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Organizing Your Recipe Collection
Alice Henneman, MS, RD, UNL Extension in Lancaster County
Perhaps you have a drawer full of recipes you've clipped from magazines, newspapers, etc. But it takes forever to sort through them when you want to try something new, and you usually go back to your tried and true recipes. Here are some suggestions for getting them organized.
Dorothy Lehmkuhl and Delores Cotter Lamping, authors of Organizing for the Creative Person suggest the following for all the recipes we've clipped and never used: Put them in an attractive box, secure it with a pretty ribbon, label carefully and "use them as a boat anchor....."
Kidding aside, most organizational authors do suggest as the first step in getting organized to discard recipes we've never used and aren't likely to use. If you just can't bear to throw them away -- yet -- put them in a separate folder or envelope and date it. If you haven't used them in a year, toss!
Decide on a Storage System
Organizational experts suggest several methods for saving recipes:
- Attach them to paper sheets in a notebook.
- Place in plastic sleeves in a notebook.
- Place in a photo album that has "self-adhesive" pages.
- Paste or copy them on recipe cards and keep them in a recipe box.
- Use page pockets in a notebook with a different pocket for each category.
- Store in accordion files.
For example, you may wish to place your recipes one per page, in a notebook. This should leave you plenty of space for writing "cook's notes" by recipes. Plus, you're less likely to lose a recipe when it's "tied down" to something like a notebook. A different system may work better for you. For example, it may be simpler to toss recipes into page pockets or an accordion file.
Label Recipe Categories
To make retrieval easier, separate your recipes into categories, such as Vegetables, Desserts, etc. Insert some type of dividers that label the sections. Make the categories meaningful for you. One way to start is to sort your recipes into piles and see what types you have. Then, label accordingly. It may help to check the table of contents in some of your favorite cookbooks to determine category labels.
Barbara Hemphill, author of Taming the Paper Tiger at Home recommends if you don't have many recipes in a category, that you start a broad categories like "Bread." As you collect more recipes, you can always expand to "Muffins," "Yeast Breads," etc.
The important thing is just to start -- you can always modify in the future. Hemphill suggests it may be easier to use your system for the recipes you're collecting now. Then, incorporate your backlog as time allows.
Separate "Keepers" from "Never Tried"
Separate the recipes you've tried and consider "keepers" from those you're still thinking about trying, advises Hemphill. A simple initial sorting system is file folders with labels similar to those on your more permanent collection. You might include a "Try Soon" file for those recipes that particularly catch your eye! Somewhere you might also designate a temporary storage spot for recipes that have passed from "never tried" to "keeper" until you can paste, tape, etc. them into your more permanent system.
Store your file folders near the spot where you'll review them for recipes. This might be in your kitchen or a separate office area. You can store your file folders upright in one of those expandable file packets. Another possibility is to get one of those small desk top hanging file systems and insert a separate file folder in each hanging file. For the latter system, label the hanging files on the front of the file advise some organizational experts.
No matter how many new recipes we collect, many of us have 15 to 20 meals we prepare over and over again according to Georgene Lockwood, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life. Lockwood calls these "rotation recipes." She advises putting these frequently used recipes together in a separate file from those used less often.
Whatever system you decide to use, it's important to designate a place where you do your sorting, pasting, cutting, etc. Keep all your supplies nearby. This might include hole-punched paper for your notebook, glue stick, scissors and so on.
Someone was once spotted wearing a T-shirt that said, "The one who dies with the most recipes wins!" Just don't get buried under your recipes while you're still alive! Toss even "the tried-and-true" if they no longer fit your lifestyle. Continually cut the clutter and keep your recipe collection easy to use!
For additional information, the following resources may be helpful. Also check your library or bookstore for other possible references.
Hemphill, Barbara. Taming the Paper Tiger at Home. Washington, D.C.: Kiplinger Books, 1998.
Lehmkuhl, Dorothy and Dolores Cotter Lamping. Organizing for the Creative Person. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1993.
Lockwood, Georgene. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organizing Your Life. New York: Alpha Books, 1996.