How to Keep Recipes Organized in a Country Kitchen

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Lois Hoffman
The recipe box is perhaps the hardest thing in the house to keep organized.

We all have projects that have been on the back burner for a while. It’s like we want them done, we just don’t necessarily want to do them. This past week I tackled one of those projects, organizing my recipes. Ugh.

I daresay that most everyone who cooks, bakes, or generally spends time in the kitchen has my problem. There is the proverbial recipe box with recipe cards all alphabetized neatly inside. And then there are those scraps of paper and napkins with recipes scribbled on them, recipes in my Facebook saves, those bookmarked from the Internet, pages ripped out of magazines and a couple family favorites tucked inside the family Bible as well as some more tucked in some other unique places.

I know pretty much where to find each and every recipe, but how in the world do I put them in some kind of order that someone else could find one in my kitchen?

This project has been on my to-do list for a few years for one primary reason: I wanted the special family hand-me-downs and the ones that are my staples in a secure place so that in case of fire or some other catastrophe, they would be preserved. So, after working pretty steadily for four days this past week, I came up with a plan that works for me. Maybe it will help some of you who are as exasperated at this task as I was.

Scan Recipes and Save Them in a Hard Drive

I started out with my small recipe box that had the ones that I use most often. I scanned each one into the computer and put them in a folder named “saved recipes.” Of course, there were some recipes tucked in among the favorites that I had planned to make and never got around to it. If they were ones that I thought I would make, I scanned them in. Some were from years ago, and our tastes have changed in the meantime so, if they no longer looked like ones I would use, they got pitched.

I did the same thing with my second box and then I started with my recipe books. In each book there were a few recipes that I make over and over, so I scanned those in. Then I started with all the scraps of paper, pages ripped out of magazines, etc.

Remember that I mentioned that our tastes have changed over the years. Well, so has my cooking habits. I have found that, in most recipes, sugar can be cut back without sacrificing taste or quality. Because we are trying to eat healthier, I ditched all cookie, cake and other dessert recipes (except for family favorites and other special ones) that called for excessive sugar.

I also included ones from my Facebook saves and recipes that I had bookmarked on the computer. If I had made these and we liked them, they made it into the scanned album. If we didn’t care for them, they got deleted.

A collection of recipe books. Photo by Lois Hoffman

Put Hardcopy Recipes in Order

When I returned the recipes to my recipe box, I put them in order. Yes, most were in alphabetical order. However, sometimes when I want to make bread, for example, I like to choose between all the bread recipes I have. So, I took all bread recipes and paper clipped them together in the back of my box. I did the same for all muffins, bar cookies and other categories that I “go to” often.

I also paper clipped “favorites” together. These are ones like my dinner rolls that I usually always make for company, my go-to chocolate cake recipe that I use all the time and other ones that I use on a regular basis.

Save Special Recipes in a Notebook

Then there are the quirky recipes, the ones that just don’t quite fit in anywhere. Many friends on Facebook would post a favorite recipe, some food blogs would post different ones and some would pop up in ads.

I started copying these off in a notebook because I planned on making them soon and I don’t always like my laptop setting on the counter when I am cooking. It’s so much easier to have a notebook there that can be moved around and I don’t have to worry about something spilling on it, not to mention that it is easier to read than a computer screen.

The downside of this method is that the recipes were in no particular order, they were jotted down in whatever order I found them. Needless to say, finding one in the notebook became a time-consuming task. Problem solved. I went through and numbered the pages from front to back. Then, I made a list of the recipes on each page on the inside of the front cover. As I add recipes, I just add the name of the recipe to the list along with the proper page number. When the inside front cover gets full, I start on the back cover.

To simplify even more, I put a star by the name of each recipe that I have tried and that we liked. By the recipe itself, I jot down notes whether I reduced or increased a measurement, how many cookies it made, if I deleted an ingredient, etc. It doesn’t look pretty but it sure makes it easier for the next time I make it.

Photo by Lois Hoffman

Save Yourself Time and Frustration

Having all my recipes in some kind of order obviously saves time in the kitchen. It also makes it easier when someone asks for one to be shared, which I do often — I know, there are two camps on this thought. Some cooks keep their concoctions secret, that way they can only make their “special” creations for their friends and family. Nothing wrong with that. However, I believe it is an honor to be asked for a recipe and have shared many.

These tips work for me and taking time now to make some sense of my “recipe mess” should help to keep things at least semi-organized in the future. I hope they work for you too.

Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Michigan.

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