Recipe Hide and Seek

Use these tips to find and interpret old family recipes.

| March 2018

  • recipe
    Some likely places to look for loose recipes are in the kitchen, pantry, or utility room.
    Photo by Getty Images/triffitt
  • cover
    "Preserving Family Recipes" by Valerie J. Frey combines tips and archival principles to teach readers everything they need to know to gather, adjust, and safely preserve family recipes.
    Cover courtesy University of Georgia Press

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  • cover

Preserving Family Recipes: How to Save and Celebrate Your Food Traditions (University of Georgia Press, 2015), by Valerie J. Frey provides useful tips for successfully gathering and preserving family recipes. The book offers advice on interviewing relatives, documenting family food traditions, and collecting oral histories to help readers savor their memories. The following excerpt is from Chapter 1, "Setting a Course."

Sometimes we are handed a stack of orphaned recipes, but there are also times when they have to be sought out in a person's home after they move to an assisted-living facility or pass away. You may be lucky enough to find a card file or recipe notebook waiting in the kitchen, but be prepared for a treasure hunt for recipes scribbled on envelopes, napkins, and the like. As someone who has conducted professional on-site appraisals for estates, I can tell you that likely places to look for loose recipes include between the pages of printed cookbooks (which might also have manuscript recipes jotted down on the inside covers or blank spaces), at the bottom of kitchen drawers, inside kitchen cabinets (sometimes taped to the inside of the doors), junk drawers, interspersed with coupons or grocery lists, and with warranties or manuals from kitchen appliances. The best hunting is usually in the kitchen, pantry, or utility room, but also check desks, correspondence collections, diaries, and between the pages of vegetable gardening books or seed catalogs. Bulky cooking equipment such as canning supplies or ice cream churns might be stored in outbuildings and have recipes tucked away with them.

Deciphering Handwritten Recipes

Once you've collected some orphaned recipes, deciphering handwriting is often the next challenge. For a display at the Georgia Archives, the staff Exhibits Committee examined a handwritten recipe for pudding, yet because the letters were so looped and fancy, we had a hard time deciding if it was for "Cabbage Pudding" or "Cottage Pudding." Then we found the first word was a challenge as well: 1 pf. Poof? Puff? Comparing it with other recipes, we realized it must be "pt." for pint. What with damage, fading, or simply poor handwriting, accurately reading recipes can be a challenge, and you don't always have the benefit of a committee full of history professionals. Here are some steps that may help you decipher old recipes:

1) Slowly read the recipe aloud. (This may be particularly helpful if some of the words are misspelled or if your recipe comes from a time when spelling was less standardized.)

2) Transcribe the recipe to the best of your ability, working line by line. Your transcription should include the same number of words per line as the original so that it is easy to compare the two side by side.

3) On your transcription, mark any problem words. If a word seems incomprehensible, list as many of the individual letters as you can.



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