HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


When was the first time you cooked using a recipe?

Mine probably was when I took a job as a baker at a local restaurant/deli in high school. First day in, I was handed a neat little stack of laminated index cards for things like muffins, cookies, tarts, etc.

Before that, I had simply cooked by watching others (mostly my parents), or just by trial and error.

Up until then, the thought of using a recipe to cook something was completely foreign to me.

Even to this day, I find recipes to be more of an impediment than a resource, much less a necessity.

You? When did you first use a recipe to cook something? And do you find recipes all that necessary in your cooking?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I had the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Kids. I remember making egg nog from that book. My Dad and I would make it at night for a snack. Great memories!

    The first ambitious thing I made was a banana cream pie which I think came from the Betty Crocker cookbook.

    My mother did cook a lot and I learned from her. But I think I loved reading cook books and that's where I really learned.

    1 Reply
    1. re: karykat

      I had something called "Patty Pans". I made baked potatoes. I think I was 7 years old.

    2. I remember making "space stix" from a kids' recipe when I was in the first or second grade. Chocolate chip cookies too, from Mom's recipe card, was a regular as a kid. For baking and for cooking professionally (consisitency) I think they're necessary, for cooking at home, I almost never use them. That said, I love cookbooks and reading recipes is always a source of inspiration.

      1. I remember reading my mom's old Amy Vanderbilt cookbook and teaching myself to make scrambled eggs from it when I was about 10. My mom wasn't a great cook, or interested in cooking, so I didn't learn from anyone other than cookbooks.

        This has been to my detriment, I think, because I rely too heavily on recipes now rather than my own cooking intuition.

        1. I was about 6 or 7 and I made peanut butter cookies from a kids baking book. I wrote down a shopping list and picked out the ingredients in the supermarket.

          My mom stood over my shoulder and made sure to intervene when the book said "parental supervision required"

          1. While I cannot remember the first time I cooked using a recipe because I loved to cook and started at an early age,, I do recall a memorable time. I was about 11 - 12 - 13, somewhere around there, and the recipe was for Parker House rolls in the then must have teenage fashion magazine Seventeen. I read through the recipe, thought they'd be easy, and since my mother was having a dinner party that very night I thought the rolls would be a nice addition. Mother was less than pleased, shall we say, since I took up the whole downstairs kitchen all afternoon. We had two kitchens so she had to use the upstairs one but the dinner was going to be served in our downstairs "summer" dining room. Nevertheless, the rolls were perfect for a first time use of yeast and her guests, who included the president of the Borden Company and his wife, couldn't believe I had made them. I'm still bursting with pride.

            4 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                Thanks Sam. It was quite a coup, I tell you, since Mother and I were always at odds with each other.....

              2. re: Gio

                I am guessing that even though your mom was annoyed, she too was bursting with pride.

                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                  Thanks Sal. She probably was.... at least I hope.

              3. Apricot Nectar Cake with Lemon Glaze, when I was 11 or 12.

                1. I must have been about 7, we had this old children's cookbook, and I do mean old - it dated to the very early part of the 20th century, with illustrations of animated kitchen utensils that were all from the pre-electricity era. The first one I recall specifically making was a recipe for cinnamon toast. OK, pretty basic, but I was very young! And the toaster in the illustration was a sort of iron grill with a long handle that you'd hold near the fire.

                  I wish we still had that old cookbook, but it's lost in the mists of my childhood.

                  1. I’d say I was about 7 or 8.

                    Following the recipe for scrambled eggs from a children’s cookbook, I proceeded to season the eggs with 1/8 tsp salt. The smallest measuring spoon was 1/4 tsp, so that meant 2 of them, right? 4 + 4 is 8... :-o

                    I remember years later begging my mother to let me make cream puffs for dessert...I promise I’ll do everything...and I did. They turned out beautifully. That was my first “real” recipe.

