A slip of paper, “Peggy’s Chicken,” from early spring of 1995, landed on top of a faded index card detailing Great Grandma’s Taffy, circa 1950, on my wooden kitchen floor. I had accidentally knocked my recipe box off the counter as I made lunches for school. Thankfully the oak box remained intact unlike the order that had existed just seconds before; suddenly “meats” were mixed up among “salads” and “desserts.” This pile of randomness, scattered about, stared back at me with contempt and disappointment. That pile knew that I had only half-heartedly kept alive an antiquated system as I tried to manage the deluge of recipes that came into my life by both chance and requests — from my co-worker’s potluck to celebrate my first baby, to my next door neighbor Charmaine’s unbelievable barbecue brisket recipe. Then there were the hastily printed out online ones that were in the form of a bulky 9 x 11 sheets of paper that had to be folded into squares to fit. It was a mess.
That little wooden box did not even include anything from the pile of Cooking Light magazines I had saved over the past 21 years. Only I knew just where to find the Oven-Puffed Pancake that my pickiest eater ate for breakfast three mornings a week when he was seven. Nor did it include my treasured recipes from my kitchen bookshelf. Choices of what to make were everywhere — if you knew where to look. Trouble was, it was only me that had the answers if someone were to ask. At this rate I had little to leave behind.
I stumbled upon a taped together three-ring binder from my nana’s collection- a mid-century recipe system-an original Holson’s Cooking Clips organizer that had been entrusted to me for safe-keeping shortly after the recipe box upheaval. Coincidence? Maybe. I noticed a page of instructions for how to use it right in front. The first step was to “Clip out appealing recipes from books.” I certainly had done that over the years. The second step was to “file them temporarily” into the pockets of the binder. Temporarily was the key word in that sentence for me, my first failing. The third instruction I could not read completely because there was a scotch taped newspaper clipping on “How to Cook Corn on the Cob” blocking the right hand margin. When I tried to carefully pull it back the fragile page started to decompose right before my eyes. I was, however, able to make out part of the sentence which included the words “after you’ve tested them or at…” I took that to mean that all recipes must be tested, because the fourth step tells the reader to “file the recipe.” I am left to assume, because of the worn page, that it should only be filed if the testing had worked out.
It was helpful, these old words of wisdom –and — informative as to why my system had come to overwhelm me over the years. I had not sifted through any of my print-outs or random scraps of paper to decide what to save. I saved it all. I think it was why I became so overwhelmed when deciding what to make for dinner each day, actually. Where should I start?
The morning that my antique recipe box landed on the floor became the impetus to address the gnawing feeling that had been eating away at me for years. I needed a system. And I found one, by chance, when I started to write to my kids in college. Touchnote, a postcard app, can use any uploaded photo from the computer to send postcards easily and quickly to anyone you know. One day I decided to send my almost adult kid who now had his own kitchen a postcard with a family recipe. I found a photo and typed the recipe on the back. I sent a copy to myself for fun. I realized that I had stumbled upon an efficient way to share my recipes with my family quickly and beautifully — and for myself as well. It is a system that will simultaneously bring everyone in my circle up to date — both from the past and into the present.
And, now, as I make dinner each night, I snap a picture of the good ones. I type it up and send it along to friends and family who I know will like it. I send it to myself as well and think to myself, my nana would be proud.