interest. You should talk to N—–. She also tests recipes for the Living section!*
*Postscript: N—– was well-liked at the newspaper and was given a job in another department. The last I heard, after many years she was still working there. She and I never did meet, in or out of nursery school, as I was too embarrassed to let her know that I had replaced her.