Kitchen clutter can consist of an assortment of unused or underused cooking pots, cracked china or the “collection” drawer of miscellaneous items. It can also be underused recipe boxes. Does anyone use recipe boxes anymore? The internet provides an unlimited source of recipes for everything from acorn squash with raspberry stuffing to ziti baked with shrimp and feta cheese, all but eliminating the need for the once ubiquitous recipe box.
I received my very first recipe box at a kitchen shower prior to my wedding, and each guest gave me a copy of their favorite recipe with an ingredient from it. It was a great beginning to my learning to cook. I added recipes from my Mom. Through the years, more recipes were exchanged among friends who wrote them out on specially decorated recipe cards. As my cooking expertise grew, so did my recipe cards and boxes. I organized the boxes in categories. My main recipe box is atypical in that it is long and rectangular in shape and can hold about three regular size boxes of recipes. I recall how thrilled I was when I found it. It was catagorized for beverages, breads, brunches, casseroles, fish and seafood, meats, salads, soups and sauces and vegetables. Another box holds my recipes for cakes, pies, cookies and desserts in general. A third is for summer beverages and desserts; another specifically for holiday dishes and one for appetizers. You get the picture. Additionally, the beginning of an extensive cookbook collection ensued.Those were the days when I prepared all of our meals; going out to dinner was a once or twice a month special occasion. We had friends to dinner; they had us to dinner; we did not meet for dinner.
My younger daughter has lived out of state for many years. Prior to each visit home, she always asked me to make certain favorite dishes from her childhood. This became a welcome ritual. I went to my recipe boxes, found the requested recipes, made my grocery list of the necessary ingredients and then began the preparation. There was a rhythm to it and a thread of connection from the past.
Times have changed, as has the way we think about and prepare food. While I use more varied and complex ingredients, my food preparation is increasingly simple and straightforward. We more frequently meet friends for dinner than we have them for dinner. I’ve gotten rid of most of my cookbooks; they became unused clutter. My recipe boxes look quaint and outdated, as do most of the recipes they contain.
Periodically, I take out those recipe boxes, usually my daughter’s visit is an impetus, and debate about whether or not I should classify them as unused clutter to be discarded. The reality is, neither I nor my daughters will ever prepare 95% of the recipes they contain.They are of a different time when butter, sugar, lard, salt and canned soups were staples. But they also represent a time when families actually sat down to meals together and traditional family dishes were eagerly anticipated.
Those recipes are hand-written, many of them in the handwriting of my mother and friends of our family who have long since passed. I love the memories their recipes and the residual energy of their handwriting immediately bring to mind. Even my own handwriting has changed over the years and looking at it also reminds me of a different time.
Each time I take those recipe boxes out, I come to the same conclusion: they don’t represent clutter to me, they are cherished memory boxes. My daughters will decide what to do with them when the time comes, but in the meantime, they remain lovingly stored in my kitchen.