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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Organizing Recipes

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm

When you start cooking from scratch, you start collecting recipes. Disclaimer: my recipes are not organized, by any stretch of the imagination. There are recipes and cookbooks in every room of my house (if you count the Old Farmer's Almanac hanging in the bathroom). I can usually, but not always, find something I'm looking for, with a minimum of searching. Organizing them is one of those things on the "I really should do this someday" list in the back of my mind.

The computer has made finding some favorites a bit easier. Some are online - my browser favorites toolbar has a recipes folder full of folders full of bookmarked recipes. Others are saved on my hard drive - another folder full of folders. Some are scanned, some typed out, some even formatted to print on 3x5 cards (which my printer doesn't do very well). But the computer is in the spare room - to use any recipes from there means either printing them out or running back and forth, kitchen to computer. Maybe someday, I'll get a laptop and wireless router, and get everything scanned to a hard drive. Maybe. Someday.

I have a couple of inherited boxes of recipe cards - I add to them occasionally. I have a small shelf-ful of favored cookbooks in the kitchen, most sprouting a forest of post-its along the tops, the pages scribbled with changes and notes. On the kitchen table is a stack of magazines, also sporting a rainbow of post-its marking recipes I'd like to try. On the side of my refrigerator, magnet clips hold clippings cut from newspapers. And then there's the Grey Notebook.

A half-size looseleaf binder, it was a bridal shower present. The giver had labeled some of the dividers and written in a couple of her recipes, but most of the pages were blank. What a wonderful present! This book lives on a shelf above the kitchen counter, next to the microwave. The recipes in the Grey Book are my tried and tested, used all the time, favorites. The One-Hour French Bread, one of my first posts on this blog, is in the Grey Book. Most of the recipes I've put on my own blog are the ones from this book.

The Grey Book is my own personal reference book. One tab I've labeled "Feeding a Crowd". In that section are my traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas recipes. I know most of them without looking, but having them listed helps me make out my shopping list. The front page is a little timetable I've made, that helps me get everything on the table at the same time. The book usually stays open on my counter from Wednesday morning until Thanksgiving dinner is served on Thursday. Since everybody has their own family traditions and favorites, I didn't think something like this would be of use to anyone else, but my sister asked me to put it on line, so here it is. If you think you might find it useful, clicking on the picture should bring it up large enough to read.

Another section in the Grey Book is "Harvest Time". Not only are my canning recipes here (many are also on my blog), but also a page for each year, listing what I harvested, what didn't do very well, how much put away, and how much was still left from the year before. By looking at the progression on these pages, I know I need to do at least 2-3 canner loads of whole tomatoes each year, but make plum jelly only every fifth or sixth year. It's also helped me figure out how many jars, of what size, I need. In a small house, with limited storage space, having just enough is the ideal. The front page of this section is my quick canning reference, listing headspace, processing type, times and pressures adjusted for my altitude, and other little notes to myself. Maybe you will find it useful as well. Maybe you'll start your own reference book. Or maybe you'll share your own recipe organizing ideas here.


Anonymous said...

Your right Sadge, one day I too will be organized. I have managed to amalgamate some of my 'real' folders and I have now got most of my cookbooks and recipes in the kitchen area, still there is stuff upstairs. I keep meaning to write my timetables out for major meal preparation like Christmas, it's in my head but it would be better if I wrote it down. Canning or preserving is done very adhoc here at the moment, never sure what bugs are going to attack the vegie garden before we can get the vegies!Sometimes I am almost tempted to use chemicals just to save enough to eat!
Happy Holidays and don't forget to take time out and take in all those delicious smells you will be producing.
Virginia K, Australia.

liz (perspicacious) said...

This is a constant struggle for me-- when I make something we really love, I want to remember to make it again! Here's what I've done:

I keep a recipe binder with printed recipes and recipes torn out of magazines, in pastic sleeves. These are sorted some with divders.

I also keep a "home organization binder," and one of the sections in the binder is a list of recipes. There are no actual recipes in this binder, just a page for each genre (Mexican, stir fry, desserts...) with a list of meals we like. I use this binder to plan menus.

I am pretty organized about all of this-- the way I figure I want to make the best food I can with the smallest amount of planning. :)

Chookie said...

