The Recipe For Success; or, The Cookbook Project

So I had written this great entry, about how I had turned my mom’s process for making stuffing into an actual, written-down, reproducible recipe.

And then WordPress ate it.

So at some point, when it’s not already the wee small hours of the morning, I’ll try to re-create that.

Instead, I’m going to talk a bit about recipes in general, and getting them organized.

Now, in the beginning, we had recipe cards (okay, if you define “beginning” as “in my lifetime”).  Recipe cards were Good and Useful things; you could organize and file them neatly away, and most recipes would fit on a single 3″ x 5″ card.  But they weren’t without problems.  For one thing, they’re easy to misfile.  I was never totally clear on whether the recipe should go behind or in front of a tab, for instance.  And even once you get that straightened out, temporary dyslexia can result in the Apple Strudel recipe getting filed under “S” for “strudel” rather than “A” for “apple”.

Not to mention that if you don’t have great handwriting (and I don’t), you can end up with a bunch of illegible recipes that no one can cook, because no one can figure out just what that mystery ingredient is supposed to be.

You can type on recipe cards, of course.  But when all you have is a manual typewriter with no correction function (as I did when I was about eighteen), that can prove to be more painful than hand-writing them.

Then along came computers.  And with them, more opportunities to misplace recipes.  (I don’t know how many times I’ve had to look up the Broccoli and Velveeta Cheese recipe now.  But I keep losing it.)

Thanks to computers, I’ve gone through an evolution from having recipes stored in a flat text file to having them neatly organized in Master Cook.  Because one of my goals, you see, is to end up with a cookbook when all is said and done.  One containing all of my family’s favorite recipes, plus some I’ve gathered along the way, plus some I’ve made up.

One of the problems I’m running into is deciding which recipes I ought to include and which I should leave out.  I’ve got recipes I’ve had since I was a teenager, because they sounded good, but which I’ve never actually made.  (I mean, c’mon, everyone needs a recipe for fortune cookies, right?)  I’ve got some that my mom gave me that I’ve likewise never made; these are mostly desserts, and I’m just not much of a dessert person.

And there are some that are for foods that I make often and dearly love, but which I’m not sure belong in a collection of family recipes.  Things like recipes I’ve learned or created in the SCA–reconstructions of ancient Roman, Medieval, and Renaissance-era dishes.  Some are quite tasty, even though they might sound strange (Tarts in Ember Day, anyone?).  Some, of these, like Digby Cakes, have become a staple for the holidays.  But should I put them in my “all-purpose” cookbook, or would they be better off in a separate cookbook of their own?

Hmmm…or maybe I do the cookbook in two parts, and have one be modern and one historical?  That has possibilities, too.

The other alternative, of course, would be to eschew paper altogether, and just look for some means of storing my recipes on-line, in the “cloud”.  But part of me likes having the printed copy at hand, so I can annotate it as needed.  And with the availability of print-on-demand, I can even get decent-looking printed copies for not all that steep a price.

I’ll keep you all posted as the project progresses.

In the meantime…are there other cooks out there who have attempted a recipe book project?  How did it work out for you?  What editorial standards did you use?  What tools did you find useful?

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About sheilamcclune

Aspiring author, sharing the tidbits I've learned along the way.
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One Response to The Recipe For Success; or, The Cookbook Project

  1. Beloved Husband says:

    Paper recipes / books are handy because you can easily read them in the kitchen or take them with you. The physical presence also makes pages and impressions more memorable.

    Electronic records should be easier to search (“Find” apple or strudel or dessert), easier to archive (save to disk hard disk, removable disk, thumb drive, and your netbook), and easy to copy (i.e. print the recipe before going to the store). I don’t hold much with the “cloud,” but you can still have lots of backups and local copies. You do need careful version control to be sure updates are propagated uniformly.

    With a well organized electronic collection, you can still print family recipes for family gifts, favorite recipes for a charity fundraiser, and everything for your Tome of Cooking Lore (which you can leaf through on those cold winter nights).

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