                    1. Nice thread - this is a good story.

                      When I was about 8 or 9 I decided to make my parents dinner one night at the end of the summer. I had just been in camp and the camp had put out a "JCC Summer Camp Cookbook" where every family submitted a recipe and they compiled them all. I decided to make homemade pizza, crust and all. The amount of yeast the recipe called for was "one package," because, apparently, everyone bought their yeast in those little Tbsp. (2T?) single serving packets. Well. Not my mom. My mom bought her yeast at the healthfood store in giant, probably about 1 lb. packages, in a sack like flour. Now, even at this age with exactly 0 solo cooking experience I thought this seemed like a lot of yeast, but I mean, hey, I was just following the recipe! I didn't use the whole package but I probably put about two full cups of yeast in before I realized it was clearly too much for the liquid in the batter. Then I baked it. On the side, I served a salad with iceberg lettuce and cheddar cheese - which I had microwaved to make the cheese melt.

                      I told my mom what had happened and she explained to me about the yeast (so of course I blamed my mistake on her for not being like all the other moms and buying her yeast in "normal" little packets from Stop & Shop), and I knew the food was terrible so I tried to stop them from eating it, but my truly wonderful parents managed to choke down a few bites of everything before I adamantly insisted we order pizza in.

                      That could very well be why I rarely use a recipe these days . . ..

                      1. My math textbook in 5th or 6th grade had a recipe for some kind of cherry cake, complete with icing, that they based several math problems on. So I decided I'd see if it was a real recipe, or just something the writers put in for the sake of the problems. I was gratified to find out it was a real recipe; turned out pretty good, actually.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Bat Guano

                          I love that cooking was used to interest and it worked. My parents used cooking to help my math practice but I never saw it beyond fractions of who ate what in my textbooks.

                        2. Mine must have been making chocolate chip cookies at about 10.

                          My son's is memorable -- it was the first time I left him "home alone" when he had a day off school and I needed to work. He was 11, I called him every 2 hours to be sure he was OK, and the neighbor was checking in on him..

                          In the early afternoon I called and he said things were going well, that he had made chocolate pudding. I asked if he'd found a box in the pantry and he said no, that he'd looked on the computer and found a recipe on MasterCook that looked good.

                          When I got home I heard the whole story and found the results in the refrigerator. He'd used a recipe for Chocolate Bread Pudding, but thought the idea of the bread was yucky so he'd left it out. He found my double boiler, used it on the gas stove, and followed the recipe pretty well -- except for the bread. So there was chocolate all over the kitchen and a bowl of chocolate soup in the refrigerator.

                          We established a "microwave only when home alone" rule for a while after that!

                          1. I don't remember the first things I actually cooked from scratch, but I'd been doing bacon and eggs and cooked cereal from mom's instruction - nothing written down - for some time before I decided to try oatmeal cookies, at about 13. Followed the recipe on the Quaker Oats box. Yup, that was fun. Only problem was I kept nibbling on the dough so much I was lucky to have any cookies at all.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Will Owen

                              To this day, I have the same problem when making oatmeal cookies. I have never outgrown the desire to eat raw dough. ;)

                              1. re: kattyeyes

                                On the other hand I hate and despise "cookie dough" in ice cream. Go figure.

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  I had the same problem with raw brownie and cake batter. My mother always wondered why my cakes were so short!

                            2. My first from scratch recipe also required a thermometer and other precision tools.I was about 11 or 12 and decided to make candy from a very old New Orleans cookbook .It was a messy success,brandy flavour marshmallows and cinnamon flavour gum drops.
                              Many lessons learned about the vast gulf between savory cooking and the precision needed in cake ,candy etc making
                              That adventure's ?? instilled "mis en place" from that day on.My father was wise enough to allow the entire event,help explain terms and techniques.And not be around again until the mess was all cleaned up.

                              1. About 7. Was given a childrens' recipe book. Had always been fascinated with food and flavours, but my first "follow a recipe" was Welsh Rarebit.

                                If it counts, I'd been making the "One Pan Dinner" for the whole fam, after church on Sundays, since I was about 5!

                                1. Guessing about the time I leared to read. Aside from oatmeal cookies (which santa loved so we had to make every year), our Christmas cookies changed a lot. My mom had a subscription to Gourmet magazine and we'd basically dig through all the old holiday issues looking for new cookies that looked yummy, and then have a great time making a mess of the kitchen.

