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Do you write in your cookbooks?

An article in today's National Post (Canadian newspaper) caught my eye. It's entitled:
"From The Sidelines" and ponders whether messages and notations in the margins of books will become lost treasures. The author likens those notes to a "message in a bottle"

I always write in my cookbooks. When I'm writing in my cookbooks I'm writing to myself, in the future. . . making note of whether or not we liked the dish. Did I add or change anything? What might I do differently next time?

Inevitably, when I do see my notes at a later date, I'm glad to have them. They make me smile and I'm grateful to have the benefit of a tidbit of wisdom I had in the past that would had been long since forgotten but for this little scribble in the margin.

I also collect cookbooks and recipes. A number of books in my collection have been purchased at auctions, garage/rummage sales and used book stores. While some folks might be deterred from purchasing books with writing in them, I am delighted. I love tucking into these books as if they were a novel, imagining whose hands may have held the book prior and how much they must have cared about cooking or baking to take the time to make the notes that I've discovered, so many years later.

Some notes are scribbled in haste "not enough sauce!!' or, "BLAND!" or "Dad loved this" where others are much more contemplative, perhaps imagining an event in the future where this dish could be served again or, carefully documenting the origin of the dish "Betty's sister Mary got this from Japan when Sid was on leave there". I always appreciate the time they've taken to tell me their stories. The best notes are those written by family or dear friends. I have a very old cookbook that has been in our family for over 50 years. When my Dad passed away, I was delighted to find this book among his things. It's held together with paperclips and rotting elastic bands at this point but, no matter, its his notes I love to read. Expressions of his frustration in making and re-making a dish he loved until he finally got it right. Notes about who he shared something with or, where he sourced an ingredient. I can just hear him saying those things . . .

I've attached the link to the article below:


So what about you, do you write in your cookbooks?

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  1. Of course, and for the same reasons you mention. I have my granddad's JOC, from which he read to me when I was small. He passed away in 1969, but his voice still speaks to me from those pages. I have books from my mother with her notes and sometimes infamous substitutions. I have my own (usually dated) notes that always bring things back to life.

    I also write in my Bible, prayer book, and meditation books.

    1. Some I do, some I don't. The ones I don't want to write in, but I have things to say about, I've started making notes on in EYB and in a folder on my PC.

      17 Replies
      1. re: flourgirl

        It's funny you mention EYB flourgirl because when I originally signed up, I imagined that I would stop writing in my books but, that just hasn't happened. Somehow I can't help myself and I'm still jotting little notes here and there as I go along. Now I'm just adding "EYB" as well so I know to look there for more info!! Old habits die hard I guess but there's something comforting in seeing al those scribbles I guess!

        1. re: flourgirl

          The problem I've found with making notes in EYB is that I often know just where the recipe is, so having to go to EYB to look up the notes would make it a two-step process. Also, I want my notes right there with me in the kitchen telling me to use less oil or up the ante on the spices or, as I did just a few minutes ago, note to mix the marinade ingredients first--contrary to what the directions said.

          1. re: JoanN

            Going to EYB certainly does set up a two step process but you can reduce the time needed to use the EYB is you MYR and ETTYDL with a SO and HTI you want to use in greater or lesser amounts.

              1. re: JoanN

                Joan, that may be true, but there are some books that I'm just not comfortable writing in. I have quite a few books that are out of print, not easily available and I am not prepared to diminish their monetary value with handwritten notes. I do use those books, but I am careful with them, and keep them in a bookstand with an acrylic shield when the books are in the kitchen.

                And I don't consider the couple of minutes (at most) that it takes me to pull up a recipe on EYB to be that big a deal anyway.

                1. re: flourgirl

                  So you're considering selling them at some point?

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I absolutely want to keep the option open. I have over 600 cookbooks - I seriously doubt my son is going to want them all some day. And I am keeping a running list of the ones that he will need to pay attention to someday as possibly being of some worth. I often buy and sell books on Amazon too. So, no there is no way I will write in all of my books.

                    I'm a book collector, I also collect movable books, and some books just shouldn't be defaced with handwriting. But that's just my opinion. As I said, I don't care what others do, not my business, but the OP asked if people write in the their books and no, I don't write in all of mine.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Pop ups and other "paper engineered" books that have moving parts.

                        Flourgirl and I both collect! Flourgirl, have you had any luck scoring pop ups with food themes since our last communication about it?

                        I went to a vintage book auction in PA last November and found three cookbooks with pop ups, flip books and folding 3 D.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          Now how cool is that??? Sounds fun.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            It is fun to collect adult pop ups (although my whole collection began with my first popup around age 6...) now; some are so rare to find or are best traded for others but the food genre is extremely small and limited...best hunt for me was last Nov. Still missing five I'd like to find tho....

