I have been there and back again when it comes to finding the best way to keep track of recipes I like. It’s almost comical that this has to be a thing, doesn’t it? But it’s a good problem, I guess. It’s nice to have so much food and have so much variety that I can’t keep track of all the ways to cook my food in my head.
Keeping Track of Recipes Digitally
There are a lot of online ways to sort and keep track of recipes. I have a Yummly account, which is super handy for searching recipes using specific ingredients. Pinterest, too, is always inspiring. Do I ever remember to check all the recipes I’ve saved over the years? Almost never. There’s something about technology that’s so secure that I can safely hide things from myself.
I’m just not going to invest the time and effort into digital programs and apps. It seems complicated and most importantly, unreliable. “Sorry, family. Can’t cook tonight. My battery’s dead. Internet is down.” Besides, one inevitable kitchen disaster would strike and destroy my device.
Keeping Recipes in a 3-Ring Binder
For years I used a 3-ring binder. I’d find a recipe online, print it off, and slide it into a plastic sleeve. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not obsessively neat. On the contrary, I find getting myself organized on any level a struggle. Hence this post. But there’s something so sloppy about sheets of paper with recipes of different sizes and colors.
Solution: I decided to type them all out. I was able to fit multiple recipes on a page. They were all in the same font, all tidy and grouped by similar ingredients. I put them into plastic sleeves and added tabs to the binder to mark different categories. I spent HOURS typing out recipes but it was satisfyingly organized.
…still not the best solution
That worked adequately for several years. But slowly my 3-ring binder turned into a place to shove recipes that I’d printed off to type out “someday.” I found myself sorting through stacks of printed pages that I needed to retype in order to find a single recipe. And then, it became outdated when I found a better version of a recipe or had new recipes that messed up my groupings.
There is nothing charming about a 3-ring binder but I was ok with that. Life isn’t always aesthetically pleasing. However, from a practical standpoint, their bindings wear out, the rings get bent and don’t pinch like they should. They’re big and bulky, and they take up a lot of space on my counter when I’m trying to cook.
My First Step Toward Simplifying
Then I decided that maybe the best option was a book that held all my recipes. I wouldn’t have random pieces of paper, no plastic sleeves, and could just write in new recipes as I found them. It so happened that about that time, I found an old copy of the Moosewood Cookbook at a flea market. It wasn’t even the recipes that interested me as much as the book itself. It’s gorgeous–all those handwritten recipes! Each page is a little work of art.
That led to more decisions to be made. Do I buy several ring-bound journal-sized books and have each book be a single category, like vegetables or desserts? If so, I needed a stack of books. What if I have more recipes than fit into one book? But then what do I do when I fill them up? Start volume 2? Do I need to create an index? Or do I just jumble all the main dish recipes together–a chicken dish followed by a venison recipe followed by a choose-your-own protein casserole recipe? Sigh.
This shouldn’t be so hard. Or maybe I’m just overly dramatic about the whole subject.
But on the other hand, recipes are something that I use multiple times a day. Every. Single. Day. Shouldn’t I have a good, workable, streamlined system, just like anybody else in business?
Coming Full Circle–Keeping Recipes in a Box
One day while spending more brain power than seemed reasonable on this topic, I had an idea. A very basic, simple idea that solved all my problems.
Ye old recipe box. The one that was in every woman’s kitchen for decades and decades, but had slowly fallen out of favor and became a cute grandma relic. Why did no one use them anymore? I remember my mom had one with classic family recipes but even hers was tucked away and hadn’t been updated in years.
Maybe it was the advent of the computer age and its promise of eliminating paper clutter–ha!–that got women to abandon recipe boxes. If that was the case, it certainly hadn’t worked for me.
Why I Love a Recipe Box
The simplicity. It’s just a simple wooden box that takes up little space. This is the recipe box I use and love. I pull out my recipe and set it into the groove on the top of the box to prevent some of those inevitable stains. Or, if it’s more convenient, I’ll attach it to my stove-top hood with a magnet.
The tangible memories. To cook a recipe that a elderly relative wrote out in her best handwriting makes a dish special. If you were to look in the back of my mom’s recipe box, you’d find a “recipe” I wrote for her when I was about 3. It’s just a card filled with magenta colored scribbles, but it’s been in her box since I wrote it and gave it to her.
You don’t have to hand-write every recipe to keep them in a recipe box, but that’s what I prefer to do. You can easily print it in a 4×6 or 3×5 size onto card stock. If you end up deciding that you don’t like a recipe, you can throw it away and it won’t throw off your system. You can have as many categories as you like, which makes finding the recipe you need very easy.
Here’s a tip. Try a new recipe out before you write it on a nice card. But if you like it enough to make it again, then write it onto a recipe card right away. If there’s one thing that’s exasperating, it’s spending time trying to retrace your steps online to find a recipe you made last month or scroll through weeks of text messages to find the picture of a recipe someone sent you.
I keep a variety of blank recipe cards and index cards in the back of my box. It’s rare that I don’t copy a recipe down right away anymore, since copying down a single recipe is quick and unintimidating. As soon as I write it down, I don’t have to remember where I found it. Believe it or not, it really helps relieve you of mental clutter.