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Collecting Recipes, Cookbooks, and Recipe Magazines
A long, long time ago, during the dark times before Pinterest was created and shed light, beauty, and hope into our sad, bleak lives, collecting and organizing your recipes was done differently. It was a primitive time of printed magazines and actual recipe books. It was a time when online recipes were composed of words only. You rarely saw a recipe posted with a picture, and if it did have a picture, it was usually a lackluster photo with bad lighting. Instead, you had to use your imagination when reading the recipe to guess what the cooked dish would end up looking like. And there was no step by step pictorial instructions to be had, so you floundered and did your best when you were confused and unsure of how to proceed in the recipe.
During this time, recipes were either torn from magazines or laboriously copied by hand onto notebook paper, usually in the form of a spiral notebook. In fact, my mother had separate spiral notebooks for main dishes, side dishes, holiday dishes, cakes, pies, and one for cookies and other desserts. She hand copied each recipe into one of her spirals. When she made one of the recipes she would write at the top of that recipe’s page whether it was good, Ok, or bad, usually followed by an exclamation point. Did your mom ever do this?
I used to collect recipe books and magazines, as well. I would always get sucked in by the cover photos, so when I encountered a recipe book with one of those mouthwatering pictures on the front cover, I would usually buy it, assuming that all of the other recipes in the book would be just as mouthwatering and delicious as the one on the front cover when they were made. Usually, the recipe magazines were a last minute item thrown into my grocery cart after having flipped through it briefly while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. Unfortunately, there was usually only one or two recipes in the books and magazines that looked good enough to actually make. So, I ended up keeping a bunch of recipe books just for the sake of those one or two recipes it contained. Eventually, I amassed over thirty cookbooks that cluttered my bookshelves and the top of my refrigerator.
And then there are all of the pictureless recipes printouts from websites like recipe.com, dating back to the mid-’90s. Stacks of them, every where. Seventy-five percent of them I had never gotten around to trying them out, but I stubbornly held onto those printouts because one of these days… I’m embarrassed to admit this but, I was a member of the Recipe-A-Month Club, where they sent you a binder and dividers to start you out and then every month you would receive a package of recipe cards (that you had to buy or mail back) in the mail to add to your binder. I admit it, I was a recipe addict, which is ironic considering I don’t really enjoy cooking that much.
Organizing and Consolidating Recipes
Eight years ago, I decided something needed to be done about my recipe collection; valuable space was being taken away by my recipes. So I made an attempt to gather all of my recipes together to organize and purge, but after only a day of gathering and staring at everything, I just decided to get a bigger container to hold all of the loose leaf papers and printouts and just leave the books and magazines where they were. Cowardly, I know. So, for the next seven years or so, the collection remained where it was and grew, and grew, and grew.
Last year, I decided to tackle that recipe collection again, having been inspired by a friend’s method of organizing her recipes. Seeing the way she did it gave me some ideas and after thinking about it for a while, I came up with a strategy this time and wrote it down on paper to make it official. I broke the process down into small steps to be completed one day at a time. It took me several days of working on it off and on to finally complete it. The end product is not fancy, or even pretty, but it’s soo much better than it was! And one day, when I get around to it, I would like to add some pretty to it.
Step one was to gather all of my recipes together in one place, an area where I could leave everything sitting out without anyone disturbing anything. I used our school table since we weren’t doing school at the time. Once I had gathered it all together I had a stack of loose-leaf recipes over six-inches tall. Shocking. I know. I had another, even bigger, pile of magazines with recipes. And then there were the recipe books, over thirty of them. Most of them I had bought, but there were several that had been given to me, and one that I had made for our first church as a fundraiser project. I wish I had pictures of the mess spread out on our school table to show you, but a year ago blogging wasn’t even on my radar!
Step two was to go through all the loose-leaf recipes and pull out all the ones we had tried and liked, these were keepers. To my surprise, there were more than I thought there would be. I sorted those recipes into predetermined categories and set them aside.
Step three was to go through the remaining stack and purge. I did this quickly and brutally. I didn’t allow myself to think about each one very long, otherwise, I would have justified keeping more than I should. I had decided beforehand that I would not keep anything that had any ingredients that I don’t normally buy, and I wouldn’t keep any recipes that had a lot of steps and were complicated because I wouldn’t ever get around to making them. Looking at each recipe, I had to be honest and ask myself if I would ever REALLY make this recipe, or is it one of those that I would like to make one day but never will? That honesty with myself reduced the six-inch stack to a little over an inch of recipes to one day try . Once again, I went through that stack and divided the recipes into the predetermined categories, three-hole-punched them, and set them aside separately from the other stack.
A little side note here – I saved all of the pages of recipes that were purged and put them into the kids’ scrap paper box so they could draw and color on the blank side, and make paper into airplanes.
Step four was to go through all of my recipe books. My goal here was to make a copy of any recipes we had tried and liked so that I could then get rid of the book. Remember, most of my recipe books only contained one or two recipes that I had ever actually cooked, so keeping them was a waste of space. Those copies were added to the stack of other recipes we had tried and liked. The books were then sold or donated to the local charity thrift store. However, I did keep the ones that were special to me, but I still made a copy of the keeper recipes.
Step five was to do the same with the magazines. If I could tear out the recipe, I did. If the recipe was spread out onto more than one page, I went ahead and hand copied it onto notebook paper. This stack was added to the stack of keeper recipes, as well.
Step six was to buy a sturdy three inch D-ring binder (mine is a pretty green), page protectors for the “keeper” recipes, making sure I had extras for future recipes to be added, and a couple sets of five tab dividers for each of the categories I needed. Although, I wish I had seen these super cute tabbed dividers with pockets, or this cute set. I would have bought those instead, but it’s ok because I’m about to add them to my Amazon cart right now! I like that these cute dividers have pockets. I can put all of those recipes that I want to try one of these days into those cute pockets instead of the way I have them now. **Update** I did end up buying both sets of cute tabbed diveders and love them both!
Which brings me to step seven, which was to now put it all together. I put all of the keeper recipes into the page protectors. I decided not to put the recipes that I would make one of these days into the page protectors, opting instead to just load them behind the keeper recipes in their respective categories. If we make the recipe and like it, it will then be promoted to a page protector and filed accordingly. Next, I labeled all of the dividers with the following categories: salads, beef, chicken, pork, meatless, sides & veggies, soups & stews, breakfast, lunch, grains, gravy sauces & spreads, seasonings & mixes, granola & snacks, breads, muffins & cupcakes, cakes, pies, cookies, misc desserts, and lastly, household recipes.
And finally, step eight. Once that was done, I put everything into the binder, heaving a huge sigh of relief. It was finished. Done. Yay! I was proud of myself. I overcame my natural habit to hoard, I freed up a large amount of space, and I actually finished something I started instead of letting myself become overwhelmed, and having all of my recipes consolidated into one binder has made meal planning so much easier!
If you enjoyed this post, you should check out my post on Weekly Meal Planning 101, as well!
Yours till the lettuce peeks to see the salad dressing,
Melissa (keepin-it-organized) Shantel