A Novel, New Way to Save Recipes–Recipe Boxes and Cards

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, January 18, 1912: To write something when you have nothing to write is an impossible task.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Since Grandma didn’t write much a hundred years ago today, I’m going to go off on a tangent.

When I began working on this blog I knew that cars, airplanes, and telephones were all relatively new technology in 1912–I was amazed to discover that recipe boxes and cards were also a new idea.

I got my recipe box when I got married many years ago--and many of the recipes in it are old family recipes that were copied at that time. Who would have guessed that I was compiling the recipes in the modern way?

Here are some excerpts from an article called “A Housekeeper’s Filing Cook Book A Novel Way to Save Recipes and Household Hints in a Systemic and Convenient Form,” that was in the March 1912 issue of National Food Magazine:

Every year housekeeping becomes more of a science. Shiftless methods and poor tools give place to system and efficient utensils, so that housekeeping is taking the rightful place by the side of other well-managed businesses.

One of the greatest aids to system in business offices is the filing drawer, or cabinet. A clever housewife has adapted the filing idea to her own needs and developed a filing cook book which she and several others have been using successfully for some time past.

Cards measuring 5×8 were bought at a stationer’s and fitted into a pasteboard drawer such as can be bought to fit the cards. The drawer holds over two hundred cards. Any size card may be used but the above has been found the most convenient.

The cards are grouped under sub-heads is alphabetical order, as Bread, Cake, Desserts, Meats, Pastry, Oysters, Salads, Specials, Vegetables, etc.

On these cards are written or typed, under their proper sub-head, choice recipes from friends, the favorite dishes of the hostess or more particularly, recipes taken from culinary magazines such as the National Food Magazine.

The “old way,” to save a recipe was to paste it anywhere on any page in an old note-book which became covered with flour and mayonnaise whenever used. Or the recipe was just “tucked away” among the leaves of the real cook book—and never found.

Here instead of writing down your friend’s recipe for her best sponge cake or pasting some of the fine recipes you have read in the National Food Magazine into a messy book, in a disorderly fashion—you write the recipe on a card, or paste the clipping on a card and slip it into its proper place . . .

3 Responses

  1. They did accurately describe how my grandmother kept her recipes, which I doubt she ever used. She pasted them willy nilly into a big scrapbook she kept, along with other articles and poems from the newspaper. I, on the other hand, use the little notebook with food stains on the page method. I never did get the card box down.

    • I have the recipe card box–but I also have file folders with print-offs of internet recipes and newspaper clippings of recipes tucked between the pages of cooks books. My adult children frequently asked me to email them family recipes–which I then needed to type into the computer. Two years ago I finally entered all of the recipes I regularly make into a Word document–and made a family cookbook. I made several copies for family members. My kids use the cookbook–but I think that I’m the person that absolutely loves it. I use it several times a week. I no longer need to search high and low for a particular recipe when I want to make something. I just go to my cookbook.

  2. It’s a beautiful box.

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