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Mar 5, 2011 09:46 AM

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 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.