                                  1. I was seven. I got a cookbook with a cartoon kangaroo on the cover for my 7th birthday from my grandmother and tried out a bunch of recipes with Mom in the kitchen. My mom and I would pick a recipe, go to the store and price ingredients, then go home and play. I think we made cookies first. One of the few good things about having my birthday in the middle of summer vacation in between moving from Philadelphia to suburban Florida. We learned about our new community together while initiating my grandparents kitchen and then our new kitchen.
                                    From there, it was on to a cookbook from the TV show Friends and Mr. Food cookbooks for Hanukkah and birthdays until I started wanting cash for clothes. My grandmother had more cookbooks than the local library, so I would go down the street to her bookshelves and borrow. She passed away 5 years ago, and I have inherited a large chunk of her collection.

                                    1. My mom let me make the bisquick dumplings for the top of the chicken soup. A nice simple recipe and a boiling cauldron! I was hooked. Plus I adored all things doughey! Still do...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                        When i was seven year's old, i had to cook everyday, bcos my mom is busy with the farm work. When i got up, i like cooking, and i usually take a cookbook for more delicious food.

                                      2. About 7 when I followed the recipe off the back of a cornflakes box for making chocolate cornflake cups (salted butter, cadnury's drinking chocolate and cornflakes...what could go wrong?)
                                        About 8 when I followed the simple recipe in an Enid Blyton book (mallory towers?) for making cinnamon buttered toast...there's was over an open fire, mine was under the grill at home

                                        1. At age 7 when I received my first cookbook on my birthday. (I still make my pancakes with faces!) I begged to be allowed to cook the meal using 'fancy' stuff for dinner parties - I suppose I was the party trick at that age.

                                          The first time I learned NOT to use a recipe was when I traveled to Italy and was laughed at for not being able to cook without using a book. Thankfully many people took me in hand.

                                          1. Apart from Chritmas cookies etc made with my mother...
                                            Between the ages of 11 and 13 Friday afternoon at school was either needlework or 'home economics' for the girls. On Home Ec Fridays we took home a list of ingredients and the name of what we'd be making the following week. Every week mom would look at the list and made 'adjustments'. So when I arived to make whatever that weeks recipe was I always had different ingredients ot everyone else. My Home Ec teacher (Miss Hall, RIP) hated me.
                                            The first time I followed a recipe in a book I was just off to college and was 'practicing' on my parents. I can't recall what I made but I do remember that the recipe seemed very bland - but I thought that as it was in a book I HAD to follow it. The food WAS very bland - I realised I should have learned from my mother that a recipe is just a starting point, not a scientific formula.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Peg

                                              I flunked home ed, lol. I would take the recipes and change them and mine would be 10x better. My home ec teacher hated me. This was junior high. In fact we had bring in recipe days ... I remember it well. My home ec teacher didn't even know what it was. Basically she couldn't cook. Well I made this awesome mac and cheese with chicken and broccoli (big deal back then) with different cheese and these spicy rolls. Well the menu actually went on the school board menu, my first success in JR high, actually 7th grade. There food was soooooo bad, mine at least had something called salt and pepper.

                                            2. When I was in elementary school. Someone wonderfully put together a kiddie cookbook that had things like how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I think it even had a how-to-bake-a-treat-for-Fido section that involved a simple recipe that went in the oven.

                                              1. I don't remember the very first time I cooked using a recipe--but I fondly remember my Easy Bake Oven!

                                                The first major recipe I recall attacking was some sort of hazelnut pie with an intricate dome of caramelized sugar...it was on the cover of Bon Appetit or Gourmet. I come from a family of good cooks and bakers and wanted to make something impressive for holiday dessert. I must have been a young teen. I failed miserably. To this day, I bake and cook many things from scratch, but specialize in very delicious recipes that are NOT fussy whatsoever!

                                                1. I think I was 7 or 8. I loved Garfield the cat, and of course, he had an obsession with lasagna. My previous experience with lasagna consisted of bad all-you-can-eat buffets and frozen entrees, but I loved the stuff anyways. My mother made spaghetti with meat sauce, but she had a tendency to adulterate it with kimchi, which I picked out every time. I could not convince her to make lasagna, so I took matters into my own hand. There was a recipe for lasagna on the back of the lasagna noodle box, so I said, "what the hey!" and harassed my mom in the supermarket to buy all the ingredients. It was a basic recipe with meat sauce, and a layer of cottage cheese combined with spinach in the middle.

