In praise of the recipe box

 recipe box

When e-cookbooks hit the scene several years ago, many pundits predicted that it was a death knell for the print versions. However, the opposite happened - print cookbooks rebounded and became more popular than ever. The same cannot be said for another low-tech recipe format. The recipe box, once found in nearly every kitchen, seems to be going the way of the buggy whip. Not so for Southern Living Magazine, where Patricia York writes in praise of the recipe card box

The reason for hanging on to the old-timey recipe box - whether made of wood, metal, or even plastic - is that so much more than recipes are tucked inside. The box also holds memories, of special family recipes, of course, but more importantly, of the people behind those recipes.  We also love old recipe boxes and cards because they are a piece of our family history. Says York, "Every recipe has a story that relates to our past (we call this Aunt Margaret's cake because…, your grandma and I made these cookies when…) and an early morning browsing through the recipe tin can be as nostalgic as looking through the family photo album."

When I was a young girl, my mother had a small box that contained recipes passed down from her mother and grandmother, and also those she carefully clipped from newspapers and magazines. One particularly harsh winter when I was going stir crazy from being stuck inside, my mother's solution to my boredom was to "allow" me to use her portable typewriter (normally off-limits) to re-type some of the nearly illegible handwritten cards, as well as transcribe the tattered and creased clippings. Armed with a touch-typing instruction book, a fresh typewriter ribbon, and a stack of index cards, I dutifully tackled the assignment. 

Recently I had a chance to flip through the box, which my mother still has and which still contains many of the cards I typed many years ago. They've developed their own patina over time, with splashes, splatters, and smears attesting to their usefulness. I didn't mind the stains, although I cringed at the number of typographical errors I spotted. If ever I use any of those cards, I will read them carefully lest I fall prey to the editing capabilities of my 8-year-old self. My mom mostly knew the recipes by heart so the typos did not affect her cooking, although she probably chuckled at some of the errors. 

I have my own recipe box now, filled mainly with printouts instead of hand-typed cards. There are still a few recipes in my own, my grandmother's, and my mother's handwriting, however, and the box sits proudly on the shelves that house my cookbook collection. I don't often use it, but when I do, I am rewarded with a flood of warm memories. Maybe it's time to pull out another stack of index cards and add a few new family classics to the box.


  • sir_ken_g  on  7/22/2017 at 10:16 AM

    My "recipe box" is a directory on my laptop called "recipes" That and EYB.

  • Rinshin  on  7/22/2017 at 2:27 PM

    I love this Darcie. I have 2 recipe boxes. One that belonged to my mother who was Japanese and she would clip different recipes. She came to the US in the early 60's and for her the American cooking was totally new to her but she would go through newspapers, magazines, local ads etc for interesting recipes and and clip them and would write her own instructions and changes in Japanese. She did this to Japanese recipes as well. I did very similar things too but I also owned a recipe box full of great recipes but to it, I also added my own favorites and others that I truly loved. To get a place in my recipe box meant the recipes had to really shine for the lack of space. After my mother passed on her recipe box came to me and I discovered some interesting gems as well as many memories of dishes we cooked together. Those two recipe boxes are my treasures. I would be lost in making some of my best recipes without them.

  • eliza  on  7/23/2017 at 6:19 PM

    I have 2 recipe boxes too, one for recipes that I make a lot, and the other for things to try. I also have 2 recipe "scrapbooks" that are similarly organized, and 2 binders with clipped recipes. On top of that, I still have my alphabetical recipe book that I started when I was about 12 years old, and now I'm finding I go back to those recipes fairly often. Online recipes are great, but I would never get rid of the written ones!

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