I have three large envelopes that contain recipes torn from magazines, etc. When I find a keeper, I write it out into my blue recipe book. In recent years, I've found myself simplifying, spending less time with recipes and more time ringing the changes on our regular dishes. My menu plans don't specify many vegetables now -- often they say "4 cups stewing veg" or "6 cups salad veg", so I can take advantage of specials or things in our garden. Also, I just don't find magazine dishes terribly alluring any more: they are usually only small variations on classic dishes (which I can do for myself) or are fashionable rather than tasty, or are things I simply don't WANT to do for myself (Peking duck). I hadn't thought of this change as simplification, but I suppose it is!

badhuman said...

I own about ten cookbooks which reside in on a shelf in the kitchen but most of my recipes are on my computer. I have a large folder of links and then a folder on my hard drive that has recipes sorted out including one that contains all my tried and true recipes. I try not to collect magazines or newspapers so if I find a recipe I like I either tear it out (if the magazine is mine) or photocopy it (library magazines) and those go into a three ring binder. I should probably put all my electronic recipes into sorted folders on my hard drive and organize the loose leaf binder but my system works for me well enough.

maryanne said...

I have recipes in lots of locations too, and a big looseleaf folder full of cutout and handwritten ones.I use the folder a lot but can never keep it in a particularly organised fashion , and there's always at least 10 newly added pages sitting loosely in the front, so looking up recipes I use frequently takes a while.A few weeks ago I decided to write up the half dozen recipes I most frequently use so am always looking up on another piece of paper and stick it inside my pantry door.It's really helped.My sister-in-law also has friends'and relatives' tea and coffee preferences stuck inside the cup cupboard to save always having to ask again.( I know some people have something called a memory but I've lost most of mine- I can't remember where.)

Annette said...

My grey book is a white book. I keep everything in here from recipes (eating and cleaning)to knit/crochet patterns. My challenge is finding the 3-whole punch to add itmes. =) When I find it next, I am going to put it next to the binder in the kitchen! Then there is the useful few cook books and on the top shelf are the decorative cookbooks. I keep hoping that someday I will find something in there that I can make (ingredients easy to find, inexpensive to make). Guessing I need to donate these to the library. =)

kittyboo said...

I know this might sound a bit obsessive but I actually index my recipes - I have a big excel file on my computer where I index each recipe by main ingredients, season and type of cuisine. It comes in really handy when I have a specific ingredient but need a bit of inspiration as to what to do with it as I can use the search facility. I started the index as I had collected loads of foodie magazines over the years that I didn't use as I didn't have time to flick through them all the time - I thought if I knew what was in them, I'd get more use out of them and it worked! I'm now adding recipes from my cookbooks to the index. I used to do indexing as part of my job and I guess it's a hard habit to kick!

Sarah in Indiana said...

I had a basket containing a broken plastic index card box, and tons of recipes cards and clippings, including many duplicates. Last winter I organized these into a tabbed photo album I had, which was such a great solution. I've kept it up, and found it's simplified things greatly. I'm so glad I took the time to do it, it's saved me far more time than it took to do.

Laura Earnest said...

I have always been afraid of a disaster where I would lose all the heirloom recipes I have collected. So a few years ago I bought Mastercook, and I am slowly transcribing my recipes in. The plus is that it allows me to print copies so I don't care if a get stuff on a recipe as I'm cooking.

The other thing I will hopefully get to at some point is to be able to use the software for meal planning...because it can generate shopping lists. But that's a ways off.

Susan said...

Most of my recipes are kept in an index-card box--actually, it was a box that a large set of notecards came in, but index cards fit in it perfectly. But I also have several cookbooks. In order to keep track of cookbook recipes that I like, I put a blank card in each section of my card box. On this card I list tried-and-true cookbook recipes (name, book, page number) that fit that category.

Ashli Norton said...

I know it's about living simpler and I'm trying to do that, but one of the benefits and arguably simpler ways to live is using a little technology (not much, lol).

There is software that would IMO do a much better job and present a greener and more efficient way of organizing your recipes. I have a favorite one that even does it on your phone.

It's call Appetite, its by

I know my handwriting sucks to the point where I can't even read it later. So this could be of some help.