                                                  Well, it turns out I am pretty good at following recipes, and it turned out well! The kitchen was a bit of a disaster when I finished, but the results were good enough that I was allowed to continue making it on a regular basis, and without adding kimchi! Mind you, my parents would have kimchi on the side. Old habits die hard.

                                                  Now, the first time I made it, the instructions called for vegetable oil to be added to the cottage cheese/spinach/egg/parmesan cheese layer, 1 tablespoon. I had no idea what kind of oil to use, so I just used some of my mom's sesame oil, as I saw her put it in every thing (very Korean ingredient). Well, it adds a very interesting nuttiness to the lasagna! I suspect that the flavour of the sesame oil made the whole dish more palatable for my very Korean parents, and contributed to its acceptance into the food routine. I also added some frozen corn to the spinach mixture, because I love corn.

                                                  I still add the corn and sesame oil to this day! Just made some yesterday, the flavour brings me right back to childhood.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: moh

                                                    moh, the idea of sesame oil in lasagna is intriguing. How much do you add to a normal sized lasagna? Say an 9x12 pan with 3 layers. I would like to try it as I very much like asian flavours. Many thanks.

                                                    1. re: billieboy

                                                      Billieboy, I add about 3/4 to 1 tablespoon to the cottage cheese/spinach layer, along with one egg and a bunch of grated parmesan and frozen corn. I make the same size pan that you do. I usually do 4 layers, tomato sauce, grated mozzarella and parmesan on 3 layers, and one layer of cottage cheese mixture. I would start with less, as you don't need a lot of sesame oil to overwhelm a dish. I use the dark roasted sesame oil, the kind that Asians use to finish a dish, rather than a lighter one that you might use to saute things with.

                                                      1. re: moh

                                                        Thank you moh. Yes, I know sesame oil is very strong which is why I wanted to know how much. Easy to overdo it. Again Thanks.

                                                  2. Mom used to re write recipes for me on cards when I was just 5, 6, and 7. I remember using them and have pictures of me reading them. I cooked very young, but my mom said I would look at them, she would explain them to me and she wrote them for me is simple terms. Since 10 or 11 I never followed recipes, expect for baking to a degree. I used to just improvise. I seemed to memorize the recipe and they made changes I liked and went from there. I have cooked like this my entire life. To this day, I read a recipe, but never write it down for the most part, a few I do, like an appetizer or desert, but mostly not. I then try my own version and then write that down. At 7 and 8 I was making pies and cakes, 12 Thanksgiving for 10-12, 15 dinner for 20 and yes, gourmet all the way even back then. College, my own little side business of soups and fresh bread, restaurant, this and that and then got tired and took a short break. Now trying to cater, love to cook and admit ... I don't follow recipes. I look and then change alot and make them my own.

                                                    I like ideas and never follow recipes for the most part. Ideas is what are key. But very young for me.

                                                    1. the earliest i remember is onion soup in jr high. and some baked goods in a jr high home ec class that was required for all students regardless of sex, or gender

                                                      1. I grew up in a family where my mom cooked almost everyday since my dad didn't like eating out. I would always help her with the meals so I'm not to sure the first time I used a recipe. I love her collection of recipe books because it has everything.

                                                        1. Does following hamburger helper directions count? I took over dinner-cooking responsibilities when I was 10, but stuck with mixes and cans for the first year.

                                                          Around age 11 I remember calling my grandmom and asking her to dictate her biscuit recipe over the phone so I could bake and enter in the county fair (won the blue ribbon at $5) - that's the first recipe I remember using. Around the same time I copied her peach cobbler recipe, and within a year I started reading The Joy of Cooking cover to cover.

