Recipe Organization

For years I’ve been fascinated with cookbooks.  While I’ve moved to a Kindle for my everyday book reading , I prefer to have hard copy cookbooks and have been collecting them for years.  I love leafing through them as though they were novels, reading from cover to cover and studying the photographs.  These books are a never ending resource of creation and inspiration for me.

Just a small sample of my cookbook collection

My collection also extends to food writings, chef biographies, and books on entertaining, both past and present.  Scouring used book stores for obscure books on flatware or historical cookery never gets tiring to me.  One of my most recent and interesting finds is a book called Last Dinner on the Titanic which chronicles the menus, recipes, china and dining etiquette in the First, Second, and Third Classes on the doomed ocean liner.  Utterly facinating.

A past cooking class instructor of mine who has thousands of cookbooks in her collection told me that she felt she got her money’s worth on a cookbook if she found just one recipe from it that she had worked into her cooking repertoire.  Perhaps it was just the justification I wanted to hear, as I subscribe to the same theory.  And not too surprisingly, I refer to dozens and dozens of cookbooks in my more modest collection (a few hundred) quite often.

One of the “cookbooks” I refer to most often is one I have compiled myself.  For 25+ years (even before I was regulary cooking in the kitchen) I have been tearing out recipes that look delicious from magazines, pamphlets, and from online print-outs.  I place the pages in a pile and once or twice a year I sort them by type (i.e., appetizer, meat, dessert, etc.), trim them up, paste them onto paper and then place them into a series of tabbed, three-ring binders. 

recipes filed in tabbed three-ring binders

These notebooks are the first place I turn to when I want to make something new for dinner or when we’re entertaining.  Since they are grouped by course and by genre, recipes are easy to find.  And because they are all filed in plastic sheet protectors, you only need to bring a few pages to the kitchen with you, not the whole binder.  And clean-up is a snap:  spill a little balsamic vinegar on the recipe?  No problem.  Wipe that plastic up and file it right back into the notebook.

Other than being an entire collection of recipes I want to eat, one of the interesting things I find about the binders is how the recipes showcase food trends over the past 25 years.  Think how far American cookery has changed in that time frame – the ingredient and cooking trends, the health advisories that have shaped our diets (salt/fat is bad, salt/fat is good, etc.), and the globalization of our world making “exotic” ingredients readily available at your local supermarket.  I can guarantee that there were no chipotles in any of the recipes I collected from the late 1980′s.  Some of the recipes I culled 20+ years ago aren’t necessarily the recipes I want to make today.  But some have proven the test of time for my palate, and the collection continues to grow every month.

How do you organize your non-cookbook recipes?  If you have a large cookbook collection, how do you organize it?  By genre?  By jacket color?  Alphabetically?

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One Response to Recipe Organization

  1. ICE says:

    I have just a couple cookbooks, but have many cocktail books and an extensive assortment of cocktail recipes! I “clip” mine to Evernote and add tags to help me sort through them later. When I have an ingredient in mind to use (like Benedictine or Cynar!) I can easily browse the tags or search for that item. This works because I get so many ideas and recipes online. Now, cocktail books are generally indexed incompletely, so I make my own each time I get a new one and then add this index to my Evernote cache. It is slightly tedious to type out the main ingredients for each drink in the beginning but it pays off constantly later on. The other advantage with Evernote for me is that I can access the recipes on my desktop, on my smartphone and the iPad — particularly handy when I’m out somewhere and want to share a recipe with someone or am shopping for ingredients (do I need a rye or bourbon?). I love Evernote so much that I use it for my digital life now.

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