                          2. re: HillJ

                            I would love to see those cookbooks! Would you mind telling me their titles? I've never gone to such an auction - most of my books are non-vintage, although I have a couple of antiques. I've resolved to make it my business to start attending such events though. :)

                            And no, the last food-themed movable book I picked up was that one you told me about, "Let's Cook!".

                            1. re: flourgirl

                              hey flourgirl. I'm too much of a hunter to just hand you over the map :)
                              but I will give you this much: Etsy.

                              1. re: HillJ

                                LOL! You can't blame a girl for trying though. And thanks.

                2. re: flourgirl

                  My problem with EYB is that I don't know that my grandchildren will have access to those notes. In fact, there is no guarantee that the site will be up and running in 5 years. The world is moving at warp neck speed when it comes to technology.

                  I prefer that my notes be in a place that I control; and for me, that is in the books. I own no books of value so defacing isn't an issue.

                  1. re: smtucker

                    That's a good point about EYB. But I guess I'm not that worried about passing this stuff along to my grandchildren either. I'm not much of one for thinking that far into the future. (And I only have one child anyway, no guarantee of grandchildren, I'm just not worried about stuff like that.)

                    But it's not even necessarily books I own that are out of print etc. that I won't write in. Some books are just cookbooks - like JOC - and I have no problem writing in books like that. But I have many cookbooks that, in my eyes at least, are much more than just a cookbook. With the high quality printing, binding, paper and photography, they are objects that IMO, just shouldn't be defaced with handwriting. I don't care at all what others choose to do with their books, I'm not at all judgmental about it - I just won;t do it to mine.

                3. Always! I'm a rabid recipe-tweaker and if I didn't keep track, I'd forget what adjustments I made. I also note whether we liked it (or who among us was a fan), whether the quantity was sufficient, etc. etc. I'm writing for myself for the next time, but I do always envision my daughter someday taking over the collection and cooking from the same recipes . . . with memories of mom right there in the margins.


                  1. Same here--certainly write "add more ___," or whatever. My favorite are comments in an Indian cookbook when I first married my Indian husband--he wrote "sick of this" under gulab jamon 'cause I made 'em 3x/wk for the first year. I still laugh when I see that, and I haven't made those in years and years now!

                    1. Yes. I do write in my books. Sometimes I wish I wrote more often. My notes include the date, was it good, modifications I think would be good, and lately, things like "Use XXX recipe instead."

                      I used to just remember this stuff, but lately my brain has gotten far more cluttered. Notes do help.

                      1. I do, and I'm glad, with the passage of time that I have. In part, because I love seeing what my twenty-two year old self thought about a dish, and the memories that come with those notations (I just have to ignore every crossed out 'onions', because I do eat them now). I also like to write down any comparisons to similar recipes, and how which one was better. I don't have any books that have been annotated by others, but I wish I did. I lent one of my much-scribbled in cookbooks to a friend last year, and she said she took it to bed with her "to read you".

                        My grandmother has a recipe book that is hand-written. She hides it, because she doesn't want anyone to 'steal' the recipes she worked so hard on over the years, despite the fact that she has refused to cook in over five years. It's sad, I think, the hoarding of that book. I've always thought such books, the documentation of the trial and error of time spent caring for family and friends, were meant to be shared. Mine certainly are, and will continue to be.

                        If you ask to see my grandmother's recipe book, she will, in fact, deny that it exists.

                        1. Yep - and it's usually a note not to cook that recipe again

                          1. I tape a piece of paper inside the cover for my notations. When 3M came out with those tacky sheets with ruled lines, I started using those. I usually notate the pg and then write my notes. It keeps the actually cookbook a bit cleaner and keeps all my notes in one area. But, some of my fav cookbooks have notes thick enough to warp the binding a bit....it's one sacrifice of note taking.

                            one quick example of the post it I use.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: HillJ

                              That's my MO too except the sticky note goes on the page with the recipe. When I was in school I use to purposely search for used textbooks with marginalia, highlighting and underlining because not only were those books cheaper but they had often been "annotated with very useful information. Same goes with used cookbooks for me.

                              1. re: morwen

                                Spot on during college, wow! Cheaper, useful and even better $ resold that way!

                                1. re: morwen

                                  Me too! and I like being surprised when I read a recipe and think, 'That's gonna need more red pepper.' and the note at the bottom says, 'Too Spicy!'

