Not long ago, recipes that were passed down from generation-to-generation were housed in old recipe files, filled with 3-by-5-inch index cards. Handwritten, weathered with grease stains and marked with use, these sometimes-bizarre recipes with secret ingredients and handwritten additions have long since disappeared. On these little cards you found the memory bank of a family’s traditions, celebrations and comfort food. The coveted recipe cards with sometimes frustrating instructions like “enough flour” and “bake until done” have disappeared, leaving binders of printed recipes or digital folders in its wake. Often, these recipe cards were the only handwritten notes from family members long gone and are now family heirlooms.
As women’s magazines gained in popularity in the 1930s through to the 1990s, recipes printed on cards and branded with the magazine’s logo were popular and were found in each edition with a perforated edge, perfectly sized for the recipe file. Often, handwritten notes editing the recipes are found on old cards. This gave way to the recipe cards with personalized versions of standard recipes. Aunt, Mrs., Family’s versions of recipes that were tried, edited and perfected in home kitchens are now treasured family favourites served at occasions throughout the year. A full recipe box implied a treasury of culinary knowledge, something for every occasion, perfected meal-by-meal. If you couldn’t remember what was good, or what you made, your recipe box held the answers.
In different times, potlucks, dinner parties and BBQs were full of the best of the best of people’s culinary abilities – your friend’s favourite appetizer, the requested salad from your cousin. There’s the usual, “Can you send me the link to the recipe?” typically followed by, “I replaced this with this, and then didn’t do this and added this,” thus reducing your ability to replicate the recipe to zero.
Which takes us back to the recipe cards. What if your friends and family shared recipes on cards, handwritten with notes or you started your own card collection, capturing the changes and then adding your own? Not only is this a great record of tried-and-true recipes, but also one that captures memories of cooking, sharing and eating with people you’re closest to and care about the most.
Starting your own recipe card collection:
- Decide on a format. If you’re going to start sharing recipes with family members or friends, make sure you’re all on the same page. Whether you choose index cards or letter-sized paper, having the same format will make recipe sharing easier now and in the future.
- Decide on what you’re sharing. Ask your friends and family for their favourite recipes of yours, start a list and vice versa.
- Make it fun. Expect that your recipe collection will grow over time. Set an expectation that there will be a yearly or occasion-based recipe swap. If there’s a favourite recipe, swap the recipe with another person and see if they’re able to re-create it. There may be tricks and tips that aren’t in they didn’t note that will come to light as you’re making the recipe.
- Make it an occasion. Host an online potluck, set a dress code or theme, and trade recipes. Whether the activity is making the recipes and taste testing, or just going through the recipes and the stories associated with them, make it fun.
- Keep at it. While it may seem like a lot of work, food is a source of comfort and traditions. A favourite soup made while sick, the family favourite birthday cake. Handwritten recipe cards can be an heirloom of your family to pass down to the next generation.
Can the recipe card be revived? We hope so.