Lamenting the loss of recipe cards

At one time, the recipe box was a standard fixture in almost every household. Women kept the boxes, filled with family recipes and perhaps clippings from a newspaper or magazine, close at hand and used them often to help create family meals. With the internet, there is virtually no need for such an item, and it appears as though the recipe card will be another item displaced by technology as Beth Teitell explains in The Boston Globe.

“For so long, we were a nation of recipe cards, handwritten or typed, splattered from family meals gone by, carrying instructions from long-gone grandmas and great aunts,” Teitell notes, adding that the cards were like “voices from the grave telling you to double the cinnamon or that it’s OK if the batter is a little lumpy.”

Women interviewed for the article also bemoan the fact that recipe cards likely won’t survive another generation except perhaps as displays by collectors, remnants of a bygone era. More than just the recipes will be lost as these cards are tossed into dumpsters after someone passes away. Barbara Rotger, assistant director of Boston University’s gastronomy program, values the cards for the glimpses they provide into women’s lives. She recalls that her grandmother had a recipe for a homemade denture soak in her recipe box.

I have several recipe cards from my grandmother, written in her distinctive hand, that provide a link to my family’s past, as migrants who left Germany to farmstead in Ukraine, and whose descendants landed on the high plains of the U.S. Midwest. I have discovered that the recipes in my box reflect the Ukrainian influence on traditional Rheinland region dishes, providing a fascinating exploration of how migration affects the culture of immigrants.

When am no longer around to cherish these cards, I wonder what will happen to them. At best, a family member will want to keep the recipe cards as a reminder of our collective past. I don’t want to think of what will happen in the worst scenario. For now, I will continue to pull out the recipe box, read the cards with their charming misspellings and vague directions, and connect with my grandmother and the scores of women who came before, each providing instructions and advice to the next generation.

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  • camtncook  on  November 24, 2019

    When my father-in-law passed on, I rescued the recipes card boxes and the small collection of cookbooks from the kitchen. I was so happy to have them. I also have multiple recipe boxes from my own life and from other family members. Someone else may toss them some day, but it won’t be me.

  • Jenny  on  November 24, 2019

    I love this post and recipe cards. My family didn’t have a “recipe” card or cookbook heritage to pass down. One day I’d love to send a recipe card with a SASE to all my friends to have them write down one of their family recipes for me to treasure and hand down to Andrew. I do have Jim’s mom’s cookbook which I love to look through.

  • Shannoncooks17  on  November 24, 2019

    My Aunts have my grandmother’s recipe boxes and cookbooks and I am glad they have them. We do share recipes when a question comes up. Ten years ago when I was pregnant and my Grandmother was still living at home (she has since passed on), my mom and I spent an afternoon with her. My Grandma had recipes only in her head, so she made them, I helped and took notes and my mom took photos. We are glad to have that time and the recipes.

    I also love to buy old cookbooks at antique stores and sometimes there are hand written notes inside or recipes that someone once long ago clipped and saved. It is a little peak into the past.

    I hope my boys will keep the recipes we have collected over the years and continue with our traditions!

  • ChristineL32707  on  November 26, 2019

    I am planning to meld old tradition with new technology – photographing or scanning the cards and then saving the images in a photo book. I’ll include photos of family members in the kitchen, holiday dinners – all those lovely reminders of our personal culinary history.

  • Kitchengardener123  on  November 30, 2019

    When we made a family cookbook, we scanned some of my mother’s and grandmother’s recipe cards and included them in the text.
    I was given a recipe box at my wedding shower which I still treasure.
    My Aunt, who recently passed, sent me handwritten polish recipes some years ago.
    Handwritten recipes are part of our heritage!

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