                              2. It definitely depends on the cookbook. If' it's a newer one with glossy pages..no, but if it's an older worn book, I might make little notes here and there or little stars for future reference.

                                1. Yes, I do write in my cookbooks. I started this practice sometime in the late 90s after having cooked a recipe from one of my books that I didn't like and realized that I had made this before and didn't like it then either! I realized that I needed to 'review' the recipes I cook in order to avoid bad ones in the future and have a record of the good ones as well. I always note the date that I first cooked the recipe and then review how much we liked it, any changes I made, or would make in the future. To me, this is not defacing the book, it's enhancing it. I admit that I do fantasize about my daughters cooking from these books after I'm gone and my notes being a special connection between us.

                                  1. When I make a dish from recipe in my cookbooks I note in pencil the month and year and whether it was good, who in my family raved about it. I have a few written by my daughter when she was little, mostly "yummy"s.

                                    1. I did for awhile, but after just a couple years I found margins too small. Now I record everything I make (more or less) in a food journal.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                                        This is more or less what I've been doing.

                                      2. You mean people still buy cookbooks in print form???

                                        I'm happy to write in any and all off the shelves full that I have.

                                        To me cookbooks are tools, and tools get used. Actually, the ones I don't write in are the one's that are so awful I only cook 6 or less recipies out of then relegate to the back of the shelf.
                                        Yea Nigella--I'm lookin' right at you. Ick.

                                        1. Most definitely. Suggestions for futre changes, adjustments of amounts that aren't right, additions/subtractions or even a pencil cross through the whole page to mean, this recipe sucks (with a note about why it's a fail).

                                          A lot of my baking recipes have the figures for doubling or halving the recipe. My biscuit recipes have tracings of the perfect size of cutters with notes of when to use that cutter.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Sooeygun

                                            What a good idea to trace the cutters. I am gonna start doing that! I am going to do it for scoop size for cookies too. Thank you.

                                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              You're welcome. I have a very full set of cutters, so I can never remember what worked the last time.

                                              I do mark on recipes which scoop size too. Mine have different colour handles, so I just refer to them by colour, rather than tracing them.

                                          2. I definitely do, for the same reasons that other people in this thread have mentioned: recipe tweaks, ratings (a smilie face if I liked it!) or notes to myself for the next time I try the dish.

                                            1. I write in my cookbooks too, for the same reasons as everyone else. And I enjoy reading my hand written notes. I've started compiling low "point" recipes in a binder since starting Weight Watchers, and one of the notations I always make now is how many points something is, and how much a serving is.

                                              1. Yup. There are a couple that I've even bought new copies of for gifts and written my notes in them before I gave them to my best friend, daughter and DIL. They'd all eaten stuff out of the books and loved it, so I felt quite safe.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: lemons

                                                  I just did the same thing lemons! I'd purchased Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge as a gift for a friend and was telling her about the recipes I made during the COTM. She was looking through my copy and asked if I could transfer my notes to her copy. Of course I was happy to do so.

                                                2. I write in my cookbooks. I date, notate and arrow up for good, arrow down for not good.
                                                  How else will I remember what I've done. That's not a question... I've even been known to edit the odd misspelled letter or two. And, one must correct the errata when the author alerts us.

                                                  1. I write in mine - and flag recipes by dogearing page corners a small amount. More fun to pick up ones you haven't looked at in a while that way.

                                                    1. No, never. I don't fold down corners of pages or place a book "splayed" open, either. I've always loved books and try to take as much care with them as I can.

                                                      However, I do love to make notes on recipes. I have a 2-step process. For the recipe itself, I'll make notes on a sticky note and put in on the recipe page. Additionally, if it's a recipe I liked and will want to make again, I will write the name of the recipe and the page number on a large lined sticky note that is kept on the first page of the book.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: goodeatsgal

                                                        I love books too, I just show my love in different ways.

                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                          I'm with you, buttertart. Books are about my favorite thing in the world (right up there with food and wine...oh, and my family) and I show my love with lots of attention, wear and tear.

                                                          Actually, I don't buy many cookbooks any more, and I've gotten rid of a bunch of 'em, so the ones I have on hand are my very favorites and get a lot of use. I like to make notes about the time as well as thoughts about the recipe-"David here for dinner-he loved this"-it's so fabulous to look back at these notes years later (esp now that he's my husband...).

                                                          Really, the only cookbooks I am currently using much are Cooks Illustrated's The Best Recipe and The New Best Recipe (I was so frustrated when TNBR came out; now I have notes in both places), Lynn Rosetto Kasper's How to Eat Supper, and Fuschia Dunlop's Land of Plenty....these are all getting lots of notes.Everything else I find online.

