» Archive for April, 2013

My crowded recipe box

Saturday, April 27th, 2013 by kara

So my recipe box is getting crowded. A few years ago, after I’d experienced this same problem with my sticky, tatty metal recipe file box inherited from my mum, I went out and bought a very nice dark-walnut stained wooden recipe box (very grown-up looking!), and I sorted through my recipes, making tidier copies of some of the scribbled ones, and getting rid of the recipes I had never used, but had looked good when I’d bothered to add them to my collection.

The new box is getting crowded again, though, and when I was looking for my peanut butter cookie recipe, I discovered that I’d left old copies of my favorite recipes in with the newer, tidier copies. “Sheesh, can’t believe I was so stupid to leave those in there,” I muttered to myself, and sorted through the cookie recipes to find six duplicates.

I prepared to throw out the old, untidy copies, and recalled that most of those had been scribbled when I was in high school, or even grade school. Swamped by this wave of nostalgia for the younger, foolish-er me, I hesitated to put the old copies in the recycling bin.

Does nostalgia for my silly, loopy handwriting from high school and grade school make these copies worth keeping? Or is their age and provenance of value? When I was originally going through my recipe cards, I had several that belonged to my mother and grandmother, and to see their handwriting and know that they touched those recipe cards made me feel closer to both of them. I had split them up and divided them between myself and my sisters, copying the cards I thought I’d actually use and sending them on for my sisters to enjoy.

But for recipes I’d written for myself, I don’t have anyone to pass them down to, so does my own historical handwriting have value to anyone but me? Are they really worth keeping, for that glimpse of the person I used to be? I’m still wrestling with that idea, but the old copies are getting closer to the recycling bin.

Something else I’m wrestling with in my recipe box are the recipes that I’ve copied because they LOOKED good, but which I’ve never actually made. I hate making new foods because I don’t know how the recipe will turn out. If it’s an awful recipe, I really resent wasting the time and the food to make it and then just turn around and throw it away, so many times I will just copy something that looks appealing but then tuck it away into that wooden box to languish.

Take banana oatmeal cookies as an example. They’ve always sounded sooo gooood to me, but I hadn’t made them because with many recipes, there’s no way to tell how something will turn out–or how you can screw it up. I found FOUR DIFFERENT banana oatmeal cookie recipes in my recipe box today, but when I finally made the darned things for the first time last week, I used a completely different recipe I found on the web. (Oh, and by the way, I screwed that up by not using the right type of oatmeal the first time I made THEM, but the recipe was so lovely even after I’d ruined the cookies that I gave it a second try yesterday–works so much better when you use the quick-cooking oats the recipe calls for, instead of old-fashioned oats which require four hours of cooking–thanks, DivasCanCook.com!)

Because I’m a tad OCD, I treasure things like a tidy recipe box with uniformly-sized cards. No, I don’t go so far as to use the same colour ink when I’m writing a new card, and I’m not going to make a new card if I get something on it while cooking or baking. The different stains and battle scars on a recipe card add to its appeal, and serve as a rating system–the more battered a recipe is, the more often I’ve used it successfully.

But it is nice to be able to flip through all the recipes in a section and not have smallish bits of paper escaping to flutter to the floor, or not being able to find the recipe you need only to discover that it had been left behind in its respective slot because it’s so much smaller than the other cards.

I’ve made a resolution, just now:  From now on, I will only write out a recipe card for recipes which I’ve actually made and liked. I will make notes ON THE CARD about changes that I’ve found useful, and I’ll actually keep track of where the recipe came from. No more wondering where I got the recipe for divinity, or trying to recognize handwriting that’s not my own, my sisters’, my mother’s, or my grandmother’s.

Now, what should I do with all the recipes I’ve already copied and filed because they looked good? Shall I retire them to a “recipe limbo” from which I’ll randomly pluck one to try it out?  And if it turns out to taste as good as it “read,” then it will earn a permanent place in my recipe box? I think that’s what I’ll do from now on, but I’ll go through the rest of the recipes later. Right now, I have to go make some peanut butter cookies.