How today’s cooks preserve their recipes
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
There is something timeless in a recipe passed down, whether it comes from someone who is no longer there or from someone who feels far away. It’s a physical object, like any other memory or heirloom, but it lives in the past as well as the future. That loved one says, “Here’s something to remember me by,” but also, “Feed yourself with this meal, now.”
It’s funny how we go about preserving those memories. Before the internet, we might have bothered to laminate our handwritten index cards to protect them from spills. Now we’re faced with a very modern situation: cooking with a TikTok and starting the loop all over again every time you miss something. The ephemeral nature of virtual recipes has us wondering how we can save our favorite dishes now and for generations to come.
I’m ashamed to reveal my random recipe tracking process. I will usually remember the words I Googled on my first search (something like “cooked oats without egg”, because I was out of eggs). I’m going to type those exact keywords into the search bar and click on the link that either appears in purple or says, “You’ve visited this page 27 times.”
This upsets my mother, who relies quite heavily on physical recipes. She keeps a grease-stained manila folder labeled “RECIPES” in black Sharpie. It’s filled with everything from handwritten notes to faded prints from MarthaStewart.com. Every time I present her with my latest food fix, she begs me to write down the instructions. She knows that a bond will only be lost.
Not so long ago, I went through this folder and came across a file that made my heart swell. In fact, I wrote it. The recipe was for kruschiki, a Polish dessert of fried bow ties covered in powdered sugar that my family always made at Christmas. The name was written phonetically, like “croschiqui”, and had the kind of writing I copied from all the popular girls at school (IYKYK). It was like looking at a relic of a previous self – both shocking and endearing.
Perhaps handwritten recipes are a lost art. Some cooks get out of the vibes, while others rely on their Notes app to jot things down. The need to save a recipe for a future you, let alone a future generation, no longer seems urgent when the answer to all cooking questions can be searched on Google.
“Now that more and more people are cooking on the internet, I regret the fact that people no longer collect their favorite recipes in physical form,” says Justine Doiron, the creator of @Justine_Snacks, a recipe account with 2 million subscribers on Tik Tok. “It’s like remembering the site or saving it to something like Pinterest. I miss the idea of having a recipe box. For me, it’s something so personal and nostalgic, especially when these recipes are referenced over and over again and passed on later.
Doiron has a well-worn recipe she’s fond of – a newspaper clipping for pumpkin bread that’s been in her family for years. “To date, I’ve tweaked the recipe in a number of ways, but I’m going back to the cut out of nostalgia,” she says. “I have a picture of it on my phone, and I think it’s so funny that an entire recipe can be reduced to just four sentences and a list of ingredients.”
“Handwritten recipes can bring people together across generations,” says Angie Rito, co-founder of Don Angie of New York. At her restaurant, Rito and her husband Scott Tacinelli honor the recipes of their respective Italian-American families. They incorporate Angie’s Grandma’s Red Sauce – a simple combination of olive oil, garlic, mashed tomatoes and basil – into their famous pinwheel lasagna and use her method of dehydrating herbs. to introduce homemade dried oregano into various dishes.
However, these approaches are only replicated from memory. “My grandmother never wrote down recipes, and to this day, I really regret not spending more time asking her about her cooking and recording the information,” says Rito. “Although whenever a family member asked her how she did things, she tended to leave information out, and we never knew if that was intentional!”
Deb Perelman, the veteran blogger behind Smitten Kitchen and author of Kitchen keepers banged, adds: “So many comments on my site come from people who have tried to learn how to make a lost family recipe that was never written down and feel sad that they never succeeded.” For her, however, the original recipes should not be spoiled – they are there only to guide. “Writing on a very old recipe card feels like writing in a book. Also, to be realistic, any notes I take will require a lot more space than the margin of an index card.
It’s disconcerting how our disinterest in saving recipes doesn’t seem to correlate with the priority we place on the recipes themselves. We always seem to care, maybe a little too much, about the specificity of measurements and steps, unlike Angie’s grandmother. Perelman may not work on paper, but she’s adamant about precision. “I worked really hard to get the salt and sugar and the steps exactly how I like them, so I don’t want to do anything else,” she says. Doiron adds, “I think writing everything the way you do is so important, even if it only lives in the Notes app on your phone.”
Perelman regularly updates a document that would be around 75 pages if she were to print it. “There are serious attempts at organization along the way – either a month or a season – but for the most part it’s a messy pile,” she says. “I find what I’m looking for through word searches, ie ‘honeynut’ for the random squash idea I jotted down last fall.” Doiron retains a similar document. “There’s no chance it will crash, unlike my website,” she says.
“My grandmother never wrote recipes…I really regret not spending more time asking her about her cooking.”
Fortunately, for Perelman and the owners of Don Angie, they can rely on their own cookbooks to pass down physical recipes to their kids, but they all agree that beyond the books, they should work on a better filing system. of their revenue for future use. When it comes to advising a new generation of recipe developers, Rito says, “If they don’t want to get into recipe writing, maybe they can take the time to do more member videos. elderly family making recipes and saving them that way.”
Doiron adds, “We live in the information age, and while everything is within reach of Google, I think there’s a lot of value in mixing old school with new school. My advice would be to cook from as many different sources as possible, that’s the best way to find the best things.
Perhaps there is an even more important question, namely: with a diversity of recipes at hand, is there a drop in motivation to develop our own? And if we went through the pain, would we be more inclined to write them down and hold them sacred? It’s possible that instead, we’ve mastered the art of combining, remixing and creating recipes distinctly our own.
I like to think that when it comes to documenting our creations, all hope is not lost. Hearing “That Was My Grandma’s Recipe” still holds a lot of power, though deep down I suspect it comes from the back of an old-school Betty Crocker mix. Maybe we’ll leave our Pinterest passwords in our wills. Or, a trend favoring analog will force us to write our recipes by hand in a pastiche and artisanal way. We will find out in any way we see fit.
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