                                                          Oh, and my books get covered with flour and fingerprints and grease spots...that's how I find my favorite recipes :). I can't imagine how I'd keep my cookbooks pristine, unless I just used photocopies in the kitchen.

                                                          1. re: girlwonder88

                                                            I have a friend who wraps her books in plastic wrap. (I have no idea what she does when the recipe continues to the next page)

                                                            I *have* used photocopies in the kitchen -- I tape them to the doors of my upper cabinets...then it's at eye level, unlikely to get buried or splashed, I can make all kinds of markings as I go without concern about sticking the pages together...and it keeps multiple recipes that need to go together -- all in teh same place. (the first time I made a Buche de Noel, I had the recipes for the genoise, the mousse filling, and the ganache all posted next to the assembly instructions, as they were scattered through the book, and clumsy to reference back and forth.

                                                      2. I write in cookbooks; they're beloved tools of the kitchen. They get "batter-fling", "ball-point scribble", "wine-whoops", and so on. When my kid gets them they'll be nicely "Momified" for her.

                                                        So that's my ration of quotation marks for the day.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: SherBel

                                                          yeah, all of the above for me...the roasted turkey page in my Joy has a record of the weights and cooking times of my birds for the last several years...I didn't really plan it that way...just jotted notes and realized I had a running commentary going.

                                                          Dogeared, busted binding, stained...it's been loved hard.

                                                        2. I can't imagine not writing in my cookbooks. It's the only way I can remember what worked and what didn't, or how a recipe can be improved. And many times, I'll be attracted to the ingredients, but not remember that the finished dish was bad unless I write: WARNING! NASTY! at the top. I've noticed my teenage daughter starting to do the same thing. Last week she made a yogurt soup from a middle eastern cookbook and under the directions for preventing curdling (hers did, but it still tasted good), she wrote "they're serious about this!"

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Isolda

                                                            I love the bit about your daughter. Might be a fun little gift to give her when she starts her own home.

                                                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                              I have a feeling she'll be stealing my Moroccan and Middle Eastern cookbooks anyway. She's always leaving me notes on the fridge: "need rosewater" or "couldn't find the saffron." Hope she has a very lucrative career.

                                                          2. I don't hesitate to write in any reference book, i.e., gardening, interior design and, of course, cooking. As someone wrote, they're tools.

                                                            1. When l make a recipe, and refine it to how l like it, l always write in the book, 1/2 tsp of salt or 3/4 tsp, whatever.
                                                              My recipes even if not made for years are completely reproducible. Also enjoy looking at the process of years refining and refining the recipes.

                                                              1. I used to NEVER, EVER write in my cookbooks . . then . . .I inherited my late sister's who was indeed a fabulous cook. I've cherished her "Tangy" comments along w/ "Mexican Gray Squash" for the ingredients and her jots of "Needs more vinegar". I do, indeed make comments but I've found myself using her cookbooks more often than mine.

                                                                As a side note, I just picked up a bunch of cookbooks from a huge book sale that is held here ever year and not a one has a personal note one them except for the cover page as in "To Dad".

                                                                Just as a side note - I find myself writing in her cookbooks along side her notes as well. I used ot be a librarian and ( for me ) it's kind of sacrilige to write in a book. Or bend the ears, or break the spine, blah, blah, blah.

                                                                1. Yes, writing in the cookbook helps me remember what needs to be done with the recipe.

                                                                  1. I do because for one reason, I want my kids and their kids to read what my thoughts were or my recipe ideas were when they're cooking in the future. It brings a little of me back to them. Of course I write so fast I can't even read it, so not sure they'll be able to.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: iL Divo

                                                                      I find our kids are such good cooks that they don't need MY notes :) Our older daughter fixed us a fantastic Thai dinner and *I* got HER recipes.

                                                                    2. Yes, for most of the reasons every scribbler cites. I'm up to well over 500 cookbooks now, very few of which I bought new, and whenever I find a decent cookbook in an estate sale or antique mall, if it has "inclusions" (as I call them) it makes the book that much more valuable to me. I have a first edition, first printing of Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings' "Cross Creek Cookery" that was an amazing bargain for two reasons: first, it had recipes written on WW2-era postcards; second, the dealer had cut the price because there was no dust jacket! Had he been present I would have felt honor-bound to tell him that in 1942 books were being published without dust jackets, to save paper for the war effort …

                                                                      Unlike the inclusions I treasure finding, I don't stuff recipe clippings into my books much, though I did back when "Joy" was almost my one-and-only. Now I just write in my modifications and adjustments, and suggestions for alternative ingredients. I figure it's helpful to me now, with my shaky memory, and eventually it'll be useful to someone else.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Will Owen

                                                                        I have Cross Creek Cookery also but a recent reprint. Also I have my mother's Joy from the early 40s (they married in '37).

