25Jan2011

My Recipe Box(es)

This past holiday season, in preparation for gift-giving, I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my recipe collection.  Not my cookbooks so much, but those little scraps of paper that are crammed in that great recipe box that my Mom gave me, and the other one that I inherited from my Grandma.  You know the ones.  The boxes that I have been meaning to organize, clean up, consolidate, transcribe and get all those scraps onto uniform recipe cards for years now.  For some reason, I have been resistant to finally getting the job done and organizing it already, when it hit me: I don’t want to throw away ANY of these scraps of paper.  As I looked through all my recipes I made a decision that goes against my personality type, and I am at peace with it: leave the recipe box messy and disorganized.  Why?  Because my recipe collection is a series of precious memories – every speck of cookie dough on my Mom’s Sugar Cookie card reminds me of baking with my Mom; because I remember every recipe in that box based on how it looks: smudged, folded, on lined paper or a scrap of envelope or torn from a newspaper.  Recipes are history, and I feel that my recipe box truly reflects my growth as a cook – family favorites, borrowed recipes, recipes I adapted, recipes I invented.  I am so glad that I have inherited recipes from my family and friends – I feel like an archivist now as I have shifted my energy from homogenizing the look of my recipe box to preserving the historical contents within instead.

My siblings and cousins have been gently asking for me to copy recipes down from Grandma’s box in the year since she passed away; “This summer when we had a ton of zucchini, I should have made some of Grandma’s zucchini bread!” or “You know what sounds good? Oatmeal cookies.  Grandma made great oatmeal cookies!” And other subtle comments of that nature.  Normally, I would have just transcribed everything and made a little book out of her recipes or just emailed them to everyone.  However, every time I sat down to work on the project, I felt that by making uniform, clean copies of the recipes that I was in some way erasing memories.  It just felt so wrong.  So, I devised a way to scan in every recipe as-is, which essentially takes a photo of the item: recipe card in Grandma’s handwriting with smudges, food particles, misspellings, folds and rips.  They were ruggedly beautiful images, and since I have a color laser printer I was able to print them out on card stock – front and back – to really give a feel for the originals.  This technique produced perfectly imperfect recipe cards that are virtually indistinguishable from the originals.  Sure, they are minus the folds and 3-dimensional rips and torn edges.  But they are there, documented.  Gift-giving this season never felt so good!  Everyone has their own reproduction of Grandma’s recipe box now, and can make bunuelos, tortillas, peach cobbler and Harvey Wallbanger Cake whenever they feel like it.  And, they can now share our family legacy with whomever they wish.

Reproductions are on bottom, originals on top

4 Responses

  1. Jacqueline Medina says:

    what a great idea! i too was into making some order out of the hundreds of recipes i’ve collected and would try “later” well, this year is going to finally be the year where i try to get through as many as i can or at least decide i no longer want to make them. a few years ago i re-typed all the recipes from a handwritten book from my grandmother. i added family photos, poems, and jokes then spiral bound it and sent it out to the family. no one said if they liked it, but i still have my copy and even though the recipes aren’t really complete (they left out steps and ingredients willy nilly) i love it.

  2. Pam says:

    I did something very similar this holiday season. My son, Nathan, wanted more recipes from his Nana (my mom), his Grandma (in NY), his great-grandmother (my Grammy), and from me. Five years ago, we had created a binder of recipes and photos for his 21st birthday. This binder included recipes from dear friends as well as relatives. Nathan wanted to add to that binder. I found some recipes written by Grammy and I copied those for Nathan along with adding many others that I recalled from my childhood. Of course, in the midst of working on this project, my daughter, Kate, heard about it and immediately asked for her own copies. What a special way to share memories. Thanks for sharing yours, Mara.

  3. Mara says:

    Thanks Pam! I love that you did that for Nathan and Kate! Recipes are such an important part of family history – I love when that gets recognized and placed center-stage!

  4. Mara says:

    Jacqui: Sounds like you created an amazing recipe archive with family photos, poems and jokes – I am sure that they all treasure such care and consideration that you applied to your family history – great job! Part of the thing I love about my Grandma’s recipe cards are the misspellings, and incompleteness of them – they are totally precious!

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