The Recipe Filebox

Even after just a year or two of cooking, after collecting recipes and cookbooks from various and sundry sources, you'll probably find your recipe collection growing out of control.

We tend to be slow learners here at Casual Kitchen, so even after nearly two decades of eclectic recipe collecting (and countless diregarded opportunities to get organized), we're still stuck fiddling around with loose papers stuffed randomly into recipe books, recipes cut out from a bag of lentils, and even recipes cut out of the side of a cardboard box of couscous. Seriously.

Take it from us: a small recipe filebox with lettered dividers is an absolute necessity in the kitchen so you can find those recipes when you need them.

Which brings me to an amusing tale about the idiosyncracies of how people organize recipes.

My mother prefers to file things under functional categories. For example, in her recipe file box, the letter "M" contains all of the "Main Dishes" she makes. So when I'm in her kitchen looking for a house favorite like Mock Wild Rice, I won't be able to find it. I'll be foolishly rooting around under "R".

Laura on the other hand tends to be extremely literal in her filing approach. The first letter of the recipe is the letter it goes under in our file box. This is a strict system: for example, if a recipe starts with the word "The"--yep, you guessed it, it goes under "T".

So for her, a dish like our laughably cheap Red Lentils and Rice definitively goes under "R" for "Red".

Of course, I'm in deep trouble whenever Laura refiles one of our recipes. Because of my stunning lack of adaptability, I simply will not be able to find it. I'll search and search under "L" and then I'll close the file box, then re-open it, flip to "L" and take just one more look. I'll never think to look elsewhere.

In Psych 101, they'd say I lack mental plasticity. I'm like a blind chicken that keeps pecking in the same place, never figuring out that the kernal of corn is, uh, over there.

I just wish the world would adapt to my system, which is an ingenious and flexible filing system that, according to Laura, makes no sense whatsoever. So Red Lentils and Rice of course goes under "L" for Lentils. Mock Wild Rice goes under "R" for Rice.

Fortunately, at least in the case of Mock Wild Rice, my wife and my mother totally agree that it should be filed under "M". Although of course for different reasons.

But at least both of them can find the recipe.


Anonymous said...

Is it a cooking faux paux to integrate the computer? Would it be too geeky to keep the index in a spreadsheet, that was sortable and searchable by multiple tags? Is half the fun the physical search?

Anonymous said...

I paid my daughter big bucks last summer to file all the loose pieces of paper in a three-ring binder. She stapled the dinky stuff (I too have a plastic recipe from the lentil bag) to 8.5x11 pieces of paper. On the notebook dividers she wrote not letters but very specific words. Not meat or main, but poultry, beef, fish, pork. Not desserts, but cakes, frostings, cookies, pies. We also flipped over the recipe box dividers so we could write words on them. Your red lentils would be filed under "legumes". No more alphabet soup.

Maybe next summer she can make the spreadsheet.

Daniel said...

Hi Anonymous:

You raise an interesting question. It's certainly nice to be organized (hehe, although that's usually only a vicarious experience for me...).

But I actually do find cooking inspiration at those times when I'm fumbling though my loose papers. I often see a recipe I haven't made in a while, and then I totally change direction, make THAT recipe and then forget all about the recipe I was originally looking for.

Thanks for your comment!


Daniel said...

I like your organization system AND the use of child labor. :)