                                                                      2. Regardless of the book, I write notes. These are MINE and I use them as tools as well as a friendly family food history depository. Holiday meals are celebrated, changes to be made, "Do-Again" recipes are starred and those unworthy of repeats are duly noted as well. I wouldn't dream of NOT writing in my books.

                                                                        Some of my favorite notes are written by special people who are no longer living. Reading their scribbles brings a flood of food-related memories (and often side-tracks whatever I was doing so the next meal is delayed).

                                                                        I have no fear of librarians or teachers or any other food-police; as I noted earlier, these are MINE. Let them write or not write in their books but leave me to my notations.
                                                                        NB: I wouldn't dream of writing in someone else's book. When asked, I will use a sticky note for suggestions and the owner is free to do whatever with my jottings.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: Sherri

                                                                          I do sticky notes on library cookbooks. If I find an error in the recipe, I write a little note.

                                                                        2. Yes, on occasion. I buy cookbooks from Amazon.UK and have to do recipe conversions from metrics. To avoid doing so to a recipe I write the converted measurements in the margin. I don't fold down corners but you will find post-its in many of my books often with notations on them.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Candy

                                                                            Candy, you might find this site helpful: http://www.convert-me.com/en/convert/... (if you haven't already found it)

                                                                            I own measuring devices from both sides of the Atlantic, so I just use whatever is compatible with the recipe I happen to be using at the time. The fun comes when someone wants a recipe that's written in the "other format" from that to which they're accustomed. Then the recipe takes me twice as long and dirties twice as many dishes, because I prepare the recipe as written, re-measuring everything with the other measuring devices as I go.

                                                                            (I have to confess to really, really preferring to measure by weight, though. More accurate and much easier)

                                                                          2. I always write in my cookbooks (additions/substitutions/subtractions), but mostly I write what I thought of it. I do it because my memory of bad recipes seems to be fleeting. Too many times I have made a bad recipe (that looked good on paper) over and over again. Sometimes I write mean notes to the author of the book. It aids in digestion.

                                                                            My mom had all of her Bon Appetit magazines since probably the mid 60's. When she moved to a smaller place she decided to toss or give away such things (she had nearly filled a room of the house with mags and books), but when I was looking for something in her place I came across a Bon Appetit she has squirreled away in a box. One. I asked her why that one. She said that I wrote "I love cherries" in it on top of a picture of a piece of cherry pie on the cover. She was mad when I did it, but later, for some reason, she felt very sentimental for me when she saw it, so she kept it.

                                                                            My mom is not the queen of sentimental. It makes me tear up thinking of it.

                                                                            Incidentally, I am not a cherry pie fan. Never was since I got in big trouble as a kid when my sister ate the filling out of a cherry pie meant for a potluck and we both got punished because I would not rat my sister out.

                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                            1. I have so many of these books and lately started to classify them as its confusing. I always write where or whom I got the recipe from and give them a rating after i try them. Also put in my input if something was not right. Hope one day my kids will take over and have a lot of information about these particular recipes. I seem to be forgetting a lot so I do keep refering to recipes I try after a long period.
                                                                              All the family favourites are also in the book.

                                                                              1. My stuff is digital, but I make notes on my bookmarked recipes "nurses love these" and the one pie crust recipe that worked for me is marked GOOD in front of the name. Does that count? :-P

                                                                                1. OK, this is probably going to brand me as way too anal-retentive, but I copy the recipe from cookbooks of the recipes that I like, and I collect them in a two-hole punched on top set of Recipes We Like (with table of contents of course).

                                                                                  So then I can write myself notes to my heart's content, because I am just writing on a copy of the recipe. Then, when my notes become so much that the page becomes illegible, i just retype the recipe into a Word document and then put the cleaned up copy in the notebook, on top of the previous copy (in case I need to go back to the original to clarify something that I wrote, which I have had to do on a number of occasions).

                                                                                  Also, I need to write notes because my wife likes to muck with recipes, and I have a couple of recipes that say "past-Jeannie says not to let Jeannie muck with this recipe because it's better as written" or some such. My wife won't listen to me if I tell her that I don't think her particular mucking will improve the dish (to be fair, she IS a better instinctual cook than I am; but, I am a better follower of the recipe than she is, so it works out between the two of us). She WILL, however, listen to past-Jeannie saying to let it alone.