                                                          1. I'm not sure how old I was, but I was too young to understand fractions. So it was my mom's birthday and i woke up before my parents and decided to bake her a cake. Got her Betty Crocker cookbook (that I still have) found a pretty picture of a cake and started mixing it up. As long as it was simple, like 1 cup, I was fine, but when it came to 2 1/2 cups of flour, well that must mean 5 cups flour . . . right? My dad got up before mom and found me with about 3 bowls of flour and sugar, totally baffled how this was going to work. He very sweetly helped me clean it all up and then we made mom a great breakfast instead, and later went out and bought a cake. I had used all the flour and sugar! Oh, and he taught me about fractions, too! After that I knew how to use recipes.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: danhole

                                                              LOLOL!!! 2.5 = 5. What a cute story!

                                                              If it makes you feel any better, I did NOT use a recipe one of the first times I "cooked" (really young). I attempted to make mulled cider in a large stew pot on the stove and put flour in it because you use flour to cook things, don't you?!!! Really bright.

                                                              1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                I guess you were making a mulled cider roux! Very creative ;-)

                                                                I will never forget the mess I made in that kitchen trying to make that cake. I'm just lucky dad woke up first - mom would have screamed! When my daughters were little we had a book about how to cook that was pretty simple, and I supervised. They really didn't get into it like I did when I was little. They did later in life though.

                                                            2. Chef Boyardee pizza in a box kit when I was abot 8 or 9. It came out pretty good and I made them quite often.

                                                              1. Not sure if it was my first time, but definitely my most traumatic...I was (attempting) to make caramel popcorn balls - but of course, being around 7 or 8 years old, I did not know enough to read the recipe through first, and I didn't realize that a recipe could have several steps - that it wasn't just a matter of pouring all the ingredients together at once and then cooking it up. (Can you see where this is going?) Popped popcorn - check! Brown sugar - check! Water - check! MUSHY MESS...uh, check?

                                                                1. I was probably 7 or 8 and I made a Betty Crocker "Answer Cake." That was the all-in-one cake mix that included an icing packet and an aluminum cake pan in the box. I just wish someone had told me about being more careful with those egg shell bits....

                                                                  1. My first time cooking from scratch I made "corn soup" as an after-school snack when I was 9 years old:

                                                                    1 can creamed corn
                                                                    2 raw breakfast sausage links
                                                                    A little water and black pepper

                                                                    Everything dumped in a bowl and microwaved until there was no pink left in the sausage. Pretty foul.

                                                                    1. Definitely baking - probably started with Toll House cookies, but the apple pie recipe from Mom's red/white checked Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, circa late 60s was the first cookbook recipe. I think I was 12 or so? There were other "recipes" I'm sure I helped with, but the pie recipe is the first I can recall doing myself with little to no supervision.

                                                                      From that moment on, I did the Thanksgiving and Christmas pies. Mom said my pie crust was always better than hers (I had the patience to roll it out thinly.) The BH&G cookbook, 1976 edition, was also the first cookbook I got. Still use that pie crust and apple pie recipe.

                                                                      As for now - yes, I still do use recipes - but often they're guidelines. I'll combine several of them to create one of my own, or take ingredients from one but preparation methods from another. I have a tendency to use them (recipes) as a reminder of "oh yeah, that sounds good!" if I haven't made a particular dish in awhile (or ever). So if I've never made something, I use the recipe. Otherwise, I tend to "open the cabinets and work from there" based on a few recipe ideas.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                        I do that too LindaWhit, using recipes for ideas and combining bits from each, or I wing it. I usually stick to a recipe when I’m making something for the first time. Once I see how everything works out, then I customize.

                                                                        ed. Sorry, I just realized I repeated almost exactly what you said! It's been a long day:-)

                                                                        1. re: cuccubear

                                                                          ed. Sorry, I just realized I repeated almost exactly what you said! It's been a long day:-)
                                                                          Time for a glass of wine. :-)

                                                                          "I usually stick to a recipe when I’m making something for the first time. Once I see how everything works out, then I customize."

                                                                          And you said it more clearly than I did. Exactly what I do.

                                                                      2. My first recipe was probably for "smores" when I was a Brownie. It was my duty!

                                                                        1. I think microwaved brownies, as in instead of an oven I used a microwave to cook it. It was for a family studies project and I chose the microwave as the topic. Obviously, I was not that bright of a kid since my first thought was brownies! Instead of POPCORN =.=.