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Fred’s “Short Cake”

By Richard Voss PhD.

There once was a recipe for shortcake. It was invented by a guy named Fred. It had four ingredients: sugar, flour, butter, and water. Fred taught many people in the village of Narn how to prepare it. The Narnian cooks were delighted. Fred said they could make it any way they like, as long as they took care to make it taste good. For the next several months, the Narnian cooks elaborated on the recipe. Pretty soon cinnamon was so routinely added that novices were taught to use it all the time. Later, ginger powder was added, and the newcomers learnt to include that as well. Eventually, the only acceptable recipe to the Narnians included sugar, flour, butter, water, cinnamon, ginger powder, salt, corn starch, oat flour, vanilla, powdered pears, and canola oil. The cooks applied the complex recipe religiously, never deviating. They even began chastising those who forgot to add the cinnamon or powdered pears. The Narnian Congress was lobbied to pass laws prohibiting violations of “Fred’s shortcake recipe”. Soon people were jailed for their disrespect of the Great Fred, whose name could no longer be spoken without also adding the words, “may his shortcake live forever”.

One day, a very old Fred came back. No one recognised him. He went into a coffee shop, where there was “Fred’s shortcake” on the menu. He ordered the shortcake. It was delicious. He asked for more. Then he enquired about the name–“Fred’s shortcake”. The cook chastised the very old Fred for not knowing the details about “Fred’s shortcake”. He exclaimed impatiently that no one should question such things. “There is only one way to make shortcake!” exclaimed the cook, now red-faced. Fred then replied as calmly as he could, “Dear sir, shortcake is very easy to make. You just take sugar, flour, butter, and water. After that, the rest is up to you, as long as you take care to make it taste good.”

But the cook replied, “No! Blasphemer! There is only one way to make Fred’s shortcake! And here it is!” He stuck the recipe in Fred’s face. It said, “Sugar, flour, butter, water–make it taste good.” Fred looked on the back of the recipe. It said, “This recipe is fully detailed.” Fred did not understand. He asked, “Where does it say to add all those other ingredients?” The cook replied, his face getter redder, “Right here!” And he pointed to the phrase “make it taste good.” (There were hundreds of explanations of this mysterious phrase and a multitude of quotes attributed to the Great Fred giving detailed clues about what the phrase meant, all compiled in a nine heavy volumes entitled “The Sayings of Fred,” but it would have taken too long for the cook to explain them to the old man.)

Fred finally asked, “What if you just made it with sugar, flour, butter, and water, and added anything you like after that, as long as it tastes good?

After all, it says on the back that this recipe is “fully detailed.” Why must you insist on adding all these other things, not tolerating any variation at all? Dear sir, I think the original idea was to make it easy for you, and to let you add what you want, as long as it tastes good.” The cook tried to regain his composure. “This old guy must be from out of town,” he thought. The cook then replied, more patiently now as his confidence was rising, “Silly old man, can’t you see? The recipe is NOT fully detailed! If it were, then it would ALSO tell us what to do with the cinnamon, ginger powder, salt, corn starch, oat flour, vanilla, powdered pears, and canola oil!”

Fred was eventually imprisoned for questioning the recipe, and for claiming that he was, in fact, Fred. For everyone knew that the Great Fred (may his shortcake live forever), would NEVER question his own recipe!


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