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Recipe Keeping—Ways to organize—and display—your recipes

December 10, 2019

Weeding my cookbook collection down to a reasonable number was a challenge. (I still have 50 or so, but trust me, it was a significant whittling!) That was just a warmup for my next kitchen project, though—organizing loose recipes. My recipes—while mostly labeled according to holidays, type of dish, favorites, etc.—are in giant notebooks, small notebooks, index card boxes, online folders, and myriad file folders, including a huge overflowing one labeled “recipes to file.” First up, I need a single system for keeping my recipes.

If you’re a strictly online user, there are some terrific digital options (including special recipe-keeping software) for storing your recipes online. On the other hand, if, like me, you enjoy handling—and handing down—recipes that are scribbled on scratch paper, written lovingly on themed recipe cards, or photocopied or torn out of magazines and cookbooks, you need a different storage system. 

Here are some paper-handling options I’m considering:

• Recipe binders. You can purchase recipe binders designed for the task, or you can make your own simply by placing plastic sleeves in a three-ring binder. It’s a super functional system—you can simply drop a recipe card, a page torn out of a magazine, a handwritten or printed paper, and even photos you take of the recipe into the sleeves and organize them easily. And you can wipe off those sleeves when they get grubby. (There are also vertical recipe flip stands that would be handy at the kitchen counter. They seem a bit small, but I can imagine using one to collect all of the Thanksgiving recipes or all of the Easter brunch recipes in one place.) The disadvantage of the binder system for me is that I don’t love all those plastic sleeves. And the notebooks take up even more room than most cookbooks.

• Accordion file. This system allows you to easily drop all kinds of recipes—on cards, paper, magazine pages—into the file, in the appropriately tabbed sections. The disadvantages, I think, are that you can’t easily see the recipe until you pull it up out of the accordion, and they are hard to organize. 

• File folders. If you use file folders to categorize recipes (a folder for desserts, another for appetizers, etc.), you can divvy up all of your recipes and then place the folders in a filing cabinet or storage box made for them. (Some boxes are built for hanging folders, which I’d recommend if you go this route. Otherwise, those folders will be forever sliding down and curling.) You could even file them in magazine holders. The advantages of this system are ease of organization and that it can handle an unlimited number of recipes (which, for me, could also be a disadvantage).

• Recipe journal. If you don’t have scores of recipes to organize, or if you just want a designated space for your favorite recipes, you might put them in a journal. Jot down notes about the recipes—where they came from, how you liked them, what changes you made—to personalize the book. Of course, you can also print and bind your recipes into your own cookbook. Communities and churches often do this for fundraising, but you can also make one just for your family and friends.

I just came across these beautiful Keepsake Kitchen Diaries that would make for a beautiful gathering of recipes, too.

• Recipe box. I like this old-fashioned solution because it doesn’t require any plastic, and it doesn’t take up much room. In addition to the standard wood and grey metal boxes, there are some pretty cute recipe boxes available now. I think maybe a collection of them on a shelf might be a good option for me. (BTW, I prefer the occasional food stain on my cards, but if you want to protect your cards and don’t mind the plastic, you can buy protective sleeves for them.) You could also include a card for cookbook recipes—simply write on the card the name of the recipe, the name of the cookbook, and the page number, to make it easy to find favorites. With dividers, you can easily organize recipes, too. The main disadvantage to recipe boxes is that those torn-out magazine pages and handwritten recipes often won’t fit in the boxes and need to be recopied to cards.

BTW, if you like pretty recipe cards, you can design and print your own on cardstock. Or hop over to Inspired by Charm, where blogger Michael provides lots of beautiful recipe cards as free printables. There are also templates online for recipe cards that you can type on and then print, which is a terrific option if you—like me—are converting your entire system to recipe cards. 

Giving cherished recipes some extra attention

Recipes are such a gift when they’re handed along from family and friends. It’s not just words on paper, of course. It’s likely a memory, an experience, a reminder of a person who has fed us as well. In addition to storing recipes in a way that protects them yet makes them accessible for use, it’s sometimes fun to highlight favorite recipes. A few ideas:

• Celebrate the cook. One Thanksgiving, I included handed-down recipes from my mother, my husband Alan’s mother, and our dear friend Ona, at our buffet table. I labeled the dishes accordingly: “Anna’s Overnight Stuffing,” “Helen’s Fruit Fluff,” and “Ona’s Cherry Pie.” I enjoyed bringing these women to our table; it’s the kind of simple domestic act I hope someone does in my memory someday.

I have a recipe for gingerbread that is at least 50 years old. The card has obviously had a dough-filled wooden spoon or two rested on it over the years, but I love that about it. I made a copy of the card and framed it to hang in the kitchen. It reminds me of making gingerbread houses with Ona, who passed along the recipe to me in her handwriting.

• Display the recipe. Have the recipe printed on something, such as a large canvas, a tea towel, or a cutting board. You can frame it (as I did with Ona’s gingerbread recipe) adding illustrations, if you like, or use your lettering skills to write the recipe on a chalkboard.

• Pass it along. Keep pretty recipe cards on hand, and include recipes with food gifts, at potlucks and parties, as gifts (with ingredients to make the recipe), or even just to hand out after dinner when someone compliments a dish.

I’m hoping to assemble a family cookbook to print and gift our grown kids. Right after I get all my recipes organized, that is.

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2 comments

  • Mary

    December 15, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    The task of organizing my recipes for easy retrieval became harder as the ease of finding recipes online became easier. At one point early in my marriage, I took all of the recipes I thought I wanted from my mother’s recipe box and reprinted them onto neatly laminated, uniform cards. Time consuming, but gratifying. Soon, those recipes were pushed aside as local church and school cookbooks became a staple of my recipe usage. Add a few beautiful cookbooks received as gifts, and soon one shelf of the cupboard wasn’t adequate to contain my recipe collection. Despite culling my cookbook collection earlier this year, the search for a favorite or even recently made recipe can be a challenge. I can’t always remember if I found the recipe in a book, among my computer files, in the plastic-sleeves binder I started a few years back, in my recipe box, or buried beneath the MANY torn magazine pages and printed online recipes that pile up on a regular basis . I WISH I had everything in one place. My current recipe box is shoe-box size and probably large enough to hold all the recipes I truly want to keep coming back to, if I could just find the time to go through all the other sources and transfer them onto some sort of hard copy to be placed in the box. Thanks for the ideas….

    1. Karen Mary

      December 15, 2019 at 4:35 pm

      I spent much too much time this Thanksgiving trying to locate specific recipes. I love the idea of uniform, laminated cards. What a big project, though! One of those tasks to tackle a bit at a time. Whatever system I wind up with, I think it’ll be so rewarding to have something that works!

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