Writing in Your Cookbooks

Margin notes as a cook's diary.

Writing in Your Cookbooks

Margin notes as a cook's diary.

Some people collect cookbooks as something to read.  But we city cooks use them and in the process, the pages can get splattered with sauce or stained with grease.  That's okay.  If a cookbook shows its use, doesn't it say that someone has been eating well? 

I suggest you mark them up even more by writing in them, turning them into a kind of cooking diary.

Is this outmoded?  After all, with internet recipe databases (or a source like TheCityCook), we find a recipe, print it out, and discard it when we're done.  That's convenient and I do it all the time.  But if we only use and then discard our recipes, we may miss the chance to keep a record of what we did, how it tasted, what to do the next time.

I thought about how many times I typically make a recipe before I really get it to work (usually 3), each time fine-tuning the method or editing the ingredients to suit my or my family's palate.  This made me think of the whole notion of recipe cards.  You know, those old fashioned hand-written index cards usually kept in a worn wooden box.  Recipe cards, whether our own or something inherited from a favorite aunt, are a cook's record of practice-makes-perfect and of experience.  Instead of making recipe cards, I simply write in my cookbooks.  These margin notes are my kitchen journal.

Margin notes are another reason to own cookbooks.  Unlike a recipe pulled from a database, cookbooks motivate us with their beauty and tactile appeal and they give us another cook's skill, palate, aesthetic, and encouragement.  Even more, cookbooks give us a way to start with another cook's instruction, and then remember our own result.  This is how we learn.  And this, a single print-out from Epicurious or a page torn from Food & Wine can never give us.

So I encourage you to buy cookbooks and then make them your own.  Make a note about who you cooked for (it's a sweet memory).  Or how you liked a dish better when you reduced the butter or substituted shallots for onions or used Tabasco instead of ground black pepper.  Leave a reminder of what you loved and when a meal was a triumph.  These notes will become a history of your satisfying kitchen experiences and isn't that ultimately why we cook?

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