WFAEats: What's The Best Way to Organize Recipes?

Aug 12, 2018

If you’re a person who cooks without recipes, you can probably just skip this entire discussion.

But the rest of us have reached overload. We’ve got recipes falling out of our kitchen drawers, in-boxes – even our phones. In a world where Google returns more than 17 million hits for “apple pie recipe,” how can we possibly keep track of the ones we love and the ones we’d someday like to try?

The most organized woman I know (OK, my sister) confessed her dilemma recently on Facebook.

“I’ve got lots of recipes I love … I organized the bulk of them by category and put them in manila envelopes, but that’s cumbersome. Here I have those I go to the most, paper clipped together by category. I’ve thought about scanning and printing on standard size paper and putting them in a notebook but it seems like a lot of work.

“Any ideas for a low-tech solution?”

Helpful people jumped in right away with lots of ideas, many of them terrible. Scrapbooks and photo albums are too bulky to cook from. And who has shelf space for binders with hundreds of removable pages?

One philosophical friend rejected altogether the impulse to create order from those slips and scraps of paper: “Just keep on keepin’ on. The more worn they get, the more beautiful they become. FIGHT the urge to organize. Live as an experiment in entropy.”

Notes and recipe cards.
Credit Julie Rogers

Others completely ignored the request to go low-tech. These digital devotees suggested manual scanning, saving, sorting, sizing, and archiving electronically. The endless hours it would take aside, this is fine if you want to read tiny print on a screen – until you need to scroll through a recipe on your phone while your hands are covered in bread dough.

So I reached out to some food-writer colleagues and discovered that they’re divided on the topic, too. Lots of these pros actually keep both hard copies and digital ones.

“A recipe is so much more than just instructions for a dish, it is a blueprint for a memory,” writer Deanna Fox said. “I’d like to think that my children and potential future grandchildren will love recreating the food that came from my kitchen and it will have more meaning and sentimentality when it’s read in my own hand.”

Johanna Reed, who chronicles her journeys at traveleater.net, creates her own hard-cover recipe books that she gifts to friends and family.

Several people complained about the difficulty of locating a recipe once you’ve bookmarked it. But the ease of digital search tools makes this method a must. Several colleagues recommended Paprika. It’s a recipe manager app that lets you pull electronic content from most anywhere, download it to your devices, and store it all in the cloud. It’s a utilitarian solution but doesn’t really capture the visual appeal of thoughtfully prepared food.

That’s where To Taste really excels. This “modern recipe box” showcases its recipes with irresistible images and easy-to-read instructions that users can customize.

Founder Nicole Jackson explains, “Tweaking recipes isn’t new; our grandparents made changes in the margins of a 3x5. But until now, we haven't had a way to make recipes our own in the digital age. To Taste reflects the way we cook, save, and share recipes today.”

Contributor Rasika W. Boice made one that’s pretty genius: “Some people tweak recipes to be healthier. I tweaked salad to be cheesecake.”

Analog and digital methods each have their appeal. Whether we prefer pencil and paper or stylus and screen, we’ll have to cobble together a combination of both to collect and keep recipes – until the next wave of new technology arrives in our kitchens.

Amy Rogers writes WFAEats, a fun adventure where we explore all things tasty and tackle the meatier side of the food scene in and around Charlotte.